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January 05, 2005

Luang Prabang to Vientienne

Luang Prabang gave me the opportunity to do a lot of nothing. The last time I felt so lethargic was in Chiang Mai, which is no surprise since the two cities have a similar feel to them. Luang Prabang is a cultural center in a pleasing setting, with good food and plenty of low energy activities. Because it is a top destination among tourists the main drag is full of restaurants catering to western tastes, although I continued to eat all-lao meals.

Thanks to the sprawling night market I was able to fill the last few cubic centimeters of my pack, which, judging by the grunt from the bus drivers who heave it up to the roof rack, now weighs more than the largest bags of rice.

The only "active" thing I did in LP was renting a mountain bike and struggling to keep up with a Canadian friend who is cycling through Laos. Our day-trip to a nice waterfall was enjoyable, and a clear indication to me that using a bicycle to get around SE Asia is a very good way to go.

I managed to extract myself from the comfy grip of Luang Prabang just before the end of the year. I took a bus down to Vang Vieng which is another top destination among tourists. The setting of limestone karsts was joy for me, but many of the visitors seemed to be more interested in watching an episode of "Friends" at one of the many restaurant/lounges that play DVDs. Thankfully I met my Canadian friends again and we all celebrated New Year's eve together.

I hiked out to one of the many caves that can be found in the limestone. I got there early enough in the morning that I was alone in the huge natural structure. I had brought my flashlight so I was able to explore the various linked "rooms", each like a hollow 3-storey building. After a while I realised that there probably was no real end to the passageways so I returned towards the distant glimmer of light that was the entrance, then back to the village. The timing was good since a dozen other tourists arrived just as I was leaving.

Deciding to leave Vang Vieng was very easy, and the perfect antidote to the place was to spend a couple of nights on an island on the Nam Ngum reservoir. The Canadians and myself were the only guests at the only guesthouse of the island. Incidently, the guesthouse and its restaurant are the only buildings on the 500 meter long strip of land. There are no roads, not even hiking trails through the jungle.

We explored the area by following the beach, but quickly gave up on our Robinson Crusoe ambitions and settled for activities such as reading, writing, and in my case, photography.

Continuing south, we arrived in Vientienne. The Lao capital feels more modern than the rest of the country. For better or for worse, most Lao here have dumped their traditional garbs and wear Western-style clothing. It is the first time since arriving in the country that I saw a street light, an actual underground sewage system, proper sidewalks, and a "hot" shower that is actually hot.

I visited the ragged National Museum, which serves as an outlet for communist propaganda. Visitors use the guestbook to debate whether such an outrageous display of false claims is better or worse than what the biased media does in the Western world.

Soon I will return to Thailand, and shortly after it will be time to head home.

Posted by piegu on January 5, 2005 02:12 AM
Category: Laos
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