The flight was just amazing!

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, November 4, 2012

Since I am in Chiang Mai for only one day, time is of the essence.  Between the midday heat and a 3 pm flight, I get up rather early to tour more of the wats, as well as avoid the crowds of tourists who'll be making their way in a short while. 

The Old Town of Chiang Mai is where most of the wats are located, and all are within walking distance -- if you can bear the heat, though it is easy to get lost, as I do frequently today and did last night, as I have no sense of direction.  On the self guided walking tour I have, one of the stops is at the Women's Prison, where you can get a massage.  (Massages are extremely popular here in Thailand, almost as popular as 7-11's.)  As part of a rehabilitation plan, they try to give these women skills to use when then leave.  Back home, this is usually what gets women sent to prison!  Let's just chalk that one up to cultural diversity.  

The main wat visited today is Wat Chedi Luang, which was constructed between 1385 and 1402.  It's a huge mound of stones that juts from the ground, and reminds me of one that I visited in Myanmar (Burma) several years ago.  Beside it are several smaller wats to visit.  As I walk the compound, I notice monks who are bypassing their morning prayers, opting to be on their cell phones instead, engaging in either conversations or texting.  I've even been inside temples where their cell phones have gone off, and they take the calls right before Buddha!     

It's back to the hotel, shower, quick lunch, then off to the airport.

At the airport is an elderly Caucasian gentleman with a young, buff Asian as his companion.  They're seated next to me at the airport cafe, and it is obvious from their interactions and loud conversations that they don't know each other very well, but the older gentleman is taking the younger one on a mini vacation.  Along with that, the young guy got a nice camera -- he's fumbling with it as a new owner would, and an iPad, which he is all over.  At one point, the younger guy leans over and kisses the elderly man on the lips and thanks him for helping him get a passport and the opportunity to travel. At the gate, the younger one is being very affectionate to the other by stroking his knee, arm and face. The other passengers try to avoid the interaction, obviously annoyed and put off by the situation, though they don't have troubles seeing other elderly men with young women this young guy's age or younger. All I could think of was, maybe I should be someone's traveling companion. I could always use new cameras, and I don't have an iPad. 

Finally, we board the plane, and will be in Luang Prabang (Laos) in one hour.  Shortly after takeoff, the views of the land become absoluely amazing.  I would have to rank this flight path as having the second most beautiful views that I have ever seen from a plane.  (My flight in Bhutan, where the path was right alongside the Himalayas is #1.)  When we arrive at the airport, it is like a circus.  Since they offer visas on arrival, you're supposed to present a passport photo and US dollars for payment with the form they give you -- every book and website will tell you this.  Well, these people either didn't do their research or didn't think they'd actually have to follow the rules.  It was a mess. 

For the few of us who were prepared, we had to wait while the majority of the people argued with Immigration -- never a good thing to do.  If you didn't have the US dollars, then you could go to the ATM machine to get the fee in local currency,  Since the exchange rate is about 8000 Kip  (Lao currency) to the US dollar, people struggled while trying to determine how much they would need -- all those 0's did get intimidating.  To avoid this situation, and because of the number of countries I am visiting, therefore currencies I will be dealing with, I had prepared a chart prior to departure that shows what is equivalent to how much in US dollars; this chart became popular with the other travelers.  For American passport holders, the fee was $35 for the visa + $1 for a processing fee; I'll let you do the math to determine the final cost I had to pay.

Luang Prabang has become a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to what the region has to offer -- hiking, trekking, extreme sports, among others.  The main street, which is easily over one mile long, is full of boutiques, "antique" stores, upscale restaurants and bars, and then there is the night market.  Once the sun sets, the locals bring their wares, unpack them, roll them out, then are open for business.  There are so many vendors, taking up almost the entire main street, and are in rows of four so they can fit in.  They all sell the same things, but it does make for a fun and popular activity ONCE, though I doubt I'll return the rest of the nights I am here.  (It can also get rather claustrophobic.)  

Another incident similar to the one at the airport occurred as I was walking through the night market. Seated at a table on the patio of an upscale restaurant overlooking the street was another Caucasian male, around early 50s, with an Asian guy, probably in his mid 20s.  Tourists just stopped and stared at them, and discussed among themselves what they were seeing. Now we don't know the relationship between the two, it could have been business, as there are many foreign aid organizations here, but it just shows how people willing accept men with young girls, but judge other pairings.  To the Caucasian guy's credit, he stared right back at them.  

With a few purchases in hand, and lost, I made my way to the mighty Mekong River, which isn't so big, and followed the other tourists in the dark, until I found my hotel.


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