I just made it back to Bangkok where I have one good nights rest before heading out to Myanmar in the morning.
Staying at the Novetel, a conveniently located four star hotel, I have to chuckle knowing the fact that my dinner at the hotel alone cost more than my taxi fares and accommodation in Laos. In fact one evening at this hotel is costing more than 2x the entire last week of accommodations combined. This sounds expensive, but due to the fact that most nights have been anywhere from $8-10…well you do the math.
It is customary in hotels in Luang Prabang to have the guests remove their footwear before entering the hotel. The bathrooms are a 4’x6′ tiled room which has your regular toilet and sink, but the entire room also doubles as a shower. Now the hotels, being concerned for your sanitary well being, provide you with flip flops, the same pair for everyone, for use in said bathrooms. They also have decided that one size fits all, that size happens to be a women’s size 6. It was a great workout for my calves as I could only stand on my tip toes to fit in the flip flops. This was great fun, when you need to take a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, half asleep, balance is already off, standing on your tip toes trying to urinate in the general vicinity of the toilet. The good news is if you miss, you can just turn on the shower and your good to go.
My first full day in Laos was spent exploring the surrounding watts.
There are so many, in such close proximity, that the entire town has been called a World Heritage Site. This title is usually reserved for one structure or small area.
After a morning of cruising around I decided to rent a bike for about $2 USD and shoot down to the Phousy Market, I had a real hankering for some bat on a stick and I heard there were some vendors there who could deliver. Much to my dismay I couldn’t find any bat on a stick, maybe I came to late and they were already sold out. After my disappointing venture to the market I decided to cruise aimlessly through the surrounding town. I believe the understanding and basic comprehension of the English language by the Lao people ends about 500 feet off the main drag. I managed to get lost and for some reason nobody could explain to me how to get back to the main drag. I did get to spend a little time with some young monks at one of the Wats off the beaten paths.
After getting my bearings I was able to make it back to my room and spend an hour or two cooling down during the hottest part of the day.
When sunset was nearing, I made my way up the numerous steps to the top of Mount Phou Si. I apparently wasn’t the only one who thought this would be a good place to watch the sun set. Once the sun had dropped behind the mountains I made it down the backside of the mountain where I saw not one, but two of Buddha’s footprints, I think. Lets just say it was a good thing that they put a roof over it, painted the footprint gold, and had arrows pointing at it. If any of those three items were missing, I would have surely missed them…
The next day I woke up early to see the morning procession of the monks.
At 6am the drums rung out as the monks awoke to collect the alms, in the form of rice, from the local people and a few tourists who get involved. I have heard that whatever they collect that morning is all they eat all day. From one end of town to the other is nearly a continuous line as the monks collect pinches of rice one person at a time. The only sound you hear are their footsteps. This was the cultural highlight of Laos for me.
After my nap I decided to rent a motorbike and make my way 40km north to some waterfalls.
It was a great ride through rice patties and past water buffaloes. The kids I passed always smiled and waved. Many of them holding an umbrella, to keep the sun off of them, while riding a bike or walking. The waterfall was actually pretty impressive and they had a nice little Bear zoo, where the had collected bear cubs from poachers.
In the evening I took a private boat cruise up the Mekong to enjoy the sunset.
I’m not sure if it was private due to the fact it was the off season or that the boat simply couldn’t hold any more weight. The engine kept cutting out the first few minutes, I felt ok with that since we were heading up stream, we would have to float back past Luang Prabang eventually. The gas pedal was an old flip flop strung to the throttle with wire. When we reached our turn around point my captain cut the engine for what I thought would be a peaceful float back to town instead I was disturbed by him running to the back of the boat to bail out buckets of water that we had been taking on. Luckily we made it back in one piece and I was able to spend a bit of time cruising the night market to pickup local Laos textiles and knick knacks.
Laos is a great place, but those who are hesitating, or waiting until later, shouldn’t.
Not so much because it is idyllic, but I fear the charm will be lost so quickly. The entire downtown is littered with backpackers and travelers from the west. It is just a matter of time until some Marriot or Hilton takes up residence on one of the many beautiful mountains giving themselves a beautiful view and ruining it for the rest of us.
Tomorrow I go to Myanmar. From what I understand there is no or little communication in to and out of the country. So don’t expect any updates until I get out of the country. I am trying to speed up my visit through the country so I can hit Chang Mai on the way back, but we will see.