Luang Prabang

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On our first day in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic – it’s a Communist state), we rented bicycles for 10,000 kip each (US $1). We rode those old school curved handle bar banana seat bikes all around town. First we went to the Mekong river which Ron walked/trudged/swam across, and where a group of Bhuddist novices crossed to our side in their boat to say hi on their lunch break from studies.

We then continued biking parallel to the river’s curve, and arrived at the temple compound at the base of Mount Phousi, the highest point in Luang Prabang. The buildings were not interesting and we couldn’t understand why several people told us to visit this lame place, and decided to head off. Luckily, a novice told Ian where to go and we began walking up a long steep set of old stairs. At the top of this stairwell was a small sheltered area with what is supposedly one of Bhudda’s giant footprints. There were several novices there and we spoke with them for a few minutes before continuing up more steps.

We climbed some more, then walked partways around the mountain on a less steep path/road, then finally came to the ticket booth (foreigners have to pay 15,000 kip to go up to the top). Another couple hundred steps later and we had reached the very top. The little temple there and the old stupa were nothing special (to us) but the view was great. We also met a Brit named Adam and a Swiss guy named Remy who have been travelling together since meeting each other in Thailand while diving. We saw them again later that day in town and again the next day as we ate supper at a local restaurant. Real nice guys, and very well travelled.

We finally got down to the bottom of the hill again, found our bikes, and started off thinking of food in the near future. After biking around the outskirts of town for some time, we saw a sign pointing to the waterfalls and Ian asked a policeman how far the waterfalls were from there. “5 minutes,” he said. So we decided that 5 minutes each way and some time at the waterfalls was short enough that we could put off eating that much without worry.

It turns out that people in SE Asia not only have no understanding of left and right, but no understanding of English words for time. Despite this, they always answer if you ask them and they all seem to know the word ‘minute.’

45 minutes of hills and potholes on our crappy not-even-quite-city-worthy bikes, and Ian asked some Brits going the opposite way on mountain bikes how much further we had to go. They advised us not to even try it, as they on their mountain bikes had spent hours getting there and back. We took their advice and turned around immediately. That night we checked out a local pub but it was not a particularly cool place. We had fun nonetheless, meeting two cool Norwegian girls (Sigrid and Rikke) and a local named Song who ferried us on his motorbike to a late night restaurant to eat.

The next day we wasted lounging around until we caught a tuk-tuk at about 4pm to the waterfalls. It was a 50 minute ride at crazy speeds on a dirt road that was so full of potholes I almost thought I was back in Uganda. Our driver was good: we passed every other tuk-tuk and minibus that we came across, and rolled over a chicken that was stupid enough to run TOWARD the moving vehicle instead of away from it.

We spent an hour at the waterfalls, mostly taking funny photos, then caught the tuk-tuk back home in the dark. We saw where we turned around on our bikes the previous day and it was not even a fifth of the distance. We would never have made it if we had kept going that day.

That evening Ian got food poisoning and we took him to the China-Lao Friendship Hospital by tuk-tuk, at about 11pm. They gave him an injection and some powdered medicine to mix with water and after about an hour there, he felt well enough to get back in the tuk-tuk for the ride back to our guesthouse.

The hospital was really sketchy; the emergency room beds were covered in stains from different bodily fluids, the pillows were brown with grime (we put two shirts on the pillow for Ian to keep his head clean, and he kept his clothes on so his skin didn’t touch the dirty bedsheets). They assured us without us asking, that they only use needles once and then throw them away. The next morning we were supposed to take a minibus to Vang Vieng but we postponed it a day until Ian felt better.

We didn’t do much that day as we were all pretty tired, and that evening I had 4 samosas and a huge piece of garlic naan bread for dinner. When the others finally wanted to eat, we went to a restaurant and I had four fruit milkshakes: Apple, Coconut, Pineapple, and Papaya. All at once. Each one was a pint (half a litre) and I managed to finish three and a half of them before my stomach couldn’t take it anymore. Ron finished the remaining bit for me.

Next day we caught our 6 hour minibus to Vang Vieng, further south in the Mekong river delta. More about that later…