BootsnAll Travel Network

Royal Laos and Evil Lao Lao

I left the guesthouse around 6:00 am and took a tuk tuk to Vientiane’s Northern bus station. I got on the 6:30 am bus going to Phonsovan. The bus trip took 11 hours. The landscape was at first flat, but then quickly climbed into the mountains north of Van Vieng. I am sure the scenery would have been stunning, but it was so foggy that I couldn’t see anything. The weather turned very cold by the time the bus reached the high plateau (1200 meters,  4000 ft) on which Phonsovan sits. I exited the bus and sat shivering in a tuk tuk with other Lao people. I was charged 10000 kip for the 3km trip which is really expensive considering the number of people in the tuk tuk. The Lao people paid this as well so I couldn’t complain (the driver originally asked me to pay 20000 kip which I refused). Once in town, I quickly found a guesthouse and proceeded to throw everything out of my bag to reach my jacket, thermal top, and hat which had been languishing at the bottom of my bag since Nepal. As it was already late, I set about trying to find the best way to see the Plain of Jars. I finally settled on booking a 120,000 kip minivan tour that went to all the sights and included lunch. This accomplished, I found a Chinese restaurant to have supper. I sat with two Australian ladies, one of whom caused quite a bit of excitement by severely choking on a chicken bone. I thought I might have to try the Hiemlich manuever and was trying to remember how to do it when she managed to remove the bone. I then spent a little while at the MAG UXO office looking at all the pieces of bombs that they have found and dismantled. This area of Laos was the most heavily bombed during the 8 year American bombing campaign. On average a plane dropped bombs on Lao every 8 minutes for 8 years. I returned to my hotel room and finally went to sleep around midnight after the drunken singing from the wedding next door finally ended.

 I returned to the tourist agency around nine after a breakfast consisting of an omlette and a baguette. The minivan finally arrived and 12 of us piled in for the tour. The weather was once again cloudy and cold. If I weren’t so near the equator I would have expected snow at any moment. We went to the first jar sight wittingly named Jar sight number 1. (Plain of Jars background: In this area of Lao very large stone jars are spread out across the hills in large groups. No one knows their exact age, or what they are for. Current theories are about 3000 years old and they were used perhaps for coffins or food storage.) The largest jar is here. It is about two meters in diameter and about as tall as me. Most of the jars don’t stand quite upright. Some Chinese came to the area in the 19th century and dug around the bases of the jars looking for treasure causing the jars to lean. The area is also full of bomb craters. Many of the jars were destroyed by the bombing. There was a large cave that the Vietnamese used as a bomb shelter during the war. We had to walk on defined paths in the area as only certain points had been cleared of unexploded bombs.

We left this site and stopped at a village to observe Lao Lao (fermented rice whisky) being made in vats. We were able to sample some. My three shots’ worth was enough to make me very sleepy. Some people bought some bottles. Its about the cheapest drink in the world, I think. It is very strong and half a liter cost about 5000 kip ($0.55). We then visited two more jar sites. At the last site, I noticed the ticket booth man waving at me. I walked over to see what he wanted. Apparently he wanted to give me Lao Lao and poured me a large shot and then sort of lost interest in me. Also at this sight I spoke with two Australian men that were driving motorbikes from Sydney to London. (yes, they sometimes have to get on boats) After five months they had only made it to Laos. Their plan was to be in London by October, but at this pace they won’t make it.

 Upon my return to Phonsovan, I went to eat supper. I noticed a Malaysian lady (Audrey) from my tour at the restaurant. She had a bottle of Lao Lao that she had bought at the village. She looked  like she needed help finishing it and I was only too happy to oblige. The task of finishing the bottle was greatly sped up when we knocked the bottle over creating a puddle on the floor. It was at this very moment that our waitress decided to make her world figure skating debut and went whooshing across the floor on the Lao Lao puddle. She ended her performance after I managed to rouse my Lao Lao-muted reflexes and grab her. After getting a score of three tens from the judges she returned to the kitchen. Leaving the restaurant I bought a ticket in a minivan from a travel agency going to Luang Prabang the next day.

 There were six of us in the minivan including Audrey. Leaving Phonsovan we soon climbed back into the fog that swirled in between the mountain peaks.  The fog was not as intense this time and I caught occasional glimpses of villages, jungle filled valleys, and barren hills that had been logged, but not replanted. We arrived in Luang Prabang around three pm. Upon arrival we all split up to try to find a place to stay. All the cheaper places were full. After walking around for an hour with my bag. I finally had to take a room for $11 (my most expensive since my first night in Kathmandu). The guy orginally wanted $13, but I talked him down. Also staying at the hotel were the two Australian ladies from the previous night. I set my bags down and set out to look around Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang is the old royal city of Laos which is today a communist country. The city is one of the few cities in the world that has UN World Heritage Status. Usually only specific sites gets that designation. It achieved this status due to its sheer number of Buddhist monasteries (300 or so) and its mix of traditional Laos architecture and French colonial buildings. The city sits on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. The cities are a riot of color ranging from the many white flowered plumeria trees, brightly colored monasteries, and orange robed monks who abound here. The city is full of tourist and sites. Accomodations are priced accordingly.

During my wander along the water front, I once again met Audrey. We decided to eat supper together and found a place on the waterfront. We split a big pot of steamed rice, fried morning glory, and stir fried pork. After eating, we walked through the night market which overflowed with many beautiful silk fabrics in tribal patterns.

The next morning I got up early to find a cheaper place to stay. I also was annoyed that someone had decided to set up a karaoke stand outside of my hotel the night before. I was once again kept up by drunken singing and random screaming into the microphone. I found a guesthouse that had rooms with shared bathrooms for 60000 kip. While cheaper, this is still very expensive for Laos. Elsewhere I would pay about 30000-40000 for this room. (It really is about time Laos lopped a few zeros off its currency. If anyone ever had an Indecent Proposal fantasy and wanted to roll naked in a bed surrounded by a million worth of some currency this is the place for them. I am routinely carrying around 1-2 million kip and no I haven’t rolled in it.) On the way back to my old hotel to get my bags it started to rain. This is the first rain shower I have seen since the middle of November in Nepal. After the rain, I moved my bags and went to do the tourist thing around Laos.

My first stop was the royal palace which was built by the French for the king in the early 1900’s. It was quite small, but very elaborate. The main throne room was decorated by cut glass depicting Laos scenes. At the back was a photo exhibit taken during a meditation learning retreat put on by an elder monk to teach young monks meditation techniques. I then stopped into several of the wats. I avoided the ones with entrance fees as by this point its like waterfalls. Having seen so many, I no longer feel like paying to see them.  My next stop was at a massage parlor for a $3 hour long foot massage session. Feet reinvigorated I did a bit more wat hopping. I spent an hour sitting around a fire with a group of monks who were studying English. There was also a female cat that decided my lap was a good place to be for that hour. In the evening, I ate at a vegetarian food stall that had several prepared dishes. You could eat as much as you could fit on one plate for 5000 kip. While eating, I sat next to a Dutch guy that I had met while in Pakse. (You keep running into the same people over and over again. I still run into people I met in Cambodia.) After eating we went bar hopping until about 11:30 pm when all businesses in Luang Prabang must close. Despite this there is a bowling alley that stays open until 3:00 am. I didn’t go as I didn’t want to be locked out of my guesthouse.

The next morning I decided to go for a walk in a silk weaving village that was across the river. I had to cross the river on a rickety bamboo bridge. The village was full of women weaving on looms. They sold their wares out of their houses. I saw one cotton elephant tapestry that I thought about buying, but didn’t. Just as I was about to turn around, I was called over by a group of five Lao men (maybe 18-25 years old) who were drinking Lao Lao. They asked me to join them. One spoke a little English and I learned he was studying biology at the university. I thought that I would be polite and stay to finish off the one bottle. After that bottle was empty, they asked me to help them buy another one. I didn’t mind as it was only 5000 kip and I had drank a good portion of the previous bottle. By the end of the second bottle I was pretty happy. We decided to do one more bottle and I once again put up 5000 kip (they put up the other five). During the course of the third bottle, they waved over a passing Australian lady named Leanne. She joined us for a few drinks.  When we finished that bottle I walked, or should I say staggered back to Luang Prabang with Leanne. When I got to my guesthouse, I went to bed even though it was only about 3:00 pm and didn’t get up again until the next morning.

This morning I woke up as expected with a bad hangover swearing to never drink Lao Lao again. As I had huge gaps in my memory of the walk back to my guesthouse , I was not sure what happened to Leanne. Upon taking a look around the room I saw that she had written her email in my notebook that I had carried with me on my walk. I also noticed to my amusement that I had ended up buying the elephant tapestry after all. After dredging my memories I was able to come up with a vague recollection of Leanne bargaining for me. I think I paid $11 for it, but I am not sure. I left my room around 9:00 am as I had some errands that I needed to run and I was hungry. After dropping off my laundry, I bought a baguette, cheese, and a mango shake for breakfast. I then went to the boat dock to buy a boat ticket to Nong Khiaw where I will go tomorrow. Finishing this, I stopped in an Internet cafe and sent an apologetic email to Leanne thanking her for seeing me safely home. I haven’t got a response, yet but we will see. After retuning to my room for a few hours to nurse my hangover some more, I went out for lunch and then wrote this blog entry. Tonight I will meet the guys that I stayed with in Vientiane for supper. They emailed me saying they were in town. I don’t plan on going anywhere near anything that remotely hints of alcohol.

 Tomorrow I will head up the Nam Ou River. I plan to try to go all the way to Phongsali if the water is high enough. There are several villages to stop at along the way.

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One Response to “Royal Laos and Evil Lao Lao”

  1. Preeti Says:

    LOL. Drunken on Lao Lao in the early afternoon and blank gaps in your memory of bargaining for elephant tapestries.

    Well, I suppose it could always be worse. You could have decided to have your Indecent Proposal moment in the middle of the road with a million kip…

  2. Posted from United States United States

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