Nativity New Year

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, December 31, 2007

Despite the ache in my legs, I managed to ride from Phoukoun to Luang Prabang in one day, 130km which, despite beginning in the hills and ending on a plain, somehow involved several 15km climbs. The descents were fantastic, and I was careful to pay attention to the corners. I had two good reasons for putting in such long days. I wanted to be in Luang Prabang for New Years Eve, since I'd found some people to celebrate with, and I didn't want to arrive in town on New Years Eve and have to find accomodation on the one day of the year when almost noone would check out of a hotel. It was also Julie's birthday on the 30th December, and I'd said I'd go for a drink with her, since birthdays on the road can be lonely times.

Unfortunately, my accomodation theory proved too correct. Not only was Luang Prabang, a small town consisting mostly of guesthouses, fully booked on the 31st. It was heaving on the 30th. I spent two hours trailing around the town, approaching guesthouses only to be told 'full!' and sent on my way. I was given a tip that there might be rooms left near the bus station, 3km out of town, which I had passed on my way in. This led to me finding a hotel which, although fully booked, was willing to give me a mattress in the lobby for four dollars. By what almost seems inevitable chance, the one other lobby-guest there at the time (there would be ten of us by the end of the night, some of whom had pounded the pavement for 6hours or more with a 20kilo rucksack on their back) was also a cyclist. I was unable to reach Julie's phone, so both the room and birthday good intentions had to fall by the wayside.

To my surprise and delight, someone checked out of one of the rooms in my hotel early the next morning, so I made a mad dash to claim it for myself. Other's were heading into town hoping for good luck in a better location, but I didn't want to spend my one day in the town hunting for lodgings. I installed my belongings in the room, and walked into town.

Despite being full to capacity of foreign tourists, Luang Prabang managed to maintain the calm, peaceful ambiance for which it is known. The main tourist attractions, the museum and the principle monastery, Wat Xiang, were both busy, but there were sufficient restaurants and bars for the crowds to thin out throughout the town. Luang Prabang is Laos' second largest town, yet there were few streetlights, inconsistent pavement and little traffic. Viewed from the shrine at the top of the hill in the centre of town, most of the buildings are obscured by palm trees. The availability of services, plenty of excellent Lao and international cuisine, combined with the absence of urban rush and decay, produced a truly relaxed atmosphere. This is Laos' version of Birmingham. I took in the sights, mosied around the streets and sampled the local delicacy, fried riverweed, which was more or less like fried seaweed.

The superb plan to meet up with the Dutch, English, Guadeloupian and Australian contingents fell afoul of the most rudimentary of strategic errors. I chose, at random, a restaurant to meet up in, failing to realise that there were two restaurants of that name. In the end, the Brits, the Ozzies (who I'd met at a cashpoint that morning) and I appeared at the same restaurant, and we had a sociable, mildly drunken new years eve.
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