This city is as modern as any city gets in Lao - but still without an ATM (which would cause us some grief in the weeks to come)
. Similar to Vientiane, we spent a few days touring around this lovely city, mainly by bike. We didn't see all of the 30 Wats, but did catch the major ones, as well as the royal museum. Between sightseeing we ate by the river and wandered through the fruit market by day, and the night market in the evenings. During one evening stroll we were lucky enough to find a little movie theatre type place. Basically, we rented a room with a giant tv were we could watch burned DVDs. Since we love movies so much we spent two nights there getting swarmed by ants feasting on the crumbs of previous movie-goers, and watching In The Fog Of War (great) and Monster (decent).
One day we hired a sawngthaew to take us to the amazing Kuang Si Falls, just 20 kms outside of town. It was during this day that I began to fully appreciate what Lao means. In Cambodia and Vietnam there is always something in particular to do or see - a goal. But here, everything is beautiful everywhere, and after a while I found myself looking for something more. I think people really start appreciating the country when they realize that it's the little things that are really spectacular. It can be as action packed as we want, but doing very little is also quite fascinating. For example, as we were riding along on our way to the falls we passed by a small terraced field where about 50 water buffalo were grazing. How beautiful is that? Absolutely foreign to me and great
! But I had previously been searching for a building or cultural hot spot to capture my attention. Here everything is beautiful and tourists are given the space to enjoy it without being pestered. Rarely are people stopping to wave to us, we don't get eager smiles and screams from the side of the road - generally people just go about there business. They don't care if we stare at them, because they're staring right back at us ... but the difference here is that they are not asking for money, they don't care what we could represent. It really is an amazing vibe. We spent a lovely day at the multi-tiered waterfalls. The water was turquoise and crystal clear and the weather was perfect. Between each waterfall level we had to walk through the forest. Sometimes when we reached a new level there would be kids swinging on ropes, doing acrobatics into the cool waters, sometimes there would be no one but us. At the grand finale the waterfall was at least 5 levels and stretched about 50 metres high. It was great.
Our last day in Luang Prabang we crossed the river to a tiny town across the way to see ... some more Wats. A kindly monk opened the doors to one so we could pay our respects in private. People are so kind here. We strolled through town, watching and being watched and eventually made our way back across the river for one last walk around town. This time we walked through a little residential area
. It's fascinating to see people carrying about their business. We walked through this one alley and bumped into five little girls busy making some kind of sauce for sale in the market. They worked happily crushing peppers and mixing things up, everyone doing their part. I couldn't imagine kids doing that kind of work back home. We walked along and stopped to watch a group of kids sliding down a super short piece of smooth concrete beside some steps. They slid up and down, shrieking with laughter for at least five minutes while we watched. They didn't even stop to look in our direction they were having so much fun. It was great.
Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang are the three most heavily touristed parts of Lao. It was time for us to move a bit away from the big areas, into the great wide North. First leg - 8 hour boat trip to Nong Khiaw.
Bright and early we boarded a mini bus bound for Luang Prabang. Cultural capital of Lao, the entire city has been declared a UNESCO World Herritage site (partially due to its plethora of Wats). As expected, the ride was beautiful and twisty. I had made the mistake of eating a bowl full of pineapple moments before boarding the bus, and within an hour I was needed to go to the toilet big time. But the bus never stopped ... just kept twisting and turning. I was in agony and finally we asked the driver to stop so I could run out to use the lou. The driver stopped at a point in the road where there wasn't a bush in site. NO WAY! At that point, I wasn't willing to go in front of so many strangers ... now, I am a seasoned side-of-the-road tinkler. Anyways. I held it and we eventually made our way to a proper facility and hours after that to Luang Prabang.