Saturday, August 12, 2006

Luang Prabang - what a wonderful place!

August 12th. Luang Prabang is described as stunning, a dream location for any travel photographer, the perfect place to chill out and catch a little "francois" vibe from Laos's past. And its all true. Along with its gorgeous French colonial archicture, the town is dotted with tons of Buddhist wats and surrounded by emerald green mountains; it really is a picture postcard version of historic Indochina!

After a great night out with old and new friends, the girls and i put our badly needed washing in - i mean hiking boots, back pack, and clothes, the lot. It's amazing here - you can put anything in to be washed - no questions asked! Don't mean that to sound too blase, i think its incredible that the people are willing to do it.. especially the state of our clothes after the Gibbon Experience...peewehhh!... but the people here are like, "of course we can do that, no problem!". Wow!

There are tons of trendy cafes and restaurants, and the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers nestle on either side of town. In the centre of town, up a few hundred steps you will find Wat Phu Si - a must for sunset views - got to add that to the itinerary for later on. We pottered around town, checked out some very swish guest houses (if we had money, we would stay here, or here, or wow, even here!... definitely some folks with alot of casheroonie in this town!)....and then headed to the Royal Palace. Originally constructed in 1904 as a residence for the King. When then King Sisavangvong died in 1959, his son inherited the throne but shortly after the 1975 revolution, he and his family were exiled to northern Laos - NEVER to be heard of again (kinda creepy!). Apart from that element, a thorougly enjoyable museum and a lovely respite from the roasting heat of the day! Oh yes and we met up with Lisa and Lucy, two very interesting and very young "ladyboys".. who sold the jewellry their mum made around town. They seemed to find us every night and chatted away, always saying we needed just one more bracelet or necklace.. and if we didn't buy anything (we could only buy so much from them!) they would storm off in a huff, only to arrive back 10 mins later all smiles and chat again! They were too funny, although we all agreed we found the whole "ladyboy" aspect at such a young age very intriguing. In Thailand at least, ladyboys are seen as being very lucky, having both male and female traits!!! Nice to see such acceptance - maybe we should try that at home a little more!!!

Pottered some more then went to internet where i found it hysterical to be sitting next to a bunch of young monks instant messaging their pals (who'da thunk a monk would IM?). This shot is obviously of them in a more traditional setting!! AND as I'm sitting there talking away to mum on Skype, who sits next to me - Kathy from Northern Ireland that I met on my first day in Auckland - seriously, the traveling world is indeed a small one. Can't believe all the folks I've bumped into again and again in different countries!!!

We all decided to splurge tonight and treated ourselves to a wonderful meal at Restaurant L'Elephant - to-die for food! Thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and threw our budgets to the wind - och, it was well worth it! Decided the night was still young so we headed off to The Hive for some after dinner drinks (had a lao-lao pina colada - disgusting i have to say!)....but yet another great night was had in Laos!!!

August 13th. Tana, Kathy, Adam, Kathryn and I decided we would do a little exploring and head up to Nong Khiaw for a day or two so we headed off to the local bus station for our 10am bus journey. You did hear me say local bus right. Yup, that means no room for legs, rice bags all around you, and more people than these things are ever designed to take! Oh yes, and the bus driver ALWAYS waits till the bus is full and ready to go before heading over to the petrol station to fill up! All good fun tho' as we headed off an hour later than expected - until the bus broke down. We knew we shouldn't have stopped to let someone off, darn it! We waited for at least 1 1/2 hours; the driver was covered in oil, kept taking bits out of the engine and didn't seem to have any idea about how to put them back. So it was time to take the bull by the horns - ok, the French couple in the bus got us fired up to do so - so we flagged down a giant 4 x4 and all 8 of us squeezed into the back of it! Hilarious - and incredibly uncomfortable - but hey, good for the blog! The truck took us so far, then he had to drop us off, so we waited for a tuk tuk to show up - finally grabbed one as the rain began to pour monsoon-like again; and THEN we arrived at the tiny village of Nong Khiaw. What a gorgeous place. So beautiful and majestic with massive mountains surrounding the tiny hamlet. Stayed at the very cute Bamboo Guest House on the river.. whiled away the evening with some beer Lao (yup, similar to the lao-lao whisky, Beer Lao is the big drink of choice in Laos). Then off for dinner - everyone's was lovely except for Adam who got some kind of pigs inner intestines - seriously, it was totally gross, plastic tube like food, but brave man that he was, he tried it - and even HE said it was totally vile!!! Apart from that, great time had by all, and so glad we popped up here, even if only for the night!

August 14th. Gorgeous morning - wish we could stay here longer but Luang Prabang beckons us back so we walked back across the bridge and onto our long boat that would take us down river to LP .....beautiful boat ride - quite the civilised way to go i have to say! Took six hours - via the famous Pak Ou caves that are a big tourist attraction in the area. There are two caves in the lower limestone cliff crammed with hundreds of Buddha images that people have dropped off over the years. It's common practice to provide an offering at places like this and you are given incense sticks or candles for Buddha..... Also stopped at a Whisky Village, to try out some "genuine" lao-lao whisky. Have to admit i didnt try it - dont really like lao-lao....tastes a bit like petrol to me.. but the boys and Tana imbibed and seemed to quite enjoy it. Then back to LP and a new guest house this time - Sokdee - would recommend it to anyone. Lovely folks and really beautiful room for the giant price of $4 a night - ridiculous!!!

Decided to hike up to the top of Phu Si tonight for the sunset view....on our way up saw Ariel - of Gibbon fame - cycling into town (he has cycled all over Asia starting off in China - quite impressive!)....met up later and had lotsa drinkies, chat and card games - ahhh the joy of hanging out with great new friends and being in one place longer than five minutes. You gotta love it!

August 15th and 16th. More pottering. Chatted to some more cheeky ex-monks - the boys i talked to had been monks for 3 yrs and 6 yrs; some of them use their time to learn about Buddhism and the history of their religion, others just want to learn English. Some really do seem to miss it when they leave their order (not sure quite why they leave then but hey, what do i know). Sat by the river and watched some of the local long boats practice for the upcoming Festival that would be taking place end of August when teams from all over Asia, come to compete in Luang Prabang! Pretty impressive stuff - especially in the brutal heat of the middle of the day! Checked out the amazing night market - and no surprise, overbought as usual. I keep forgetting i actually have to carry this stuff when i buy it - but seriously, how heavy can an elephant bedspread, 5 scarves, 3 giant wooden carved hangers, a few tops, a baby elephant and of course a wooden umbrella that everyone needs to have, be? - yup, im a loser!!! But thoroughly enjoyed myself and got tons of pressies, so well worth it! Had a fab farewell dinner as Adam, Kathryn and i head off to Phonsovan tomorrow while Tana and Kathy are off to Vientiene to then fly to Vietnam! Ahhhh the group gets smaller... but still lotsa fun!!!


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