I’m ill. I hate being ill as much as I hate looking for overpriced accommodation while I’m ill. It could be worse. I could have a meaningless job to go to, running in circles trying to keep up in the rat race. I’d rather be ill in Luang Prabang. I stepped off the boat and wandered for a little while, surprised at the cost of accommodation. I’m sure everyone told me Laos was cheaper than Thailand? Anyhows, the hostel touts were pleasant enough. No means no in this country. I like it. No hassles. Just polite conversation. I ended up finding Ping, the owner of Paddichith Hostel, standing on a street corner looking bored. He took me in for less kip than the rest, and he even gave me as many free bananas as I could eat while I stay. Bargain. Well, not really, it was setting me back just under £7 a night.
Night was setting in so I visited the local night market, grabbed a buffet style plate of food and went in for a Laos style massage. Some much needed pampering made me feel better, momentarily. I headed back to sleep in my private room with free WiFi and bananas for what seemed like an eternity.
The night market was amazing and I didn’t give it my full attention that night. By default, I managed to visit the market every night. By far the best souvenirs and clothes I’d seen so far in SE Asia. If only I wanted to buy souvenirs.
I slept until midday. The weather similar to my health and mental state, grey and moody. I walked the streets. It was relatively cool. The cash situation is easy here. Find an ATM, insert card and withdraw cash for a charge of just over £1.50 per transaction.
Luang Prabang was very continental. The French influence obvious. The town was relaxed and calm and full of tourists. Guest houses and restaurants everywhere. It had a nice feel. No hassles, no rush. I instantly liked it.
I crossed over the bamboo bridge. It barely took my weight.
On other side, chickens, hens and cockerels were everywhere. This is where the locals lived. I realised that there was a clear divide in the city. One place was for foreigners and over the river was for the locals. A completely different living standard. Almost rural.
I found a relaxed but expensive bar with great views of the river and an equally comfy chill out area and collapsed. I ordered a fruit shake and made full use of the WiFi and read some words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama.
Luang Prabang has many novices and monks to fill the abundance of high quality and well looked after monasteries and temples. I met a charming little novice fella who gave me an insight into life as a novice. His English was good for his age.
The temples were stunning and well maintained. The novices helped in their upkeep.
In one of the small temples, I lifted a Buddha and made a wish. It was a particularly heavy Buddha but I managed to lift it so my wish was planted firmly in destiny.
Wandering LP, I saw a number of bakeries and coffee shops. This was SE Asia’s Paris. I wandered into an Internet shop and wanted to upload some pictures. The anti virus software found some worms and trojans and decided to wipe all my pictures from my USB again. I was calm. Ill but calm. It’s happened so many times now, plus I just read how the Dalai Lama himself deals with difficult situations. This issue can be resolved. Not in Laos, maybe in KL. The virus saga continues. Either way it’ll get sorted.
Fucking viruses. I’m getting a laptop the minute I get to KL.
I sweat the night away but wake up a little more lively than in the last few days. Like every morning, I miss the monks collecting their donations. But I meditated. I was productive. I sorted out my future travels and purchased tickets. As I surfaced out of my bedroom I was met by a friendly little man called Peng. Funny, that means expensive. Sure, I may have pronounced his name wrong, however, for the sake of this story I’ll call him Peng. I tried to learn some Laos lingo from him and before I know it he has invited me to his home. He told me someone he knows is learning English and he thought we could learn off each other. Sounded like a deal.
I hired a bike and we cycled to his place at the other side of town, away from the tourist area. I had a clearer mind and was feeling much better, not 100% but better.
I was introduced to Sim, Nat and Now. Spelled as said. The house was a large wooden beast which had been split into 16 small rooms. The rooms each house two people. The walls were thin plasterboard. The rooms small. Somehow, they slept, cooked and ate in their tiny little rooms. American posters and newspapers covered the wooden walls.
I felt extremely lucky to be invited into his place. They all made me feel very welcome. His room cost 250,000 kip per month. That’s £20. Three nights at his hotel. Thirty five year old Peng, Ping’s brother, introduced me to his third wife, nineteen year old Sim. Exactly what I thought. She was seven months pregnant. He already had two children from previous wives. Bit of a player me thinks.
I spent three hours in their room talking and eating. They cooked a feast of noodles and dried seaweed. I learned a lot of Laos as a language and Laos as a country. I’m not sure they learned any English. According to Nat, it costs 1,300,000 kip per year to go to school. That’s just over a hundred quid. Reasonable for a westerner, not so if you are from a poor family in Laos.
Peng seemed adamant that he was going to match make between 17 year old Nat and myself. When I said the pretty young girl was too young for me, he explained this was OK in Laos. I wasn’t convinced. I made a hasty exit and went to see the rest of Luang Prabang on my rusty bucket bike. Weird experience.
The weather was sweet and I just had a dose of real life with real Laos people. Finally, I was starting to like Laos. My little one gear bike had an extremely unmovable bike seat that was positioned far too short for my six foot legs. I’m six foot. this would have fitted a 10 year old kid perfect. It was a funny sight.
I did all the temples, crossed another flimsy bamboo bridge and had a walk by the Mekong River. There’s a point where the Nam Khan and the Mekong rivers meet each other. It’s pretty stunning. This city, although it’s no larger than a small British town, has got it all.
I noticed some novices in their orange robes on the other side. They all suddenly jumped in. Fully clothed. The current took them down stream quickly. They were all laughing and giggling. I was terrified for them. They got out the other side, soaked but smiling How weird. It seemed like they did it regularly. Who said Buddhist monks can’t have fun?
I also went up the hill that all the tourists go up for sunset. Ironically named Clumsy Hill. It was heaving. I left before the sun actually set and viewed the sunset from the less populated viewing point at the bottom of the hill.
That night at the hotel I met the owner, Mr Padichith himself. He was nuts. He spoke a little French and flirted outrageously with the ladies. At 73 years old, he’d had a good innings and didn’t look like he was going to stop any time soon. He was nicknamed Mr Boom Boom. He enjoyed talking about sex frequently. That night was my last night sweating out my fever.
The next day saw me back to my usual 101%. I felt amazing. I had energy. I was pumped. After breakfast by the river, I got a Trek 3900 mountain bike and went to Kuang Si Falls. These picturesque and beautiful waterfalls were situated 30km out of town so the ride was challenging but the road was tarmaced so relatively flat.
Laos is lush. The scenery was the best I’ve seen so far in Asia. I can’t describe how amazing it was to be riding a brand new high quality aluminium framed mountain bike with decent suspension. It’s been 6 months since I sold my Specialized Rockhopper. Add to that Laos and its unique lush greenery and you have a pretty special bike ride. The vegetation was spectacular, various palms, crops growing, old trees, straight trees, small and absolutely huge trees. I know my trees.
There were signs of where China gets its wood from but these areas had grown over and didn’t spoil the views. The sun was shining and the kids waved as I went by, high five’s dealt out to the select cool. Everyone seemed friendly, calls of ‘sabadee’ were endless and I always received with a smile. I’d been spoilt by India and Burma. I wouldn’t receive a celebrity welcome anywhere else but Laos didn’t disappoint.
I stopped occasionally to wipe the sweat and get a drink from a road side shop. In Laos, most houses have table and chairs outside. Friends stop by and talk. I love this sociable part of Laos. A lot of old ladies have made their house a shop. They get in goods which have a long shelf life and chill out at the front just in case any body wants a drink or a bag of crisps as they pass. It’s a social thing more than a money spinner. This social aspect of western culture is disappearing with the integration of technology.
I enjoyed sitting down, outside a shop with an old Laos lady, probably her first customer that week, drinking my cold sugary drink while trying to communicate via a game of charades was fun. Smiles go a long way.
I continued to the public park where the waterfall was. After paying to park my bike, yes, a charge for bicycles, I ventured into the beauty of Kuang Si.
The waterfall by Pyin Oo Lyin was stunning and this was on a par. The water was a pale blue and extremely clean. A lot more tourists were here but they’d looked after it and made it safe to swim, the rope swing into the pool was a bonus.
I met a couple of girls from my guest house who obliged by taking pictures as I threw myself into the pool from both the rope swing and the top of the waterfall. Thanks ladies. I’m extremely vain.
When in the freezing cold water my feet were attacked by some sucky things. A fellow tourist warned me they were leeches. Unsure but worth the risk I decided to leave the pool pronto.
I dried off and went further up the way to discover even more mini waterfalls and the daddy waterfall. I met Johnny, an American dude I’d seen in Pai. He’d got a bike too so we rode back to Luang Prabang together.
When boarding our beasts we met a dude who’d seen a shocking sight on the way here. A couple on a bike had tied up a huge pig and were carrying it on their scooter. The pig fell off when they were riding it. The dude stopped to help. The pig squealed in agony. The couple pulled it along the road and back onto the bike. Further down the road, it happened again.
Only in Asia.
Before we left we discovered some bears. Didn’t see that coming. Waterfalls and bears.
The journey back seemed to be mainly downhill, which was great, because my legs were jelly. We stopped at a kids market. The children were keen sales people and gave us a hard sell. I didn’t need anything but before I knew it, I had yet another bracelet on my wrist. My little ‘buy-a-bracelet-in-every-country’ tradition needs to stop. Damn kids.
That night I met up with the girls and we went for some street food and a drink in Utopia. I pushed the boat out and had a beer.
My time in Luang Prabang was done. I’d rested, recuperated and had fun, mainly as a lone traveler. I liked it. I went down to the market and bought some tasty sausages and sizzling pork for breakfast. A treat. I had a long and crazy journey to Luang Namtha ahead of me.
I just want to add… that after five months of travelling on buses, in India, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, sometimes through dangerous and winding mountain roads, always on bumpy uneven surfaces, I have never ever had a lunatic driver like this. NEVER. In the mini van, with no air con, he managed to make an eight hour journey six. He drove over uneven bumpy surfaces like he cared not for the shock absorbers or if the wheels fell off. Sometimes he hit pot holes so hard that I was sure the wheels would buckle. I actually felt sick. I was on the back seat holding on for dear life. My arms ached from holding on too tight. On many occasions I cleared the seat and hit the roof of the van. No chance to read or even pick your nose for a minute. It was a white knuckle ride. One I’ll never forget. Ever.