Laos Lout - Luang Prabang

Trip Start Nov 26, 2004
Trip End Dec 11, 2004

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, November 28, 2004

Greetings from the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos,

And what a country it is! For those of you that don't know, Laos is sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam with some 236,800 square kms (just slightly larger than Utah!) and a population of around 6 million. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a six-century-old monarchy. It's my first communist country! And yes, it's beautiful!

So I travelled up from Chiang Mai to the border town of Chiang Khong where I spent the night with fellow Laos-goers in some small, hippy bar playing Bob Marley (there's loads of these around!) The next day we crossed the Mekong into a fresh country, my third in three weeks! Once stamped and authorized in Huay Xai we had to make our way to the slow-boat jetty which would take us to Luang Prabang. I lost my pen in the process as one of the locals took an interest in it, "Have it!", I said, "Plenty more where they came from!", he now probably thinks I'm quite rich. Well, you can be in Asia, even if you're on the dole back home... it goes a long way out here!

There's two options to getting to Luang Prabang along the Mekong. You can take your time over two days on the slow boat, or you can travel at neck-break speeds in the speed boat which gets you there in about 6-8 hours. I've heard the fast boat is quite an experience. You're sandwiched in amongst others wearing huge helmets with visors, not able to hear a thing because of the roaring engines. Sounds like fun! That's why I decided to take the slow approach. OK it's still a little uncomfortable and the engine is quite loud but at least you can read a book, listen to CD's, play shithead, converse with others or entertain the local Laos children on the boat. (I had hours of fun playing cards with a 5 year old!) Mind you my ass was as numb as watching Titanic 3 times by the time we got to our overnight stop of Pak Beng some 8 hours later.

There was a good crowd on the boat. I'm mixing it up with a couple of Canadians, a Mexican, an Irish couple, an Aussie, an American and a fair few British. It was a good crowd to be with as we eased our way into the Laos way of life. Most of it involved weed which is available here at every turn. Most people are trying to dump it before they get to the border! So the weed lovers amongst us got their fair share!

Next day, the boat was a much more comfortable affair. The toilet was more "normal", the weather improved, I found a seat with some very thin cushions... hey, it beats a bench without! The adventures of Jason Bourne kept me gripped as we floated through some beautiful landscapes with villages dotted along, children waving, washing in the filthy river etc. It's the colour of hot chocolate the Mekong! Wouldn't want to end up in there as I've heard some boats do! There were reports of a slow-boat sinking shortly after we reached Luang Prabang! Not nice!

Luang Prabang is an ancient royal city surrounded by grass-covered mountains at the junction of the Mekong and Khan rivers. It used to be the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom from 1354 A.D. (Vientiane became the new capital city in 1560 A.D.) It truly is a special place and as soon as I stepped off the boat I was getting the good vibes. We were greeted by tuk-tuks and touts fighting for our custom so myself and a few others jumped aboard one that took us to a little guest house in town.

Again temples are prominent here in Laos. There are lots dotted around the city. I've also noticed that the Monks here shave there heads whereas in Thailand they had hair. Small difference I know but Sherlock here noticed it! The currency takes some getting used to. For 1 pound you get around 12,000 kip! I got 30 quids worth at the guest house. It looked like I'd just done a drug deal as I was handed some 500,000 kip in crisp notes. Felt as though it should have been in a brief case!

I spent my few days in Luang Prabang taking it easy. It's great just sitting in cafes watching the world go by, watching the locals clearing their throats and hocking it's contents along the street. These guys can get it some distance! There are great views from the Phosi Temple that sits above the city on a hill in the centre of town. It simply is stunning when you get up there (if you ever get here).

Have to tell you about the local beer! Beer Lao is quite frankly THE best beer to pass through my lips and line the throat. It is delicious! It's the same satisfaction from having a bowl of ice cream. It definitely reaches parts of the body other lagers don't come close too! However, the morning after is another story. I don't know if it's just me but Beer Lao certainly likes to reacquaint you with the toilet.

On our last day in Luang myself, Paul (Manchester) and Shelley (Hull) headed to the other side of the Mekong to check out the local village. We walked through mainly getting stared at as we greeted them "Sabadee". Then the smiles crack open and we are greeted more warmly. The local children were keen to show us their temple on the hill so we climbed to the reaches of Heaven just to get there. Fantastic views! Wow, you really have to see this place to believe it! The kids then took us into some caves where they left the rotting remains of old Buddha images... as you do! They were overjoyed with the $1 tip I gave them! It was as though 10 Christmases had come at once!

Yes Laos certainly is a special country and there's more yet to come as I head south towards the capital and beyond into the reaches of Cambodia. So stay tuned...
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