Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ultimate Party Town: Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos (Country Guide)

Accommodation: SpicyLaos, $6 for dorm

Bus: Long Distance Bus Station to Luang Prabang, 340 yuan, 28 hours

Places to Visit:
  • Phu Si Hill
  • Wat Xieng Thong
  • Tat Kuangsi Waterfalls
  • Pak Ou Caves (optional)
Well, what can I say- it was 25- 30 C, absolutely baking! There were palm trees swaying, and half naked foreign people and outdoor food stalls with the greatest cuisine on earth-yep it was definitely summer here for us. Whilst the poor locals were wearing cardies, jumpers and jackets- as this is officially cold weather for them. Some people have it all...

Well, it all started with a 27 hour bus journey to Laos from S. China. Madness you say!!! No it actually was quite a hoot, China being a little bit more modern then Laos, we got to have a sleeper coach. For people who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about- it is exactly that. Rows and rows of bunk beds- about 30 in total to fit the whole coach, so calling it a laid back affair gets it spot on. The night time was beautiful- this will sound cliche for sure, so feel free to yawn through it- there was a million stars in the dark navy sky, I had never seen them so bright before and so clear, all twinkling and lighting up the dark mountains! Whilst the day time, was exactly as you see Vietnam or any other South East Asian Country in a postcard- lush green mountains, palm trees, small villages, smiling children. It was amazing, especially as the sun was setting. Crossing the border was another thing altogether. I was woken up at 7.30- after the coach stopped for a few hours in the dark, to wait until the border crossings opened. See this was the first time in the last 15 hours where I managed to get any shuteye, so I moaned and tried to turn around to block out the Chinese shoutings to get up, but meh I had to cross the border didn't I?

It took about an hour and a half in total, which consisted of me running frantically between the China and the Laos border, thinking that the bus had left without me. The Chinese guards told me, I couldn't come back in unless I wanted them to stamp my visa- and after all the hassle of getting another entry- I savoured my visa- so definitely a no -no. Eventually being slightly half- asleep and a bit delusional, I realised I had to walk to the Laos border, get my visa- and then they would pick me up from there. Phew! Some crazy woman however bought gallons of cooking oil on the bus, and drenched my rucksack in the awful stuff...great.

I met a group of hilarious Chinese men on the bus, all family- one was the son, the other a father, an uncle and I think maybe another uncle. They were pretty mad, and kept feeding me oranges, (guess what) poisonous white spirit toilet cleaner again Bai jiu and general dinner throughout the 2 days. I think it kept it pretty lively- even the father offered a marriage proposal to my mother. I politely refused as you do to a strange drunken Chinese man. But all of sudden, the driver tells me I am at my stop. Being the only one going to Luang Prabang I rushed out with my oil-soaked bag, and realised I was left pretty far away from the centre as the bus drove away. So it being 10pm, pretty late for Laotian standards, I hurried to any small open lit store for some help.

This wasn't China I realised. I spend 27 hours nattering away, and across the border I couldn't speak a word. I pointed frantically at a map going- Khawy yaak pai ( I want to go), the nice lady understood and grabbed a friend around the corner even as she was closing up the store. She told me to hop on to the back of her motorbike, with my ton of a rucksack, which I felt I was slowly falling off- even at one we had to stop as our balance was about to throw us off! But with aid of the lovely lady, I made it to the infamous SpicyLao aka party central.

As soon as I landed, I was handed a whisky Lao in other words, BAI JIU!! Thinking I had escaped the many repressed memories of Mongolia, I was in for a long night. It was me, the owner's brother, the Tuk Tuk driver (a random S E Asian vehicle, a motorbike that carries a load of people) and a friend of theirs, all local Laotians. So after a few sing -songs around the campfire and Beer Laos- just to make sure we were sufficiently plastered, we headed to DISCO, eek!!! If anyone was epileptic (or even not) they would surely have a seizure, as the lights flashed at a hundred a second. The music was cheesy as hell- aging RnB as well as cheesy Lao pop, not to mention the slow dancing- a ballad would come on; the men and woman would split the room in half, find a partner and start dancing. Yep, its all true.

So next morning, after a large amount of people had saw me partying around a campfire- I was easily recognisable- not to mention severely hungover. But I guess thats the time to climb a giant waterfall, look at cute baby bears and go for a swim. Perhaps not- especially not being acclimatised to the heat, I was wearing leg warmer, a woolly hat, and hiking boots- yep not the smartest idea. It all got soaked of course, especially as I had to walk through the water. Well, I was in the water for about 5 mins, realised it was absolutely freezing and jumped out again. So when everyone decided we should go climb another hill to watch the sunset, I whimpered. But it was beautiful, despite the millions of bobbing heads, anxious to get a picture on time. The night market just below, was beginning, which was a very happy moment for me. It became my best friend.

Millions of stalls with yummiest, freshest food- (vegetarians may turn away now) Fish straight from the river barbequed with lemon grass and honey, honey chicken and pork on the barbeque, I avoided the water buffalo like the plague though, fresh spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, lettuce and peanut sauce...for under a dollar! So good. But it was the crazy nightlife that surprised me- though it all ended at 11.30, it was well worth the short time. Utopia bar- was eutopia to a T. It was like being on a Caribbean island, palm trees, actual coconuts hanging off, with a sheer drop on the side as you could watch the night time Nam Khan river under the stars. There were lying down mats, with low tables, and even an actual beach volleyball court! The random bombshells on the other hand were a bit odd. But it was too cool for school.

Then there were the slightly lazier days, walking around town visiting beautiful Wats (temples), the Royal Palace museum, photography exhibitions that were out of this world, the Royal Laotian Ballet, even just getting a massage whilst eating chocolate pancake with chocolate ice cream. Over the top self indulgence eh? But the best bit was meeting the crazy people in SpicyLaos, it was one big happy family. And there was always a send off if any of the brothers or sisters left!

And then there was a manic 11 hour journey from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, including only winding roads, poor people being squashed in the middle aisle with plastic stools, making constant rice bag drop offs, not to mention the blaring kareoke all that time and then roaming around at 11.30 in the night trying to find a place to stay. Thankfully I bumped into a couple on the bus doing the same, so now I am a Youth Inn next to the River. It does the trick I think- first time not in the dorm, so a bit surreal not hearing noise. I ended up in the International Clinic this morning, probably too much Whisky Laos is starting to catch up with me! But still managed to visit the big temples and museums around. Its so pretty!