The bus to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng is meant to take 6 or 7 hours. We set off at about 11 and bingo, I got a window seat. I spent a lot of the journey reading a story my friend had written off my phone. I read quite far down and then realised the rest of it hadnt downloaded and with no wifi to help me carry on, I fell asleep. Just as well. When I woke up I looked out of the window. The view was magnificent. Green hills and mountains for as far as the eye could see. One problem: sheer drops with not a lot in the way of a barrier. And if the wheels skidded, we weren’t going to have much of a hope of staying alive. I tried not to think about this too much; the drivers here do this journey frequently and I have lived to tell the tale. To be fair, our driver went very slowly until we ended up getting stuck behind some construction guys building the road ahead. To make up for the hour or so lost, the driver went really fast around bends and corners. It was OK though, I’ve had worse journeys.
We stopped for food twice and arrived at the bus station just before 7. We had to get a tuk tuk into town. Again, I hadnt booked but managed to get myself to the best part of town for backpackers – Ban Ho Xiang. I was really happy to find a little alley way lined with well-lit and pretty guesthouses. I went to the Xayana Guesthouse. Dorm beds were 3500 kip. They were full but had a single for 10000. I took it, this place looked cool.
I dumped my stuff and went for a little wander. The Night Market was right on my doorstep which was great. There seemed to be cliques of people together as well as the compulsory couples. I started to feel a bit out of it and tried to work out the best strategy to get talking to people.
I got some dinner and headed back to the hostel courtyard. There was a group of people sat in a corner laughing and drinking. I sat across from them to do some writing. They beckoned me over to sit with them. Yeah!! They were from Korea and spoke some good English. Turned out 2 of them also work in TV. I didn’t have to tell them I baked bread for a living. People always think telly is glamorous and want to know more. Its been fun inventing new personas instead…
A couple of Japanese guys Id seen on the bus came by – they were staying across the way. And then we were joined by an Aussie, a couple of people from California and a really cool German guy (also in media!) who invited me to go to the waterfalls on a motorbike. Yikes. That would have been good but you know me and motorbikes… We partied on way past curfew and long after the front door was closed. It was only when we saw people stumbling back from the bowling alley (the only place in town you can get a drink after hours) that we realised how late it was. The Koreans had gone to bed (guess what..? They were leaving tomorrow) but the rest of the guys recognised these new drunkies and decided to join them for some drinks at their hostel. My new German friend asked me to come along but I was pretty knackered by now so I went to bed. All good.
I thought Id woken up pretty late the next day. Even the lads from last night were already having breakfast. We said morning and I headed off to do some wandering. I sat in a bakery and got a coffee. A guy sat down near me. I didnt pay him too much attention but it’s always interesting to people-watch and work out which other travellers might also be alone. I sat there for a long time just doing a bit of reading.
When I was ready to leave, I took my time walking down the main road, taking everything in. Id attempted to do this last night but most things start to close around 10pm, leaving just darkness. I saw the boy from earlier again in another cafe reading his book. I walked to the end of the peninsula, where the Mekong converges with the Mae Kok River. Locals were swimming, saw some tourists sunbathing. Pretty idyllic.
The riverside was clearly where the older folk with dollar stayed. It was quiet. In fact the whole town was quiet. Where was everyone? I walked alongside the river and discovered that this breed of Lao man (touting for boat rides) was clearly not intimidated by western females. I think at one point I was followed for a few hundred metres but it was all pretty harmless.
It was too hot to do much so I wandered back into town and got an iced coffee and read. I later went to visit the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre to learn about the different Lao people and their courtship rituals. It was very amusing!
I then made my way to an organisation called Big Brother Mouse which has been set up to help Laotians improve their English. They accept volunteers so I decided to give it a go! I was walking over when this American girl, Monica from NYC, stopped me to ask where the university was. Didnt have a clue but we got chatting anyway and she sounded interested in BBM so came with me.
I was expecting to read to a group of children but the group was mainly made up of young men. I listened to a 17 year old called Sivan read to me about dinosaurs. Mate, there were words, even I couldnt pronounce! Sivan came from a province 6hrs drive away but was working in a hotel to fund his way through college. He wants to return to his village as an English teacher. Monica was having a great time teaching a small group of lads how to say names of fruit and veg!
A monk turned up too. Monica and I weren’t sure if we were even allowed to look at him let alone talk to him but Sivan said we just weren’t allowed to touch him. He was a lovely chap and spoke English very well – he’d been learning for 2 years. He told me how he wanted to go to Thailand to see a doctor as he kept getting stomach cramps and had been for about 3 years every day. I really wanted to give him some buscopan but probably best not play doctor!
Monica left with another girl to take one of the boys to anotherEnglish class 20 minutes away. I decided to stay on at BBM, I was really enjoying finding out about these boys’ lives. It was really interesting learning why they wanted to speak English and also what their lives were like.
AT 7pm we finished and I found a great little place for dinner; I had noodles and a drink for 20,000 kip – just over £1.50!
I wandered a bit more and felt a bit more in place; Id met a great group of people yesterday and had had more interactions today. I decided to head back to the hostel to see if anyone was about. I passed the post office and heard some music coming from behind it so I decided to find out what was going on. I had to pass a security guard but he was asleep with 2 big empty bottles of Beer Lao next to him – don’t think he’d be a problem. I peered behind a wall and was excited to see a Lao party in full swing! People were drinking beerand dancing and they all looked happy. A couple of people noticed me and smiled. A man beckoned me over to dance. I wanted to but I had bags with me and I really wanted to share this with someone. I watched for a few more moments and then headed round the corner to the hostel.
There was an open air showing of Avatar in the courtyard. Quite a few people had gathered. This was good. I would sit down and watch too and then maybe find someone to come back to the Lao party. I decided to just go pick up some laundry Id left across the road that morning and come back. Then someone caught my eye. Sat at the back in a corner; the boy Id seen twice already today! So he was staying here too! Anyways I went over to pick up my clothes and mistakenly assumed a man sat outside to be an employee. Turned out he was a Japanese tourist. I invited him over to watch the film!
I got back and the bloody film had finished! A few older women started chatting. They included the boy in their conversation. In the meantime, the Japanese dude who’d been on my bus and had sat with us yesterday turned up so I got chatting to him. I told him about the Lao party but he didnt seem up for it. In fact it was already getting late – maybe about 11 by now. It was St Paddy’s night. Id clearly missed the party people somewhere. The women and the boy had gone to bed within half an hour. I sat outside and read. A couple of people Id met the night previous came back looking worn out. Didnt look like anyone was going to come Lao dancing with me. (I did ‘gatecrash’ a lunchtime performance at a school on my last day with Jiang. They were doing it outside and we stopped to watch, got asked to join in so we did. Everyone clapped haha)
The next day I went to play with elephants! I went for an elephant ride and fed my elephant sugar cane. She was cool. And very hungry. She kept pointing her trunk at me. I just wanted to give her a big hug. But probably not a good idea. Such long eyelashes. I wonder what they think about.
The two Aussie girls Id met at Vientiane airport were on this trip with me. We talked about where we’d gone and what we were doing. They had got lost in a National Park near Vientiane and they’d ended up phoning their parents who then phoned the Australian Embassy who then got “3 men in thongs (in hindsight not sure if they meant flipflops or pants) to come out with torches” to rescue them. I asked if they weren’t worried about snakes. “Snakes??” they asked…
Later on we went to visit Kuang Si waterfall which means Big Waterfall. It was beyooootiful! Turquoise water! But it was cold. I had a nice swim anyway. I didnt like the fish trying to eat my scabs. I also saw some really cool sun bears. Dont know much about their plight, Ill look it up when I get home, but I do remember seeing a bear being chained up as a pet from my first but brief visit to Laos many years ago. On the way back to town we stopped by a Hmong tribal village. They were selling things I just didnt want to buy. It was difficult. I dont understand at what point contentment with a a simple life ends and poverty starts. That put a bit of a downer on things.
Back at the hostel I got a visitor; Jiang! She’d made it to Luang Prabang but my place was full so she’d gone to stay by the river. We were going to go to the Night Market to meet her friend and get some dinner. But first there was something I had to do. Sat alone in a cafe across the road was the boy. He was reading his book. Maybe he just didnt enjoy company. Or maybe he was shy. Well, I just went over, introduced myself and invited him (Nick) out for some drinks later. I left it completely open and said MAYBE Ill see you later. Cool.
The food at the night market was fab. For 10000 kip (about 80p!!) you can eat whatever you like at the buffet – BBQ fish, chicken heads, eggs, salad, rice, noodles. Bargain! We ate it all up and then Jiang and I and Jiang’s friend, Natalia (from Spain) headed through a series of dark alleys to a very cool bar called Utopia – you need to see this – http://www.utopialuangprabang.com/ – and we got some loungers on a bamboo deck over the river to chill out on.
Quite a way into the evening I saw Nick. He did look like he was looking for us but he was with a girl. I later saw them sat very quietly at the front of the bar. I didnt want to go over and pester him, it had been a totally open invite.
Jiang and Natalia wanted to leave at a good hour. I wanted to stay and watch some breakdancing. So I did. I was a bit worried about navigating the dark alleys back to the main road but I had seen several people from my hostel so wasnt worried about getting back. However, soon it was moving on to midnight and nobody showed signs of leaving. I was tired so I left. I didnt talk to Nick so didnt ask if he’d walk back with me, haha. I got as far as the front and 2 older guys were leaving on a motorbike. I asked if they’d mind riding along side me as I walked. “Why, you are scared?” asked the passenger. “well… yeah” I said. When they found out I was from London they laughed at me. Apparently London is way scarier than a series of dark alleys in a foreign country. They took me a different route to the way we’d come. They turned left instead of right and took me across a bridge. And the road was right at the end! What?! It had taken us ages to get there when there’d been a simpler route all along.
The guys left me there and went in the opposite direction. All I had to do was walk up this road and Id be on the main thoroughfare. At that point a man appeared out of the shadows and asked if I wanted a tuktuk, No thanks. OK… you want opium…? marijuana..? WHAT?? Really?? You think Im gonna buy off you? Me, a lone woman and you a dodgy Lao. No way man! My image of Lao men as intimidated rather than intimidating was fast being washed away by the men of Luang Praband. I wasnt worried in terms of safety – there were loads of people ahead walking around. I was a just bit shocked as I heard of boys being asked constantly, especially in Siem Reap. But this was new for me.
The next morning I went to get breakfast at a bakery up the road. Guess who was sitting alone in that very place reading his book…?
Tags: big brother mouse, kuang si, Laos, luang prabang, utopia