Riverside sessions in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang was bigger than any other place we had visited in Laos, it was more like a typical Thai town but a bit more interesting considering the lack of Seven Elevens – looking for an ice cream became more of an adventure!
At the center of town, the Mekong River flowed gracefully, separating the town in two. On one side stood the old town with its ancient temples and wooden shacks and on the other stood the new town with its boutique hotels and expensive tourists attractions.
We were continuously in search of typical Laos cuisine but most of the time we ended up eating the same soup or rice dish as we struggled with the language barrier. The soups were very different to those of Thailand; they usually came with a selection of freshly picked herbs and tasted like a lot of love had been put into making them. Since I had left Chiang Khong my stomach had never been the same although eating curries in Nong Khiaw didn’t help! I decided to enforce a strict diet of plain rice with the occasional banana and sulked most evenings as Thomas tucked into something slightly more tasteful – we weren’t very good at finding nice places to eat.
After many hours wandering around town we decided the most idyllic place to spend time was beside the river. Thomas usually doodled in his sketch book whilst I wrote about my travels. His artistic talent made him considerably more popular with the locals; he was even getting pictures taken with them at one point!
The river was the heart of the town where we watched everyday life go by. The boat buzzed behind us as it made its routine trip across the river, commuted by locals and the more adventurous tourists. Women sat around gossiping with huge baskets of fruit and vegetables whilst songthaew drivers took a break at the side of the road puffing on a smoke or two. It was a lively scene and we seemed to be frozen in the centre of it all deep in creativity.
One afternoon, we made a trip across the river to see the old town. It was like stepping into a totally different world. People on that side of the river were a lot poorer, though I’m sure life was far more peaceful that way. It was a quiet village away from all the hype and expectancies of modern life although not entirely out of reach which I’m sure had its conveniences.
It was a very hot day and the sun was depleting our energy so we took cover in the shade on a stone table beside one of the shacks. We sat playing Dama on my old chess board and before we knew it we were completely surrounded by curious school kids who stared in amazement. It wasn’t long before a man came around selling ice creams from a box on a trolley and they all ran off for their afternoon treat. I wanted one too but Thomas wouldn’t let me. He was right, I always forgot where I was and it was definitely these types of food excursions that had got me sick in the first place.
We continued walking around in the blistering heat and visited a few of the old temples but they were in really poor condition and had a lot of rubbish around them, not exactly anything to marvel at. Having to pay to visit each temple slowly faded our interest so we made our way back to the other side. As I could have guessed we had to haggle hard to pay the original price to get the boat back over to “safety”. They knew we were trapped and tried to overcharge us but I continued to state the original price in Laotian until he gave up.
For the next day we planned to visit some waterfalls in one of the local National Parks so we spent the rest of the afternoon searching for someone to rent us a motorbike. We eventually found some guy who was would rent us one for a reasonable price so the next morning Thomas went to pick it up and before long we were rattling down a road surrounded by forest, heading for our destination.
It would be the last time we would ever rent a cheap Chinese motorbike. It vibrated so hard we couldn’t feel our hands or feet after only sitting on it for a short while. Saving a few pounds had definitely backfired, and that was just the start of our troubles to come.
Just beyond the National Park entrance we passed through an Asiatic bear rescue sanctuary. The enclosure was big and well equipped with lots of things for them to do such as frames to climb on, tires to swing from and pools to bathe in. It was lovely to see them playing together, rolling around in the mud and having lots of fun, quite surprising really, I expected much less.
After the sanctuary we arrived at the most magnificent water pools. Shimmering, turquoise, crystal clear water that grew in size above each cascade. Following the cascades up towards the grandest of pools we were welcomed by large groups of tourists enjoying a day in paradise. We were quick to join and made good use of the rope swing which took you out to the middle of the pool. There were a group of American guys being loud as usual and boosting their egos with arrays of backward somersaults – quite typical I guess though rather impressive. The water was full of those little fish which eat your dead skin. It was cool at first until they started trying to pull the wart of my knee; that hurt… a lot!
Our day didn’t end at the waterfall but continued on the motorbike down a dirt track which we felt like exploring. It was a great ride which took us through some really remote villages. Lots of kids waving; some great shots of the Mekong; and two unfortunate accidents on the bike. On the first accident Tom over revved the bike as we ascended a hill causing us to topple backwards with the bike doing a rather impressive wheelie. The second accident was when we crossed a rickety wooden bridge with no sides. I took it a bit too confidently until the tire got wedged between a groove and we fell sideways, dismounted the bike and nearly ended up in the river below. We came out of it all with a few scratches and the end of a broken brake lever which definitely called for some superglue.
We had agreed to return the motorbike early the next morning in accordance with the 24 hour rental but that evening the guy turned up drunk, demanding we gave him the motorbike back. We argued that we paid for 24 hour rental but he wouldn’t listen and started to get angry. Thomas got his passport back from him before giving him the bike but he wouldn’t part with the money he owed us in change. He said he was taking it for petrol so I went and got my bottle of petrol and filled the tank up with some but still he refused to pay. The situation got heated and he started threatening us at which point I lost it and started screaming at him to leave. He took his bike and quickly scarpered leaving us in a rather dismal state.
We soon went to bed and it wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that we were both awoken by banging on the front door of the hotel. We could hear a lot of commotion outside and some guy was demanding to be let into the hotel to go to his room. I was really anxious thinking it was something to do with the motorbike and concocting the worst possible scenarios in my head. Suddenly all was quiet although there wasn’t much chance of sleep after that so a restless night ensued, full of horrible thoughts.
We woke early for Alms Day where monks walked the streets in large numbers to collect food from Buddhist followers. Giving, Virtue, and Mental Development are all ways in which a follower can achieve merit, so most people line the streets to offer rice to the monks as they pass by. It was great to watch although not being a Buddhist myself I decided not to participate. As we watched from a distance I thought how the guy from the night before could have done with a bit of mental development.
Later that morning we walked to the bus station to continue our journey. We were off to Vang Vieng on a bus dedicated solely for tourists. I was delighted to see the V.I.P sign on the front of the bus and that there was no alternative transport but to spend the next five hours hanging around a cringe worthy crowd of tubers. Tubing is what Vang Vieng was well known for, to be honest, it’s all most backpackers know about Laos which is a dear shame. I can assure you I’ll have more interesting things to talk about in my next blog post rather than how I floated down a river on an inflatable inner tube with a bottle of Beer Lao (how original).
Peace out guys and I’ll catch you real soon for the next update,