BootsnAll Travel Network

Luang Prabang: Like an Old Friend

Ahhhh, Luang Prabang. Once Bec’s clothes had dried enough so that she could go outside wearing more than just a bath towel, we wandered the streets as darkness fell and reacquainted ourselves with this beautiful old town. It’s a place that moves slowly, that doesn’t get angry, or flustered, or impatient. It is still a place where young monks can be seen walking the streets in their bright orange robes, with umbrellas held over their heads to shield out the sun. Still a place where the sellers at the fabulous night market greet you with a firendly smile, rather than a depserate plea for you to buy something. Still a place where you can sit at an open-air restaurant on the banks of the Mekong and sup on dollar beers and eat delicious fish.

There were only two changes that we really noticed since our last visit in July of 2006. First, the company responsible for Beerlao had introduced a new beer – Beerlao Dark. And oh my, that was absolutely stunning. The best dark beer Bec and I have been lucky enough to drink. If only someone would import it to Australia. The second change was not so pleasant. One of the most relaxing aspects of Luang Prabang compared with other places around Southeast Asia was that you were never hassled on the street by people selling trinkets, never interrupted during your meal to see if you want to buy some worthless plastic bracelet. It allowed you to sit back and take in the (I’m trying really really hard not to use the word ‘ambience’ here, but I’m struggling), feel, of the place (yeah stuff it, ‘feel’ will do. You know what I’m getting at, anyway). But now, you can’t go ten minutes without a young girl, perhaps aged around ten years old, approaching you with a foam plate covered in jewellery and other trinkets, asking you to buy something. Oh well, things always change I guess.

During our first few days in town we frequently bumped into folks we had shared the Gibbon Experience with, and headed out for dinner with a few of them one night. It was great catching up with them, and the night ended with a few shots of Lao Lao and a bad hangover the next day. Lao Lao is local rice whiskey, and it’s potent stuff. The word is that if you drink only Lao Lao during a night out, you will escape the hangover dragon, but once you have a few beers as well, whoa, that hangover I had was nasty. It’s never fun being hungover, and especially so when it’s thirty-something degrees outside, and you didn’t shell out the extra four bucks to have air-con in your room.

We spent nights trawling the night market. It’s that rarest of things: a tourist-targeted market that actually has things you would want to buy. On our previous visit we had shopped for presents for family and friends back home, but bugger that – this time we were being selfish. Hell, we just got engaged, I think we deserved it. We even went so far as to buy ourselves some furniture; two beautiful wooden bed-side tables, that we spent a fortune on posting home to Australia. An engagement present to ourselves, we called it.

We hired some mountain bikes one afternoon, and escaped the town, heading fifteen kilometres out Route 13 to visit a small waterfall. Along the way, we stopped at the top of a hill in the shade to escape the relentless sun (it was another scorching day), and got chatting to another couple on bikes who had stopped just ahead of us. Luggage hung off their bikes like the skins of hunted animals. Perhaps they were cycling through Southeast Asia, I thought.

“So, where are you headed?” the friendly woman asked as she walked over.
“Ah, just getting out of the town, getting a bit of exercise. There’s meant to be a waterfall a bit further up, so maybe we’ll stop there. Where are you guys going?”
“Going round the world.”

We chatted a bit about Nepal, which they’d ridden through recently, and about India and Thailand, and how friendly and beautiful Laos was.

“So, how long have you been going?”
“Oh, about eleven months now. And we have around two…” I expected her to say two months, “….around two years left.”

And I was buggered just riding fifteen k’s to the waterfall! It was peaceful though being out on the quiet roads, passing small collections of thatched-roof huts, and following small creeks beside the road. As we travelled along a mercifully flat section of road (at one point on the way back we had to get off our bikes and walk twenty-five minutes up the hill, as it was waaay to steep for us to ride up. But it was hella fun rolling down!), we approached a group of about five young boys with bamboo fishing poles. The first lad I passed yelled a huge ‘sabaidee!’ greeting, and stuck out his hand for a high-five. The other boys, upon seeing this, ran enthusiastically up to the road from beside the creek where they’d been fishing, and each got a big high-five and a grin as we went past. Then they began chasing after me, laughing and yelling. I smiled and rode faster, teasing them to chase me, and they ran fast as they could, before I eventually pulled away. As they slowed back down to a walk I turned and gave them a big wave. It was like a scene out of some cheesy movie. But moments like these are the reason I keep this journal, so that in thirty years time that long-forgotten memory can be stirred up again by the words I write now.

Our biggest highlight of the week though in Luang Prabang had nothing really at all to do with Luang Prabang. It was finally getting to speak to our families to let them know we were engaged. We were reluctant to tell the news via email, and Bec had tried to call a few days after the Gibbon Experience from Luang Nam Tha, a call that went something like this….

Ring ring, ring ring, click,
“Dad, Hi!!!”
“Dad, it’s me, Bec.”
“Hello? Anyone there?”
“Dad, can you here me?”
“Oh, shit!”

But, almost a week after we got engaged, we were finally able to get in touch with them. And that was absolutely brilliant!

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