Hanging out with Miss Luang Prabang

Trip Start Feb 01, 2006
Trip End May 04, 2006

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I've got to say yesterday was one of the more eventful days that I've had on this trip so far. The previous evening I had signed up for a kayaking trip, so despite the fact that my alarm didn't go off, I still woke up bright and early at 7:30 to make my way down to the travel office. When I got there there were three swedish guys who were also taking the kayak trip, this worked out great because not only was I able to get the group rate, but I also had someone to share my kayak with. After an hour and a half long journey in the back of a pick up truck (benches on each side). We finally made it to our drop off point on the Nam Seuang River, which feeds in to the Mekong. The 5 hour trip down the river was pretty fun, there were some decent rapids, but they didn't last for too long. It reminded me a little bit of cross country skiing, lots of work for an occasional bit of downhill excitement (rapids in this case). It was interesting to see all of the Lao people going about their business on the river, we passed a lot of fisherman, a lot of kids just playing and splashing around, and surprisingly, a lot of people sifting for gold, which the river apparently has small amounts of. We also stopped for a quick tour of one of the local villages. At first I was less than excited, on a number of bus rides we have stopped at "authentic hill tribe villages" which consisted of really grubby children trying to sell you bracelets while there parents looked on expressionlessly. But thankfully there wasn't any of that in this village, although it was pretty clear by the lack of interest paid to us by the villagers that we definitely weren't the first kayak group to come through the area.

We finally wrapped up the trip and headed back to Luang Prabang. By this point I was exhausted, sun burned and really hungry so I was pretty aggravated when I realized that I was completely out of money and all of the banks had closed five minutes before we returned to the town (they are only open until 3:30, and there are no ATM's in Luang Prabang, and in the rest of Laos for that matter.) I did find one place where I could withdraw money for a high fee, but They wouldn't allow me to do so without my passport. Which was in my guest house. Which was a twenty minute walk away. Now I can be a pretty irritable person when I haven't eaten, add in the fact that I was sunburned and exhausted and you have one unhappy camper. I felt bad because I was pretty close to losing my temper which is really seen as a bad thing in Asian countries. So I just headed back dejectedly to my guest house.

This is where things started to look up. As I was headed to my room I passed by the family that ran my guest house havinf dinner, and they beckoned for me to come over and join them saying "Drink Beer, Happy Lao New Year". Not being one to turn down a free beer I pulled up a seat and shared in a traditional Lao meal as well as a number of beers. None of them spoke english but luckily there was another guest there who was German but also spoke some Lao, and was able to keep me in the conversation loop. After a lot of food and beers I was feeling quite a bit better, and the night got even more interesting when the family invited me and Stephan (the German guy), to go to a party celebrating the crowning of the winner of the Miss Luang Prabang contest, which was a component of the weeks New Years celebration. So we showered up, headed to the 5 star resort where the event was being held, and were ttreated to another meal and even more drinks. It was really interesting, it turns out that the winner of the Miss Lang Prabang contest was the daughter of the Princess of Laos, so I guess that would make her a princess as well. During the 70's when the communists came to power almost all of the royal family were arrested and ultimately died in prison, so these two women were really just about the last of the royal family that had ruled Lao for centuries. At the party there was a lot of traditional Lao dancing, which consists of a line of women facing a line of men all of whom are slowly moving around in a circle while moving around their wrists and hands, it is a pretty interesting thing to see. There was also a buddhist-type ceremony where people went around the room tying white string around each others wrist which "to re-establish personal relationships for the new year" A bunch of old ladies tied string around my and Stephans wrist which was pretty neat. Another important element to this event was drinking, lots of drinking. A woman kept coming by every table and offering all of the men shots of Johnny Wlaker Gold Label. I noticed that after a while some of the man looked less than excited about taking the shot, but it seemed that turning down the offer was seen as an insult to the hostess.

Fun Times? You bet. Waking up feeling like David Ortiz just used my noggin for batting practice? Not so much fun, but all in all it was a pretty cool day.
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