compass Squat, Rattle & Roll! - Lao Part 1 compass

Friday April 22

We got all excited at the airport when they checked our boarding pass and pointed for us to go into a small air conditioned mini-van to the plane instead of the bus. The minute it took to drive there, we day dreamed about being bumped to business class or even first class and not being told (it actually happened to me on a Singapore Air flight…once) and what we would “get” extra on a one hour flight. Jokes on us, it was just another weird way of doing things. We sat in our 10A & 10B and were quickly followed by our seat mate in 10C and all the other bus economy passengers in rows 1 thru 9.

Once in Luang Prabang we caught a mini-van to the cheap hotels area and found a room on the ground floor with a cute patio. We were a bit worried about the poo smell but found the source, a very dead plant in the bathroom, and put it on the patio…and never could use it or have our patio doors open because of the stench. But it had a nice view.

We grabbed a map and went for our city walk. Luang Prabang is like a tiny Chiang Mai full of temples and tourists and great places to eat.

My favorite temple of the day

On our walk I got my addiction for temples in.

Phu Si – a beautiful walk up a mountain that separates the city and dotted with cave temples, temples, lying down Buddha and even a monk’s foot print in cement.

Wat Tham Phu Si – a small cave-shrine.

Wat Xieng Thong, Wat - with weird gilt panels depicting erotic episodes from Ramayana.

Wat Wisunalat – constructed in 1513, it’s the oldest continually operating temple in Luang Prabang. In front is That Patum (Lotus Stupa) which was built in 1514.

Wat Xieng Maen – which has a gold painted ceiling.

Interesting to note: With backing from Unesco and New Zealand, young novice monks are being trained to maintain and preserve Luang Prabang’s temples.

Just as it was starting to rain and we’d had enough temples we stopped at bakery for some cake, a corner store for beer and a fruit pickup truck for our dinner.

Buddhas and weird paintings inside my favorite temple

In the cave

Saturday April 23

We woke up to the sound of rain. James said it stormed all night but I as usual slept through it. We lounged in bed until it stopped, dried up a bit and we could venture outside. We took a ferry across the river and walked a muddy road to see a few temples and take in the views.

We stopped at Wat Tham Xieng Maen which is a 100m-deep limestone cave where decayed (and kinda creepy) Budda statues have come to rest. We paid our admission and dug out our headlamps and started in. A gang of young kids decided to follow with flash lights….k. Once in the cave we quickly realized that there was a lighting system, likely shut off by this gang so they could insist on being tour guides and charging. Now I completely understand having to make a living but I do not agree with encouraging the scamming and dishonesty. To make things worse they had decided we should follow them, at their speed and had a habit of shiny their lights in our eyes every time we spoke to each other. If we fell behind (we really like caves) or didn’t follow them they’d yell at us. Geezzzzz

Ferry across the river

It turned out to be a beautiful walk. The path/road snaked through a small village filled with ice cream men ringing their bells, kids biking and chasing each other, tractors filled with veggies and men sitting on their front steps chatting with each other. Just out of the village it over looked the Mekong which had about a dozen men standing up to their waists in the water swinging fishing nets. Very quiet and serene.

After cleaning the mud off we had a great supper at Joma café. Anyone traveling in Lao should look it up. Fresh soups, sandwiches, salads (ohhh how I’ve missed salad dressing) and yummy Lao coffee for not a bad price in a clean air conditioned “café” and free wifi.

Near our hotel was a cute bar that resembled a tree house that had Lao Lao whisky for pretty cheap. James had to try some so we stopped and had a few with water buffalo skewers. I got a bit drunk last year on Lao Lao (the lemon isn’t too bad) and mine went down slow. Straight up it tastes a lot like gasoline.

It was over Lao Lao and water buffalo skewers, and a few afternoon beers, that James started his list of “tourists he would like to punch”. Now for those of you who know James, you might not be surprised this lists exists but for anyone else I should explain that I love him to pieces but he is a tad bit like a grumpy old man at times (a lot). And while I agree with the list, I’m not sure they warrant a punch in the face.

Main Street Luang Prabang

The list so far:

-Any tourist who thinks he’s acting like a local and goes barefoot on the streets. (First EWWW and second I don’t think they would choose shoeless if they had a choice.)
-Any tourist who wears a SAME SAME t-shirt. (??)
-Any male tourist wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, especially if it’s a Tubing in Lang Vieang one. (the Tubing shirt I can agree with, but sleeveless – he has a thing about them on guys.)
-Any guy shirtless, 2 punches if his boxers are showing. (I agree here, the local people look horrified when guys walk buy shirtless in the streets, it’s just disrespectful)
-Anyone carrying bongos. (a guy walked by with bongos as he was making his list)

Sunday April 24

A tuk-tuk picked us up at 7 am for our 8 hour VIP bus to Vientiane. I was a bit doubtful of the VIP-ness of the bus when we rocked and rolled and bounced (James mumbled something about no shocks) and listing (can I say that about a bus the same I would a boat?) heavily to the right as we pulled out of the bus lot. Even more so when we stopped not 30 feet from the lot to pick up passengers. Now I understand the driver wants his bus full but the difference between a local bus and VIP bus is it’s supposed to be faster because we don’t stop 35 times to pick up people, we are all supposed to have our own seat and not share with the people in plastic chairs in the isles and we are supposed to have air-conditioning. This is where I get frustrated and might sound bitching (again) but if you said to me “Here is a bus, a bit cleaner than a local bus, has a few moments of air conditioning and will take as long as a local bus” then I can decide whether to spend double the money for it or just go local. Why lie to me? Sorry Lao, you are so close but just haven’t quite figured it out. “sigh”. (James’ Note: they charge the same as other countries without providing the same level of service? Some would say they have figured it out just fine.)

Our mountain route

We met a couple on our Halong Bay cruise that also likes to keep track of how prices are in different countries (ie a Big Mac, a beer, a meal) and they use Magnum ice-cream bars as their marker. Well in Lao it can cost 2 meal tickets. We try never to eat at bus stops and carry a lunch so when this bus ticket included a meal I asked if I could trade mine for a Magnum, she said 2……deal!

A few minutes into the trip a guy started passing out barf bags. James looked at me a bit curious. Oh yeah, something about Laotians and buses, they don’t mix and there tends to be a lot of puking. James took a bag saying if he heard or saw someone else he might start. I pulled Tiger Balm out of my magic fix all bag and we dabbed it under our noses and started watching tv on the ipod. As it turned out we were too close to the front and the plastic chairs lined up past us. A young girl puked and gagged most of the 11 hours. James was lucky enough to be right next to her, to fully enjoy it as she rested her head on the shared arm rest to puke. Oh did I mention the guy selling the ticket lied? It ended up being a long, bumpy, hot, listing 11 hour bus ride full of puking people…. and our ipod died after 4 hours. Lol On a positive note, because there always is one, the scenery in Lao is beautiful. Wide open fields dotted with straw huts, animals, farmers in conical hats, karst formations that seem to pop out of nowhere and rivers and streams with fisherman on the banks or in lazy moving boats. We didn’t actually spend much time watching tv on our ipod, just used it to drown out the retching sounds, the landscape was just too beautiful. The scenery even included three separate mountain road accidents, two of them cow related.

Once in Vientaine we dropped our bags and practically ran to get food and ended up having a great Indian meal. After eating we were using the free wifi and caught Blaine & Jude on skype. We couldn’t hear a thing they said but they looked great. Cottage fresh air will do that.

We were late enough going home to see the lady boys parading the streets. I wouldn’t have paid much attention but James was checking them out unaware they were not women. Heheheeheh (James’ Note: I was not unaware, I just didn’t care. If all I am doing is looking, then hot is hot.)

A temple built in honour of a prince who won numerous battles with the help of his magic fan

Monday April 25

Today’s plan was our walk of the city. Lonely Planet has one that is pretty decent so we followed it.

Of course it had about a half dozen Wats (temples), a stop at the local market where I bought fabric to make skirts (Lao women mostly wear long straight wrap skirts in beautiful unique designs), stupas, pagodas and even a walk along the Mekong (it is still honestly the Mekong – although hard to believe because I’ve mentioned it almost every day for 5 weeks) and the Patuxai. The storey behind the Patuxai makes me laugh. The USA donated a bunch of cement in 1969 to build a new airport. Instead they partially built the Patuxai, an ugly cement version of the Arc de Triomphe. It was never finished due to country turmoil. You can pay a whole 40 cents to walk to the top and are rewarded with striking views of Vientiane. (James’ Note: I’m pretty sure the original Arc didn’t have gift store on the top three floors) We finished our tour at Pha That Luang. A giant, golden stupa that is the most important national monument in Lao. Legend says that missionaries from India erected it here to enclose a breastbone from a Buddha. Construction began early in the 3rd century and has continued so today it is surrounded by temples and gardens. It is a shiny sight, that’s for sure!

Stinky, sweaty and hot and not excited to return to our budget fan only room with no window we stopped for a cold Lao beer. For dinner we grabbed our computer and sat at Joma café enjoying their air, free wifi and yummy soups and sandwiches.

So peaceful, another favorite

Love his smile!

All is golden at Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang

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