BootsnAll Travel Network

Luang Prabang: Are You Marry?

The thing about Laos is, you never have to rush. And although I’d heard this before from other travellers, it remains a difficult thing to rid yourself of Western habits overnight. That’s how we ended up rushing to catch our slow boat from Pak Beng for the second day of our trip to Luang Prabang.

When we disembarked the night before, no-one seemed to know what time the boat was leaving the next morning; everyone was too preoccupied with scrambling across a narrow gangplank in the rapidly fading light, balancing precariously with packs on their backs, and fighting their way up the steep, sandy slope to be the first to the decent guesthouses. Bec and I meandered our way up the slope, and were soon at the door of a shady looking guesthouse, having been ushered there by a young girl, “Where you from?” She had asked. “You very pretty.” She had said. To Bec, not me. You fool.

The owner of the guest house, recognising us as travellers from the boat, informed us that the boat left the next morning at 9.30am, and so after a night of sleeping on a hard, sloping bed, we headed out around 8am to get some breakfast. To ease our minds, and ensure we weren’t missing the boat, we walked down to where the boats where moored; about 10 of the slow boats had spent the night. A middle-aged man approached us, “You go Luang Prabang? Boat leave 8 o’clock.” I nodded and we continued past, not wanting to be disturbed by touts. I found our boat from the day before, and made my way onboard, but was informed by my drug selling mate that we had to get a different boat. “What time does it leave?” I attempted to ask. After some confusion in the translation, an old lady appeared who seemingly understood my question (it seems my mate only knew the English for beer and opium. I guess that’s a start), and pointed to the clock hanging on the wall of the boat. I followed her finger with my gaze; it pointed to the number 8. “8 o’clock?” I asked. She nodded. I looked at my watch, it was 8.05am.

I scrambled back up the bank, told Bec the bad news, and we raced back to our guesthouse, grabbed our bags and some food we’d ordered for the trip, and rushed back down to the boat. We followed the trail of backpackers to the right boat and climbed on board. The boat was almost full. It was 8.10am.

We left at 9.30am.

The second day was similar to the first; dramatic mountain scenery, small villages with smiling kids, and lone long-boats with sole fishermen casting nets into the swiftly flowing brown water. Isolated whirlpools were common in the water, and small sets of rapids rocked the boat every now and again. The water had been smoother the day before, but no more safe; at one stage our boat had careered to the left, sending the right side of the boat, which already sat low in the water, dangerously close to the water level. I had looked up to see who was in charge, and was not filled with confidence by what I saw. Driving the boat had been my opium fiend friend.

The day before had also seen half the boat get drenched with water when the wake from a passing boat hit us at a bad angle. From my vantage point at the back of the boat, I saw a wall of water crashing in through the open side, running down the length of the boat in slow motion, as though a guy with a never-ending bucket was running down the side showering everyone with water.

No such problems on the second day though. And curoisly I wasn’t offered any drugs either. Coincidence?

Sometimes though, it was hard to shake the surreal feeling of the whole trip. The open-sided boat had small wooden columns spaced along each side to hold up the roof, and at times it was as though each of the spaces in between was a widescreen TV, showing beautiful images from an exotic land far away. The feeling of detachment would dissapear though, when we pulled into another village to trade supplies.

We arrived safely into Luang Prabang around 4pm, and it was in this enchanting town that I learnt another peculiar trait of the Lao people.

They seem particularly interested in the marital status of Bec and me.

I have lost count of the number of times we have spoken to locals, and after a quick introduction, the first thing they have asked is, “Are you marry?” And when we shake our heads no, they put a hand up to their mouth to hide a giggle, eyes wide like a little kid seeing a magic show. “You live together?” would generally come next. One young guy working at a bar we stopped at even asked, whilst avoiding actually having to say the words, whether we engaged in pre-marital relations. But this naive friendliness was nothing short of endearing. In fact, the young guy at the restaurant we had eaten at in Pak Beng, the one with the new restaurant and new wife, even went as far as to tell us that his new wife was pregnant, and the reason he knew was because that thing girls get each month, yeah, hers was late. And this was just before he served us our food.

Luang Prabang is a town that melts into you. People smile and say hello, “Sabaidee.” Women sit by the roadside, under wide umbrellas, selling spring rolls, some sort of barbecued meat on a stick, and machetes. Men lay in their emtpy tuk-tuks. As you walk past, they lazily raise their heads, and, almost out of obligation, ask, “Tuk-tuk? Waterfall?” When you politely decline the offer, they put their heads back down, content to spend the afternoon resting in the shade.

Orange-robed teenagers; novice monks, walk along the sun filled streets, umbrellas up to shield them from the light. Footpaths are a rarity in Luang Prabang, most walking is done on the side of the road, as mopeds carrying two or three people swerve around you. It was common to see a moped ridden by an adult man, with a small child in front of him between his legs holding onto the handlebars with glee, and the man’s wife sitting on the back, riding side-saddle, with a baby cradled in her arms.

We spent glorious days strolling the dusty streets, stopping here and there for a fruit-shake or a beer, and a bowl of fresh noodle soup.

One morning we turned down a street, where across from us rested a small temple. A group of five or so novice-monks stood near the entrance. Keen to get a photo of the group, we slowed down. “Sabaidee!” One of them called out. We smiled and waved hello, and as I was about to motion with my camera to ask if I could take his photo, he waved us over.

We began speaking with a couple of the boys, and soon were called in out of the sun and into the shade of the temple grounds. We sat at a low table in the shade and chatted to the boy who had called us over for about an hour. He was 14 or 15, but was too cheeky to give a straight answer, and had a huge smile, showing teeth crowded into his top gum.We spoke about his daily life (he wakes each day at 4am to begin his studies, not breaking until 6am for breakfast), his family (they lived in a village two hours walk away, and only accessible by foot), and about his Australian girlfriend.

Of course, the first thing he asked us was, “Are you married?”

“When you marry, what do you do?” He asked, wanting to know about the actual ceremony. “Do you parade through the street?”

Our nights were spent trawling through the endless vendors of the night market. Each day at 5pm, the women begin setting up in the main street, selling t-shirts, beautiful hand-crafted scarves, bags, aprons, jewellery, teas and coffees, jars of liquid with snakes and scorpions inside, and opium pipes. For 4 hours they would sit, talking happily to each other, making a sale, and then, with the money their sale had just bought in, tap all their other items, chanting “lucky lucky lucky lucky.” Almost without thought, they would do this.

In the middle of the town is a grand hill, topped with a golden stupa that glints in the daylight. We climbed the stairs to the top late one afternoon to watch the sun go down. As we sat looking over the town, a group of 4 novice monks stood next to us. I could feel their eyes on me as they spoke and laughed; that horrible feeling when you know people are talking about you. After a few minutes one of the boys boldly stepped forward, although I hadn’t noticed. “I think he wants to ask you something,” Bec said.

I turned to face him. He looked at my army-green hat, “Are you a soldier?” he asked (it didn’t help that I was also wearing green cargo pants, having not worn my shorts as we’d visited a wat earlier in the day, and also carrying my new green Czech military bag, a Christmas gift from Bec). I laughed, “No, it just keeps the sun off my nose. The monk laughed.

I was shocked. They didn’t even ask if we were married.

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One Response to “Luang Prabang: Are You Marry?”

  1. Bec Says:

    Bet they wanted to ask though!

  2. Posted from Lao People's Democratic Republic Lao People's Democratic Republic

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