Spiced up my trip

Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
Trip End Jun 23, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I really wasn't looking forward to another long, bumpy, karaoke-infused bus ride through the mountains of Laos, so I hitched again, this time with a couple of locals in a comfortable pickup that seemed to have their whole house packed into it including a mattress, which I used for back support. They said they could take me half way to Luang Prabang because they were going to Phonsavan, which was a completely different direction. It can be a great advantage to know locals when you are hungry. Not only will you not get ripped off, but also you will eat at better establishments. We stopped for a lunch break outside of Vang Viang and had a huge lunch for about a dollar and it was better than most "Western" places in town. I saw a fruit stand as we were leaving and snagged some apples for the road. The trip to the half way point seemed to fly by, but was very scenic. At the end, the locals tried to squeeze a chunk of money out of me, but I gave them a couple bucks and hopped out. I started walking down the road towards Luang Prabang and luckily found another ride in only a couple minutes. This time, it was a Finish guy driving with his Thai girlfriend in the passenger seat. He had a very interesting story and talked for a few hours straight while I enjoyed the view out the window and tried to take an action shot of a really tall mountain we were following for awhile during the ride. I've been very surprised how genuine most of the people I've hitchhiked with really are. Initially, I am always a bit skeptical given the unique situation, and they probably are too, but it has always worked out in the end. Once we arrived in the outskirts of LP, I became the navigator and led us to the center of town using one of the maps I had picked up earlier in my trip.

Before even spending one night in LP, I already had a good feeling about it. Because it is a world heritage city, the old buildings have been restored and the city will never become modernized. The main part of town is shaped like a peninsula, surrounded by the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, which meet at the tip. While the town is full of tourists and backpackers, it is still a very laid-back town with plenty to explore. I stayed in a cheap dorm guesthouse near the Mekong and met a lot of travelers who had taken the infamous, exhausting slow boat from Thailand. We ate at a highly recommended restaurant along the river called Mekong Fish and I had some outstanding Fish Lap (famous local dish).

The only hostel in Luang Prabang is called Spicy Laos Backpackers, which I soon found out would be the reason for my lengthy stay in this town. At first, it was only the name of a place at which I was supposed to pick up a book from a fellow traveler. When I arrived there, I immediately felt at home and I hadn't even spent a night. It wasn't even the free breakfast, free internet and movie room that kept me at his 7 month new hostel. I have to give props to Pong, who runs Spicy Laos and has a wealth of knowledge beyond most guesthouse owners. He gave two talks about the history of Laos and about Buddhism, both very interesting from the perspective of a Thai native now living in Laos.

Besides Pong, I got to know some other travelers and ended up spending Christmas and New Years with them. For Xmas dinner, a place called Lao-Lao Garden had a special BBQ dinner with turkey and water buffalo and they let you cook it yourself at the table. There were lots of Xmas decorations all around the city, a huge tree in the middle of town, and many people wearing Santa hats. It didn't really feel like Christmas, but we made the most of it and of course went bowling at 2am that night. Oddly enough, the bowling alley is the only place in town that remains open late. There is actually a curfew in town at midnight, but it was lifted around Xmas and New Years Eve. For NYE, Pong and crew hosted a big dinner party where I stuffed myself silly and then we all went out as a group, but returned to the hostel just in time to set off some Chinese firecrackers I bought earlier in the day. We also sent off the huge "homemade" lanterns into the sky as shown in the pictures.

Other highlights of LP include kayaking down the Nam Ou river, the Kaung Si Waterfalls, (I went twice) which is one of the coolest places I've even been to, and exploring the town on foot for hours. Some places are difficult to describe in words and pictures don't do them justice, but this place will always be implanted in my memory. My 10 days in LP were well spent, whether active or relaxed and I will definitely return one day. I'm actually not really sure why I left, but the decision seemed right at the time. I left by walking down the main road headed north (sound familiar?) with the company of an 8-year-old kid who wanted to practice his English with me for awhile.

Next Stop: Nong Kiaw & Moung Ngoi
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