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Luang Prabang: 9496 Days

January 12. Normally, if I spoke to my Mum on this date, the majority of her sentences would begin, “X years ago today….” or in this case, “26 years ago today….”

Laos. Luang Prabang. This is where I would spend my 26th birthday. I could hardly think of somewhere better.

We slept late, then wandered into town. I can’t actually remember what we did in the morning. Luang Prabang is that sort of place. We killed time until the afternoon, when we would go for a Swedish-Laos massage at the local red cross.

We approached a two-storey, run-down looking concrete building, painted pale blue. Some uneven stairs led us up to the old ticket man, sitting relaxed behind his small table. We paid for an hour-long massage each (a grand total of $8 Australian), and a less than a minute later I was standing naked but for a small blue towel wrapped around my waste.

We were in an open fronted concrete space on the bottom level, similar to a small car port. A partition wall divided the room into tow; Bec was on the other side. A faded curtain blocked out the eyes of the road out front. A thin mattress lay on the concrete floor, a small pillow up one end, a towel up the other. The sounds from the road floated in; mopeds, yelling kids, car horns, and the chug-chug of barely moving tuk-tuks.

I lay down on my stomach, and for the next hour forgot about everything as a middle-aged, plump (only by Laos standards, most of the women are tiny) lady worked her magic. At the end of the hour, Bec and I floated down to the river, and sat in the late afternoon sun with a couple of beers.

A great Australian songwriter, Tali White, wrote a tune a few years ago with his band The Guild League about travelling around Southeast Asia. It was from an album called Private Transport, and nearly all the songs featured on the album are related to travelling. It’s a wonderful cd, but this particular tune, Siamese Couplets, stands out. In it is a line that had been swimming around in my head for days now, popping its head up for an airing every now and again, ever since we’d boarded the slow boat back in Chiang Khong.

“On the banks of the mighty Mekong with beers / Getting old is the least of my fears.”

It seemed rather appropriate.

Later, after dinner, we returned to a bar where the night before, having learnt that the next day was my birthday, the young Lao guy serving us had promised to give me a small cake to celebrate this wonderful occasion. And to his word, after we sat and ordered a beer, which was accompanied by a complimentary shot of Lao-Lao, a potent rice whiskey, he appeared with a small cup cake supportnig a solitary candle. I thanked him profusely, fighting a losing battle to keep the smile off my face.

A little while later, I walked through the bar’s kitchen to get to the toilet, and stood at the basin listening as the guy hastily taught the first verse of Happy Birthday to the three young girls doing the cooking. I allowed myself a small smile, and, after a brief pause, stepped out from the toilet back into the kitchen.

The girls erupted into song, “Happy Birthday to you!” they sang, and one of them approached me with a gift; a plate of 3 bananas. My smile stretched back to the tips of my ears.

And you know what, I ate one of the darn things, too.

No, no. You see, I don’t eat fruit. That banana was the first piece of fruit other than an apple that I’d eaten in, well, in as long as I can remember. But, thankfully, Laos has awoken me to the delights of fruit.

Mum, you’d be proud.

Thanks Laos, I owe you one.

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3 Responses to “Luang Prabang: 9496 Days”

  1. Jaime Says:

    let me be the first from your cyber voyeours(sp?) to wish you a belated Happy Birhtday!

    best regards.

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. sean Says:

    yep, same goes for me
    a bit over a week later, but hopefully it still stands up

    birthday on the road, brilliant

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. admin Says:

    Thanks lads.

    Wow, birthday wishes from strangers, I’ve gotta have my birthday on the road every year, because it also means I get two parties, one on the road, one when I get home. Can’t beat that.

  6. Posted from Lao People's Democratic Republic Lao People's Democratic Republic
  7. Tony Hogan Says:

    Yeah happy bday Blue,

    I concur on the Guild League song and was disapppointed when I found a version of Siamese Couplets on the web but could not download on to my IPod as no song to me captures the mood of SE Asia travel any better.

  8. Posted from Australia Australia

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