Lounging in Laos

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Saturday, November 8, 2008

Part Two

During our two-week tour of Southeast Asia, Helen and I spent three wonderful days in Luang Prabang. The following entry is what happened. Enjoy!

Beautiful Arrival

We took a cheap tuk-tuk (motorcycle with passenger carriage) to the Chiang Mai airport. It is small and clean. We discovered upon arrival that we were incredibly early (my watch was an hour off). So, we watched a Premier League game on TV and read in a coffee shop. One thing we didn't do was transfer money. Even though  Thailand borders Laos, and Chiang Mai is only an hour flight from Luang Prabang, you can't obtain Lao currency (kip) in the airport.

The flight was short and sweet. The seats were the brightest floral pattern I have ever seen for airline seating upholstry. We were also served a full meal, quite the bonus for such a short flight. Finally, the landing was gorgeous. Laos is 85% forest. Although the old growth forest is in sharp decline, it is a beautiful country. Descending into Luang Prabang, we flew over the massive brown (muddy) Mekong river situated in between lush forested mountain peaks.

The town is only 50,000 people and this becomes immediately clear when deboarding. The airport is tiny. One runway and one terminal can manage only one flight at a time and only a handful of flights a day. I paid for my visa (Helen was free being Korean), exchanged money and took a van to a cheap hotel I found in my guidebook. The location was perfect, nestled on the Nam Khan River. However, we had to share a dirty bathroom and the fan was noisy and ineffective. The young boy that managed the hotel was incredibly nice though. His smile was infectious and his persona so calm and collected. It was hard to not like him and we didn't have the heart to leave.

Settling In

Luang Prabang is a beautiful laid back town located between two rivers: Nam Khan and Mekong. The downtown is a pedestrian street with French-style architecture. Temples dot the landscape and bright-orange clad monks can be seen at all daylight hours. The vibe of the city is friendly and relaxed. No one seems to be in a hurry and if you catch someones eye it almost is always folllowed by the local greeting: sabadi.

This was by far our favorite city that we visited in two weeks. The food is delicious and cheap, the people are not pushy and the scenery is beautiful. Can't go wrong with that! Exploring the night market the first night was a real treat. They had lots of great cheap local crafts and food. Plus, they use no pressure style of selling. If you want something, great, if not, that's ok too. This was to be in stark contrast with Cambodia. That night we bought all sorts of gifts, ate street food and smoothies. We went to bed feeling great about the lovely city. However, the sleep wasn't so great. We woke up early and checked into a beautiful guesthouse with tile floors and a nice bathroom.

Happy Birthday Helen

After resting and showering for a bit, we headed for breakfast: banana pancakes, yummy! Although it was Helen's birthday, I sort of convinced her that biking was a good activity to celebrate, mostly because I love biking. We found some cheap bikes, changed at the guesthouse and headed out. The ride started great. The weather was wonderful and we got to ride past temples and monks, gorgeous! At first I brushed off Helen's uneasiness with her bike. It took her a bit to get on it and when she had to make a turn in the street, she often stopped and got off, uneasy about traffic and her balance. No problem, I thought, she will be fine on the open road without traffic.

This thought was definitely true in the beginning. We were treated to a wonderful road along the Mekong with almost no traffic and plenty of scenery. After 15-20 minutes of bliss, we had to turn onto a main road with plenty of traffic, less scenery and more danger. Helen was not pleased. Seeing this, I made a turn onto a side road to find the river again. All I found was dirt roads and hills, something Helen was also not keen about. After debating turning back, we kept venturing forward. Eventually we reached an interesting fork. Straight ahead was 2 km of dirt road to a waterfall or right was paved road for 20 km to a bigger waterfall. After some more discussion we went right. I was quite excited about the hills and the idea of a nice long bike ride to a waterfall. When I finally turned around from my bliss to check on Helen, she was no where in sight.

I stopped and sat under a tree and waited. She eventually made it to my spot after I walked her bike for her. She was exhausted! I was ready for more and she looked ready to die. Unfortunately (only for me), the smart decision was to turn back. We stopped for some drinks and peanuts and made the journey back. Excited that we were heading back, she started doing quite well, keeping much better pace with me. When we arrived back at our scenic river road, I decided to go for a dip. I quickly discovered why the river is so brown. The mud was thick and quicksand-like, forcing you to sink every step. The temperature and mud texture was exquisite though. It made for a great cool-off and some funny pictures.

Salvaging the Celebration 

We returned to the guesthouse, relaxed and ventured out to the main street for a massage. We received foot massages, mine from a guy and Helen from a girl. Mine was amazing. After I got over the fact that a man was giving my foot a rub-down, I really enjoyed it. It was so calming Helen fell asleep for the majority.

With time running out on our bike rental, I wanted to head to one last place, up some steep hills to check out a famous bar, Hive. I loved the ride, meanwhile, Helen's butt almost died. I should really go easier on her for the next birthday. Luckily, the way back was down hill. The speed was great for me, but really scared Helen. At least we finished with some exhilirtation. We returned the bikes and went to dinner. Helen really wanted steak, so she ordered a four-course western dinner. All the courses were pretty good except for the steak, which was the chewiest piece of meat I've ever tried. Appartenly this was due to the difference in Southeast Asian cow.

After dinner we took a tuk-tuk back to Hive for crappy mixed drinks and good pizza and beer. The outdoor sculpture museum-like environment was great. Finished, we walked home by the river and down the main street enjoying our last evening in the beautiful city. 

The next morning the same tuk-tuk driver was waiting at our guesthouse to take us to the airport. We arrived hungry and early and went across the street to a deserted restaurant. We spent our last kip in combination with dollars to pay the five dollar tab. In the airport we discovered we would have a layover in Pakse. At least this would allow us to stay in this lovely country for awhile longer. When we arrived at Pakse after a short picturesque flight, we deboarded the plane and entered the tiny airport (almost identical to LP airport, but remarkably a little smaller). We sat for twenty minutes (shortest layover ever) and boarded the same plane again and flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

So Long

Thanks for reading. I hope it made you chuckle, smile or feel something positive inside. Sometime soon a third installment about Cambodia will be released. Be sure to check it out!

Sabadi, Bill
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