Laos Wrap

Our time in Laos passed by with a blink of an eye.  A drunken, half falling asleep, blink of an eye.  Not to insinuate that our entire time in Laos was an alcoholic haze, but rather referencing the fact that we moved quickly through the country, yet the pace of travel seemed extremely relaxed.  This is mostly due to the environment that the Laos people have created.  Often unfairly stereotyped by some travel guides as ‘Lazy Laos’, complaining about struggling to get their attention and note the fact that they don’t seem overly concerned if you ‘buy now’, later, or even at all.  I first noticed it in Luang Prabang when we were walking through  the night market.  In Thailand you can’t even make it out of your hostel without being prompted to buy something (What you do today?  You want to go temple/waterfall/ride elephant/buddha/snorkel/dive? I have packages) and a stroll down the street requires a brisk pace and a flash card set of ways to say no (The first time put in use since D.A.R.E. class).  While Laos offers you the ability to actually let someone know if you are interested in something.  You can look at an item, analyze it, discuss it openly with the person you are with, and then decide if you want to engage in conversation with the shop owner.  A majority of the guesthouses we stayed at had advertisements for the local attractions and sold bus tickets, but not once were we prompted by the owner to discuss it with them.  They left the option of learning more about it up to you.  Maybe I’m not like most Westerners?  I don’t demand attention immediately and complain if I don’t think I got enough of it.  I guess that’s why one of my favorite dining experiences was at Bubba Gumps.  Sure the food is good, but what really does it for me is the fucking ping-pong paddle.  One side is green and the other red.  There is no dance of attention expectations between you and the waiter.  They don’t have to waste their time interrupting your meal and you don’t have to let them know the everything is fine with a mouth full of shrimp and butter dripping down your chin.

Laos simply summarized, is relaxed.  Isn’t that what we all want when we go on vacation?

Food:

Street food was brought to an all new level in Laos (Luang Prabang) with buffet style plates going for $1.50!  Fruit shakes once again found their way into our daily life and the Laos ice coffee is freaking amazing.  While lacking in potency, the thickly brewed engine oil mixed with condensed milk proved to be an awesome combination.

Top Rated For The Trip:

It’s hard to argue with crystal clear water (that shames that of the Caribbean) making its way down several waterfalls, filling small pools that are waist deep, and forming perfect swimming holes.  That places Luang Prabang at the top of our list for Laos.  Our time in Don Khone also proved to be quite amazing.  The combination of its rural environment and laid back locals, proved to be just the R&R we were looking for.

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Pakse and Don Khone

Three bus trips into our time in Laos and we are fully confident that they have a very different interpretation of what VIP stands for.  The cramp, old, and unclean sweat boxes usually have their toilets out-of-order, luke warm air blowing dust around, and the driver pounding away at the engine block each time we make a stop.  The very thought of an overnight journey in one of these cattle cars made us cringe in disgust.  Of course Murphy’s Law would have it that the only way to get from Vientaine to Pakse would be in the grim cover of darkness.

As our mini-van pulled into the bus terminal we immediately began to search for the torturous device that would inflict its restless night of sleep upon us.  We were greeted by confusion and shock when we spotted several buses that appeared to be made after 1995.  The interior lights displayed full beds divided into compartments.  They looked bright, clean, and spacious!

Unfortunately we didn’t end up getting any of the cutting edge buses constructed during the era of gangsta rap.  But we did get a pretty decent ’89 that outshined a majority of the remaining fleet.  We crawled to the top-level of the bus and found our compartment located near the back.  The single bed sized cubby whole was just a couple of inches short of perfect.  Sally and I cozied into our evening quarters and smiled at each other with surprised content.

I was closely watching the bed across from ours in the hope that it would remain vacant and I could stretch out on my own.  Unfortunately a teenage Laos kid slid into this spot just a couple of minutes after us.  Shortly after he sprawled out and plugged into his ipod, his bed mate appeared at the top of the stairs.  A middle-aged over weight man checked his ticket twice and sighed with disappointment when he realized it was going to be a full bus.  Watching the two of them ‘settle’ in for the night was enough to make anyone observing the act uncomfortable.

It wasn’t really the full nights sleep we were hoping for but it was better than being stuck in the seated position all night and surely better than being snuggled up to a snoring old man who takes up 90% of the bed.  We stumbled off the bus at the crack of dawn, disoriented and confused about whether or not we were at the correct location.

Sally: Is this Pakse?
Bret: Maybe?
Sally: I’ll go ask.

Sally went to find the bus driver.

Sally: Is this Pakse?
Bus driver: Smiles
Sally: Should we stay on?
Bus driver: Yes
Sally: So this isn’t Pakse?
Bus driver: Yes
Sally: This is Pakse?
Bus driver: Yes
Sally: So we should stay on or get off?
Bus driver: Yes

Similar confusion was happening with other passengers.  The outdoor benches that made up the bus station didn’t indicate our location and the bus drivers only word of English wasn’t exactly shedding any light on the situation.  It wasn’t until they started throwing all of our bags into the street and drove off that we realized this must be Pakse.

We thought our guesthouse was close, but the long night of poor sleep combined with the early morning arrival had us feeling pretty lazy.  We asked a tuk tuk driver if he knew where our guesthouse was and how much it would cost to get there.  10,000 kip each was enough to coax us into the back seat.  He pulled out of the bus station and took a right onto a completely deserted* street.  He then proceeded to drive away from the bus station for a couple of minutes until he reached a traffic circle.  He used the traffic circle to point us back in the direction of the bus station, drove by the bus station, only to take the next right and park in front of our hotel.  I found it amusing that he went to the extra trouble of making the journey seem longer to justify the cost.  But decided he didn’t over charge us enough to make the effort overly elaborate.

We had scheduled three nights in Pakse and once we got there we weren’t really sure why.  It seemed the only thing to do was to head out to a waterfall that was an hour drive away from the city.  We decided to save that adventure for our last day and used the first two days to explore the town.  A thirty minute walk our first day and a 10 minute bike ride our second, exhausted all the roads Pakse had to offer.  We found ourselves venturing out on an old country road to make use of the bikes.  The looks we received from some of the locals indicated that we were most certainly off the beaten path.

The hour-long scooter trip to the waterfall reconfirmed the notion that the novelty of utilizing this particular mode of transportation has long since worn off.  It also destroyed any hope of me ever joining a motorcycle gang.  As the scooters in Pakse were the first ones we have used that required us to shift gears.  I imagine I looked like an oversized bobble head as I hopped the bike down the street in such a pathetic fashion that the owner suggested I remain in 4th the entire time.  Not exactly Hells Angles material.

The waterfalls were nice and I was pretty happy that I could still find amazement in them after having been to Iguazu.  I assumed that it would be like sandwich life after I had a Ruben at I Love New York Deli in Seattle.  Every Ruben I try after, just…. well…. sucks.   (We’re having trouble with some of our photos so here’s a picture of the area surrounding the water fall).

Our final day in Pakse brought us to the roof top of the neighboring hotel.  Their restaurant was perched on the sixth story and was by far the tallest building in the area.  It was enticing enough to make us decide that drinks at sunset would be a nice way to wrap things up.  It only took a couple of Beer Laos to get the indulgent juices flowing.  I composed a quick Powerpoint presentation using bar graphs and scientific equations that showed the correlation between cheap steak dinners (accompanied by red wine) and the shit inside your brain that makes you happy.  It was a compelling argument and proved to be enough to persuade my business partner to indulge with me.

Pakse Photos

*Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)*

We decided to end our time in Laos relaxing on the river islands of Si Phan Don.  There are three main islands that attract tourists: Don Kong, Don Det and Don Khone.  The plan was to spend a couple of nights on the less touristic, more traditional island of Don Kong, then move on to Don Det and/or Don Khone.  However, after enjoying a few drinks one night in Pakse then realizing we needed to book a guest house, we mistakenly booked a place on Don Khone.  Not to worry, we were planning on heading there eventually anyway.

After a two-hour minivan drive (with Bret and I squeezed into the front seat next to the driver, with our bags) and a 15 minute boat trip down the Mekong River we arrived on Don Khone.  A tranquil island with a village feel and very friendly locals.  The large amounts of chickens, pigs, water buffalo, cats and dogs roaming the pathways had us feeling as though we were walking through an open farm.

There is not a lot to do in this part of Loas.  There are a couple of activities to keep you busy but we decided to use this time to truly relax, write a few blog posts, research our next destination, read (yes, even Bret), and enjoyed the river view from our air-conditioned bungalow.  We did take one day to explore both Don Khone and Don Det on bicycle.  Seven hours of riding through the lush  vegetation , small villages, exploring yet another impressive waterfall and being greeted by friendly local after friendly local made the time fly by and it easy to forget the 90 degree heat.

Four days on the island and we were feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready for our next destination, Cambodia.

Don Khone Photos

Vientiane

Vientiane, is the capital of Laos and more importantly, the final resting place for my twenties.  It’s not exactly the Hangover-esk, Las Vegas up all night, party my ass off setting I would fantasize about commemorating my decade of awesomeness.  It’s hard to imagine a wild and crazy night in a communist country that shuts down all of its bars at 11:30pm.  Not that I’m complaining.  In the same way I wasn’t disappointed in not having a bachelor party.  My whole life was a bachelor party.  The way I see it, if you saved all the gas in your tank for that final quarter-mile, putting along in the slow lane, going five under the speed limit, only to think slamming the pedal to the metal at the last second is going to some how compensate for all that lost time, your fucking high (and if that’s the case, maybe on your way to a great night as well).

Nope.  Like a proud father watching his son grow up, I reflect back on my twenties with great satisfaction.  Ready to let go and progress into my thirties with ease.  It helps that I started balding when I was 17, my metabolism is already slow as shit, and thanks to Uncle Sam my body started falling apart seven years ago.  So there is nothing physically daunting about my thirties I need to worry about, and I already conducted my mental preparations in Storms River.

That being said, it wasn’t like Sally and I were going to let the day go by unnoticed.
All I wanted for my 30th was to have a day with zero regard for the budget.  After traveling for seven months, the constant scribbling of every-fucking-little-thing can become quite tiring.  “Looks like its cup-of-noodles tonight for dinner because Lonely Planets expected cost for transportation was off. . . again.”

Luckily the dollar goes alright in Laos.  Nothing like in Bolivia, where you can live like a king for next to nothing.  But better than Brazil and South Africa.  Actually the cost of Laos is almost on par with Thailand.  But thanks to our good friends at Lonely Planet, we budgeted $20 less a day in Laos then we did in Thailand.  Some words of advice when planning a trip using the ‘Bible of Backpackers’.  First, check the publish date.  An old Lonely Planet is about as useful as having a flotation device during your overland flight.  Second, always take into consideration the fluctuation of the exchange rate and inflation.

For example: you based your research off a book that was printed over a year ago, you are going to be on the road for an extended period of time and won’t reach your destination for an additional 7 months, your country’s economy goes to shit, and BAM, your expected $15 bus ride is now $27.

But thanks to the wonderful philanthropists at Bank Mom and Dad, we had a little extra cash in our account to help celebrate the occasion.  The plan was fairly simple.  Drink, heavily.  Drink until we felt like our only two options were to either pass out in the middle of the street or grab some food and shove it in our face at a rate of speed that would revolt other diners and surely force the owner to ask us never to return. The steady diet of fried noodles and rice we had been consuming for the last month and a half created a strong desire for a slab of bloody meat.  A decision we did not take lightly.  We spent over an hour researching where we could find the best steak in town.  After an equal amount of time dedicated to deliberation, we finally decided on Xang Khoo.

The stage was set, the final destination selected, and the final walk through of how we were going to conduct the mission.  You want to make sure that every soldier understands what the objective is and how you’re going to reach it.  Shit gets crazy when the drinks start flying.

We decided to lay down a strong foundation for the night by enjoying a light lunch at Joma.  A chain coffee shop / bakery that offers a nice selection of overpriced drinks and food.  We had ventured into the Luang Prabang Jomo everyday during our stay.  We gawked at the menu and imagined what we would order, then walked down the street to the night market and both ate for less than what a mocha would have cost.  Not this time, this time was different.  It felt like I was opening a Wonka bar and reveling the last golden ticket.  A wave of excitement for finally being able to join all the over-privileged and actually place an order.

“Would I like to make that Ruben a meal?”

Of course.

“An additional ten thousand and you can choose a special salad.”

Special, me?  You better fucking believe it.

We had a couple of hours to kill after lunch before we could start our drinking sprint toward dinner.  We didn’t want to become a traffic hazard at 3:30 in the afternoon.  A pathetic attempt to kill time had us venturing down to Vientiane’s relatively new mall to try to watch a movie.  Apparently the evil communists in charge don’t think malls should have movie theaters.  Other than a much welcomed AC break, the mall really doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

We had managed to fend off the premature celebrating until 4:30pm.  Of course we had scoured the area for several days, sorting out the best locations to indulge in our over spending.  It was Long Island Ice teas, Jack and Cokes, and anything else that was always too expensive to justify on a regular day.  By the time 9:30pm rolled around it was clear (or rather hazy) that food was becoming a necessity.  We stumbled our way to Xang Khoo  and ordered industrial amounts of wine.

The meal proved to be a success.  The meat was cooked correctly and was a nice cut of fillet.  It was originally supposed to be accompanied by a side of fries (WTF?  Same experience in Colombia.  A nice establishment and a potentially wonderful meal, tarnished by throwing fries on the plate.  Why don’t they just serve it in a box and give me a fucking ten-cent toy.).  Thankfully I noticed mashed potatoes available with one of the chicken dishes and opted to switch it out.

By the end of the night we had managed to burn our way through 10,000 Kip short of a million and-it-felt-great!  For those of you that have had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy an adult beverage with myself and my wonderful bride, you are fully aware that we have the ability to make Andre the Giant look like a light weight.  That combined with our exquisite choice in cuisine may have you wondering just how much money is a million Kip?  I realize the strenuous task of opening a second window and googling that shit is out of the realm of possibility for a majority of our readers, so I will just tell you.  It’s about $125.  I know, how awesome is that!?  A night like that would have cost us upward of $500 in the States.

You can usually gauge the quality of the night before by your level of desired movement the next day.  To say we didn’t do shit would be an understatement.  Sally managed to drag me out to the Lao National Museum that happened to be about a block away from the guesthouse.  It wasn’t AC’d and I wasn’t interested so the tour consisted of me making my way from fan to fan while Sally read through the history of Laos.  The museum its self isn’t very well-funded and parts of it look like a diorama constructed by a third grader.  It’s not what one would call ‘content heavy’.  It consists mostly of pictures with a few sentences below describing the photo.

After about an hour of repeating the lines from Tommy Boy I finally snapped out of it enough to read a few captions from the ‘Silent War’.  I found it interesting that any of the photos that depicted anything about the U.S. read ‘the imperialist Americans’.  Here is a photo of the Laos Army getting ready to fight the imperialist Americans.  These are shells from the imperialist Americans.  This is aid given to Laos after the war by the imperialist Americans.  Now I’m no English major, but if we were in fact the imperialists this museum claims us to be, I think there would be far less french baguettes on the side of the road and more fucking movie theaters. (For those of you that didn’t know, the Laos people make a damn fine French baguette, learned during their FRENCH rule, and have integrated it into their daily diet.  You can get excellent sandwiches from the side of the street virtually everywhere in the country)

The following day we made out way to the ancint Buddha park.  The park is full of different Buddhas and Hindu statues dating back to the 1960’s. . . but looked much older.  There are of course several different ways to get to the park that is conveniently located 30k’s from the city center.  You can risk your life on a scooter, grab a tuk tuk that will charge you more then you spent on your 30th birthday night, or be a real traveler and catch the local bus.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough cash to do either of the options we preferred, so it was a long and painfully hot trip on the local bus.

 

Our last day in Vientiane found us peddling our way to the Cope visitor centre.  Sally had expressed interest in the now permanent exhibit at the National Rehabilitation Centre.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect but understood that the pansy dragging of my feet I did the two days prior obligated me to pretty much do anything she wanted.  We were greeted at the door my a young boy who appeared to be no older than 15.  Pinched between his bicep and side he held a white and red stick.  Both of his arms ended just past his elbows.  His large smile and warm attitude instantly made us feel at ease as he cheerfully asked where we were from, how long we had been in Laos, and what we enjoyed most so far.  After our introductions were made he left us to the tour.  The whole exhibit only takes up a room that is about the size of a basketball court.  But the way in which it is laid out and the information it provides is extraordinary.  It talks about the ‘Silent War’ in a very real and straight forward manner.  Starting first with simple facts.  The types of explosives that were used and the amount of bombs dropped on the country, right from the U.S. military record books.  The focus of the exhibit is only momentary placed on the tremendous loss of life during the actual time of conflict.  Its main objective is to share the stories of the thousands of lives effected by the 80 million + UXO (Un Exploded Ordnance) left waiting to claim lives after the war.  To this day there are still hundreds of Laos deaths and injuries each year from a military campaign that ended almost forty years ago.  The Centre shares the stories of those who have had to deal with this lingering collateral damage.  Their trials and tribulations, struggle to get proper prosthetics, and the hugely underfunded programs to help them function in society and aid in the removal of the threat for future generations.

The exhibit leaves you speechless and cringing at the unfortunate catastrophes mankind is able to inflict upon one another.

Vientiane Photos

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a slow, windy seven hour drive through the mountains from Luang Prabang.  We took the VIP bus as the local bus takes about three hours longer to make the journey, and were guaranteed air conditioning, comfortable reclining seats and lunch.  When we arrived at the bus station we couldn’t help but laugh at our “VIP” bus.  It looked about 90 years old and as though it would fall apart at any minute. Bret mentioned that we should view it as a tried and true hero of the road rather than the rolling mass coffin that we saw it as.  Once on board, we laughed even more at the uneven, dirty seats and our “AC” that was really just a fan moving about the warm air.  After we got used to the uncomfortable seats and the stifling heat we set off through the hills of Laos on the day-long journey.  The scenery along the way was absolutely beautiful.  The drive through the lush green mountains and small villages that lined the road (and our ipods) kept us occupied.

Vang Vieng; a small river town that has established itself on the tourist route by renting out tractor inner tubes, opening numerous bars along the river and sending the tourists down a 4-5km stretch, throwing ropes out from each bar to haul them in, welcoming them with free shots, offering up buckets of liquor, beer, opium, “happy” pizza as well as dangerously high zip lines and sketchy water slides.  Needless to say it is a town known to get rowdy from late in the afternoon until the wee hours.  With Bret only a  week away from turning 30 and me not too far behind him, we decided to stay on the outskirts of town so we could rest when we wanted and party on our own accord.

We were extremely happy with our choice of accommodation.  A family run guesthouse at the end of the main road with our own balcony looking out to the stunning mountains that straddle the Mekong River.  The tranquil, peaceful setting was perfect.

After hearing mixed reviews about tubing down the Mekong (including numerous deaths of tourists mixing too much booze/drugs with the activity) and a little back-and-forth on our part due to the looming dark clouds, we decided that we’d try it out, see what the hype was all about.  We headed out just before noon to pick up our tubes and grab a tuk-tuk to the launching site.  No less than two minutes into our walk, the skies opened up and it began pouring.  We waited it out for a bit, sure it was going to be a quick shower but it didn’t stop.  There went our day of tubing.  It rained off and on until mid-afternoon, which turned our day into a chill one, checking out the small town and a fresh water lagoon near our guest house.  Despite the rain it was so damn hot and we were looking forward to swimming in the lagoon.  Unlucky for us, when we arrived it was taken over by tonnes of local kids and they didn’t look like they were going anywhere.

We were keen to see what the town had to offer as far as nightlife goes.  We started off at the local Irish bar (as you do) then started making our way towards the river.  Along the way we stopped off at the Aussie Pub and got chatting to the owner.  We asked him about the tubing and he said that all the bars are closed down at the moment because of an international conference being held in the capital, Vientiane.  The government wanted to tidy things up during the conference and the bars weren’t due to open up again until mid-October.  I guess that explained why the whole town was actually pretty quiet considering the reputation it has.  Our big night out turned into dinner along the river, followed by a few night caps back at the Irish bar.

After hearing about the bars along the river being closed and asking a few of the tubers how they liked it, we decided to skip the float down the river and check out what else Vang Vieng had to offer.  There are many outdoor activities offered to enjoy the stunning surrounds; from kayaking down the Mekong to rock climbing, caving and many waterfalls and lagoons to visit.  We went with the more budget conscious choice of renting bicycles for $1.25 for a 24-hour period.

A German woman we met at the guest house recommended we ride out to the blue lagoon, a 14km round-trip on a gravel/dirt road.  With the cheaply made beach cruiser style bikes we rented, Bret was not keen to be going “off-road” that long.  Instead we thought we’d check out a loop east of town that took us past the Kaeng Nyui waterfall.  The ride started out great, the bikes were easy to ride and we were cruising with very little effort.  Then we took our turn towards the falls and were met with a gravel road riddled with pot-holes and a staggering number of hills.  The small villages, rich green jungle, and rice paddy fields were enough motivation to keep us peddling on.  About an hour into the ride it started to rain and it continued to rain, heavily, until about ten minutes before we reached the end of the loop and were back on the paved road heading home.  When all was said and done, the ride took just over two hours, we were soaked through, had walked up
countless hills (our single-gear bikes didn’t allow us to ride up them), were greeted by many village children (saying hello in the local Laos traditional manner for children under twelve, ‘yougivememoney’) and saw some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen.  It was definitely a ride to remember.

After three nights in Vang Vieng we were ready to move on.  The town itself is centered around young people trying to get their party on, however, the surrounding countryside and along the river is beautiful and is was well-worth the short stay.

Vang Vieng Photos

Luang Prabang

There are various options when it comes to traveling from Thailand to Luang Prabang (Laos). We actually sat awestruck in Peru at 430 in the morning (on our way up to Machu Picchu) when a Swedish naval officer enthusiastically described his journey across the border. “There are these boats that are old as shit and look like they shouldn’t even be floating. Long boats with wooden bench seats that remind you of the football (soccer) stadium seating in the 70’s. They are meant to carry 50 people, they sell the tickets for 70, and they try to pack on 100! When all the seats are full and people are squatting in the aisle, they begin to chant in objection to more tourists being packed onto the boat like cattle. “We need another boat, one more boat, we need another boat.” he expressed surprisingly loud for as early as it was, with a smile on his face from ear to ear. “It was sooo cooool”. We found it ironic that a naval captain was confessing his love for a boat that seemed destin to sink if a light breeze picked up.

“Uh, how long is the boat trip?” we asked. When he responded two days and then proceeded to describe the battle to run up a hill and grab the best of the worst accommodation for the over night part of the trip, we decided it was not going to be an option we would consider.

Another route to Laos was taken by a couple we know from Seattle who had been in country a few months before us. In their blog they had depicted a bus ride that reconnected them with their inner-spiritual beliefs as the bus driver backed the rusted automobile off the side of the road. Leaving the rear of the bus hanging in mid-air as the passengers contemplated just how far they were going to plummet to their death.

Thus several options were narrowed down to only one, “I fly like paper get high like planes, catch me at the border I got visas in my name”. The song not only appropriate because we flew, but also handed over seven times the amount of cash as the other options. . . “Ching, and take your money.” The easy one hour flight brought us into the communist country of Laos. As an American I don’t support nor fully understand communism. All I know is I hate it and it keeps me from smoking a finely rolled Cuban cigar.

When we stepped off the plane we were overwhelmed by the gorgeous and powerful presence of the Laos mountains. The large peaks are held in the air by dramatic cliffs. Vegetation engulfing them so tightly you can barely make out the small patches of exposed rock. The low hanging clouds form a gray haze that fills the valleys and adds to the perceived hight of the amazing backdrop.

Once we were settled into our guesthouse we decided to venture into the heart of town and explore the night market. We have been to our fair share of markets while in Thailand and I was not looking forward to the hassle of not being able to steal more than a glance at something without being harassed about a purchase and shown every other piece of merchandise the vendor possess. Not to mention the headache of bartering if you did find something you were considering buying. The 30-40% rule. That is about how much you should be paying by the time it’s all said and done. If you don’t counter their initial offer by stating you wouldn’t consider even paying half of what they are asking, then you are in for a long debate.

I was bracing myself for the onslaught of attention grabbing tactics as the lights of town drew closer. I winced as we passed our first restaurant, then a second, a third, a tuk-tuk. Before I knew it we were halfway through the laid out carpets of the night market and barley a single word was spoken to us. It was like someone took the noise we had become accustomed to in Thailand and put it on mute. Further observation discovered the lack of trash on the streets and piles of garbage wedged into every break between the buildings. It was really refreshing and an unexpected surprise.

The night market overtook the main street that runs through town and made its way down several blocks. The goods ranging from hand crafted bags and slippers to silver and Lao Lao bottles stuffed with snakes (Lao Lao is the local rice whiskey). As with most of the markets we have been to there is a pattern of repetition. This is great for getting an idea of what the genuine price of a particular item is, but becomes tiresome if you walk the length of the market more than twice.

The best thing about the night market is the food ally that is off the main street about midway through the market. Every kind of street food that is available in the area is packed into the tight side street as well as several competing buffet vendors. Ten to fifteen large plates of various dishes are capped off with a selection of meat and fish grilled on a stick. 10,000 Kip or $1.25 will get you whatever you can pack onto your plate (meat is extra of course). It’s enough to put the budget conscious traveler in a food coma for the next three days.

Luang Prabang has a deep and rich Buddhist tradition. Every morning the community lines the streets with their food offering for the local monks. They sit patiently as the line of monks make their way from family to family, taking a small amount of food from each, that will collectively feed them for the day. Tourists are allowed to watch but are discouraged from participating and asked to respect the ceremonial proceedings by being discreet. Not everyone got the memo. We shook our heads at the stupidity of some of the tourists who neglected to read up on the event prior to visiting. One girl had her high-powered lens just inches from a monks face as she rattled off several pictures per second. She followed the line of monks as if they were a Hollywood celebrity and she was providing the next tabloid front cover story.

The forefathers of Luang Prabang erected a temple at the top of a hill that the town is centered around. Several hundred steps lead you to a great lookout of the small town and the surrounding countryside. It has become a tourist tradition to make their way to the top of the hill and watch the sunset behind the mountains. The night we chose to make the journey didn’t prove to be overly fruitful. The haze we had become accustomed to was enough to tint the sun a blood-red, but the lack of clouds left me underwhelmed with the unnecessary exercise.

One of the main attractions in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si waterfall. Its beautiful turquoise water is very reminiscent of the crystal clear ocean water that lines Long Beach in Ko Phi Phi. Large pockets in the river create several small waterfalls and provide great swimming holes. The entire setting feels like it is straight out of a movie and is nothing short of amazing. The falls attract both locals and tourists alike and is easily worth the $2.50 entrance fee.

There is also a bear sanctuary at the base of the falls that is good for ten to thirty minutes of entertainment. The bears were rescued from being smuggled or kept as pets and spend most of their time being destructive or wrestling with each other.

As with any attraction there are different ways of reaching the falls. We unfortunately decided on a minibus for 50,000 kip each. For some reason when making these decisions we always neglect to reflect on our past experiences. The tour was supposed to be four hours long. Your impulsive concept of the adventure is visualizing yourself strolling the banks of the waterfall for at least three hours. It isn’t until you are sitting at the front desk of your hostel for thirty minutes past the supposed pick up time you realize your not making this trip alone. Pick up time for the jammed packed van ended up being an hour in total. Five minutes were dedicated to the South Korean lady protesting about being treated like sausage filling. The stench of wet dog and poor AC did not make the 13 people in the 9 seater van excited about their decision.

The 45 minute drive had us arriving to the falls just short of halfway through our tour time. The expected drive back ment we had about an hour and a half to enjoy the falls. The driver said we could have extra time because we took so long to get to the falls but the group needed to decide collectively when we were going to head back to town. Of course luck would have it that some dipshit (who also happened to be a member of T.A.L.K.S. Go (Those Against Letting Known Silence Go). We haven’t run into one of them since the Pantanal.) decided to squeeze the falls trip in before his flight out of country. He timed it so he would have an hour to get from his hotel to the airport after the tour. Only if we left exactly at the four-hour mark of the trip and he was the first one to be dropped off. His unrelenting blabbering for the entire hour and forty minutes it took to get to the falls sucked all of the oxygen out of the van and caused minor ear infections for the rest of us as our heads began to pound from the lack of air. Maybe if it would have been someone whose voice didn’t cause our ears to bleed, we would have been more accepting of his retardedness. It was a wonderful reminder of how democracy can really mean one asshole deciding for everyone else with no regard for anyone but himself.

That put the two of us on hyperspeed as we tried to suck in as much of the falls as possible in our short amount of time. We couldn’t help feeling envious of the few smart tourists and locals who had taken their own mode of transportation to the falls. Their packed lunches spread across picnic tables as they reached for their sixth beer from their cooler. Not a care in the world as they kicked back for the entire day. We both agreed that renting scooters would have been by far the better option.

Luang Prabang Photos