Day 17 – Luang Prabang, Laos

Picked up from the Mixay Guesthouse in Vientiane by a van and take a tour of the city picking up other travellers destined for the nightbus to LP. The problem is that we are not all booked on the same bus and the sleeper that I’m supposed to be on departs much later than advertised. Waiting at Vientiane bus station I chat to a couple of Cambodian women who actually end up staying at the same place as me in LP. The sleeper bus is quite bizarre with three rows of upper and lower “bunks” which are actually reclining seats with minimal turning space. Hemmed in and no room for bags. We are all given a carton of fried rice and some water and the bus moves off. It is very cold and the road is bumpy, twisty, noisy and we stop several times, maybe for the drivers to change. It is a 10.5 hour journey and I awake as we are descending some misty mountains into Luang Prabang.

I am met by a guy who has some rooms available and he whisks me and some others into town. Th guest house is by the Nam Khon river (LP is on a peninsular at the confluence of this and the great Mekong). Free tiny bananas and tea/coffee are available, and I wait from 7.30 to 11.30 for a guest to check out so I can take on his room. He is from Laos and hurry is not part of the culture. I slowly warm up at this time as the sun comes out on the terrace, and I chat with some current guests ( a retired couple from Holland, who seem a bit Xenophobic) and an outgoing couple from Sweden. The wife is a retired teacher and she recommends a book by an Irish author who sets his books in Laos and uses the profit to fund education programmes here (Colin Cotterill is the name). Later I track down a book exchange store that has a whole series of his books on sale. Books and publishing are not very developed industries or activities at all here. The room is big, has a tv and en suite and costs a mere $9. And I was led to believe accommodation would be hard to find and expensive….

After a quick shower I take a stroll around the edge of the peninsular. The town is small and the riverside lined with little guesthouses and restaurants with terraces high up on the river bank. I stop at veggie one called Oasis to have a mushroom curry and a herbal shake. The sun is quite hot and I am overdressed. There is a ban on car traffic, so there are just bikes and motorbikes. A large percentage of falangs, and many monks. This part of town also houses many many Wats, most of which you have to pay to enter. I will see them another day. Today I just wanted to look around. I bump into the Belgian girls who I met In Vientaine, but who took a different bus to LP. We talk about meeting later but by the time I get to their rendezvous spot they have gone.

I spend a couple of hours at a blissed out bar just along the river from my guesthouse, with cushions and mats and a platform overlooking the river. I start reading my new book, doze a little, have a Beerlaos and watch some small boys playing in the river. Occasionally the idyll is interrupted by an incoming prop passenger plane (the airport must be close) and a passenger helicoptor. Lying here is so relaxing and makes me decide to stay in LP for a few days.

In the early evening I climb in darkness to the stupa on the top of the hill in the centre of the town,. Walking is a bit hazardous. There is no illumination at all. At the top I stand for a few minutes on the only side of the golden landmark that is spot-lit. There is a group of teen boys hanging out there too. They seem quite surprised to see me. Then I wander the handicrafts market with stall after stall selling bright coloured textiles, ethnic Hmoung bags, carved wooden boxes, silver bracelets, patterned throws…All ver nice but I don’t need or want anything. Actually I do need another layer to fight the cold night air, and buy a hoodie with “Sabaidee Luang Prabang” printed in Laos on it. Tourist….

Dinner is a 10 000 kip plate of buffet veggie street food. Great value. And a mango shake. Town is a bit too touristy for me do I go to a few local shops for beer and postcards and plan an early night to get the sleep that I didn’t get on the bus!

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