Lazing about in Laos
14.10.2012 - 19.10.2012
Luang Prabang is the magnificent old capital of Lao, featuring a cluster of shimmering royal temples and remnants of the faded grandeur of the monarchy. The town (often referred to as jewel like) is compact and tiny. After the capital was moved to Vientiane in 1563 the town flourished as a trading post amongst the people of Northern Laos, Thailand, Burma and China. There was very little contact with non-Asians until French occupation in the mid 19th century. Under French rule a commissiriat was established in Luang Prabang, which led to the construction of french residential houses and buildings. Today the town and its buildings are a world heritage site.
Ok, so now that I have bored you to death with another brief history, lesson let me talk you through our last few days in Laos. To get from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang we had to endure another painstaking drive through more mountain passes that snake, twist and turn back on themselves in hairpin bends with no safety barriers. A sheer drop is what awaits should anyone make a mistake. What makes it more interesting for the drivers is the mountain villages line the side of the road, with livestock, pets and children in the street, not to mention Ngorongoro sized potholes and the constant threat of landslides. It is understandable that our driver never got into 4th gear once on the 8 hour bus trip.
Exhausted after along day we turned in to get some sleep. I was tossing and turning and couldn't fall asleep even though I was shattered. Eventually around 1am I dozed off. Only to be woken at just after 3am, by what I thought was the end of the planet. It was loud banging and the thumping was making our bed tremble. After getting my wits about me The panic subsided when I realised it was only the massive drum from the temple next door and the lively monks were celebrating a full moon holiday. Soon my heart rate returned to normal and I relaxed enough to snooze again. Later that morning we walked around town and through the day market, where you can buy anything from wasps larvae to python steaks. I have it on good authority that if you get there on the right day you are able to buy any wildlife from sun bears to eagles, dead or alive.
After the market we went to a silversmith that used to work for the king. I was really impressed with the amount of work these guys put into creating ornate works of art on everyday items such as bowls and goblets. We then went off to temple to learn about the life of monks. Lou went off and spoke to a young monk and it turns out that he had been a monk for 5 yrs already and was only 14. They wake up at 3am, eat 2 meals a day and cannot eat after 12pm(noon). Totally different to what we know as a 'normal' lifestyle.
We also went to Kuang Si waterfalls by Jumbo (a big tuk-tuk). At the waterfalls there is a rehab centre for bears and tigers that have been confiscated from markets or poachers etc. After looking at the bears for a while we walked up through the jungle towards the waterfalls. Wow, they are even more spectacular then guidebooks describe. The water is turquoise from the white limestone that has been worn away by years of erosion and looks alive - almost fungus like. After a swim and a massage from the pounding water of the falls we headed back into town. The evenings we spent here consisted of walking through the market and eating street food.
The done thing in the town is to wake up early at around 05h30 and watch the monks receiving alms. Hundreds of monks walk the streets of town every morning and collect food,milk, fruit etc donations from locals and foreigners. This food is then used by these monks for their daily food rations. It is an interesting part of their lifestyle to witness and well worth the very early start. We then went to visit local craft villages. We saw a paper and textile(silk) making village, blacksmiths and also whiskey distilleries. These are more like the moonshiners you see on discovery channel. They cook up the rice wine exactly the way they do it on "Moonshiners" - incredible.
So that was a brief encounter with Luang Prabang. We now had 2 1/2 days days of travel ahead of us, via slow boat down the Mekong. The morning started with me rushing to the market to get us some chicken, bacon and avo baguettes and some fresh fruit whilst Louise stayed at the hotel to book our flights from Chiang Mai to the islands. I rushed back to the guest house, ordered breakfast and then headed off to buy us some beer for Pat and myself. I made it back in time to inhale my hot coffee and omelet. The boat departed around 8am for the 8-9 hr journey to the riverside town of Pakbeng, marking the half-way point of the voyage from Luang Prabang to the Thai border. I’d feared hard seats and a long, uncomfortable ride, but was pleasantly surprised by the ‘car seats’ installed in the boat, which provided some much appreciated cushioning for our large buts. And the first day, although it was long, provided us with more than enough beautiful scenery of enormous jutting, crumbling rock and jungle-clad mountains to keep our child-like attention spans at bay. This was also helped by the 2 cases of beer we brought with us in our polystyrene cooler box. This box was a very good investment and had been with us since the first night train in Vietnam. It was indeed a smooth, peaceful ride, the boat open on all sides, allowing a cool breeze as well as the odd shower to aerate/humidify the cabin. The first day was spent playing cards, drinking beer, writing diaries, napping, reading and chatting. I would take this trip over a bus anytime as at least here you can walk around, lie down, jump around or even use 1 of the 2 toilets.
The day ended with us docking at Pakbeng. This tiny place is a stopover for people heading between Luang Prabang and Thailand. The town is built on the hills overlooking the Mekong. If you are so inclined you can get hold of weed, opium and I am sure other drugs here. On all of the menus in the limited choice of eateries, there were happy shakes, happy pancakes, happy pizzas etc etc. there was even a bakery offering opium pipes to smoke. Every person we walked past in town offered us narcotics in some form or another. The following day was spent pretty much the same as the day before except we ended in Thailand once we crossed the border at Chiang Kong.
Chiang mai here we come!!!!!