I fell in love with Laos and definitely ended up staying longer than planned (3 nights longer, to be exact). I had a great time exploring with Dana, and then Simon ended up flying to Luang Prabang to spend time with me while Alex and Cecile took the slow boat. Luang Prabang itself is a very small city, and while there were definitely a lot of backpackers, it’s not yet as overrun with tourism as the places I visited in Thailand. The culture is still very much traditional and beautiful nature surrounding the city is relatively untouched.
The first day after I arrived, I did my typical late start where I give myself time to adjust to a new surrounding and figure out what it is I want to do in the new place. I found a coffee shop not far from my hostel and decided to start there. One thing I’ve enjoyed trying in every new place is the local twist on iced coffee with milk. Most places I’ve been in Asia so far use sweetened condensed milk, which I love. After have a small breakfast and iced coffee here, I headed up the street to find an ATM and a market where I could buy some shampoo, conditioner, and soap. After I accomplished that, I made it to the main street, Sisavangvong Road, that has all of the shops full of locally made textiles and other handicrafts. Being the lover of knick knacks I am, I killed a lot of my day wandering in and out of the shops and trying not to spend my money. Later that night, I planned to meet up with Dana for dinner and to wander the night market that takes place on that street every night from about 5pm – 8pm.
I planned to make a big loop back down to my hostel, so when I got to the end of the street, I headed back down in the direction and came across a BEAUTIFUL view of the Nam Khan branch off the Mekong. When I stopped to admire it for awhile, I saw a bamboo walking bridge crossing the river to a beach where local people were fishing and swimming in the river. The bridge is built and maintained by a local family; every year during rainy season, the water level of the river rises to the point of making the bamboo bridge unsafe and the family deconstructs it until the rainy season ends. Every year they build and deconstruct this bridge to provide visitors and locals a unique way to view the river and its surroundings. The fee is a small donation to the family, which I happily paid to cross to the beach on the other side, but not before I ducked behind a bush and changed out of my sweaty shirtband into a new one. Halfway across the bridge, I went to take my phone out of my fanny pack to take a picture and realized I must have set it down by my dressing room bush and forgotten it. I turned around to speed walk back to get it and saw guy holding it in the air. He yelled, “did you drop your phone?” Typical. Anyway, I spent quite awhile walking along the beach, admiring the mountains and river and watching the locals go about their every day lives.
Sweating profusely, I finally made my way back to my hostel to shower and rest for awhile before meeting up with Dana. Her hostel ended up being right at the end of the main road where the night market had been set up by the time I made my way over there, so I got to walk through that. Again, I did a good job not spending my money except to buy a few souvenirs for people back home. When I finally got to Dana’s, I found her in the lobby of her hostel on the phone with her boyfriend that didn’t sound like it was going very well. I sat there with a beer and pretended I had wifi on my phone and was paying attention to something and not noticing her conversation. Once she finished, she made an ambiguous comment about the conversation and we went to a food market down a random little alleyway. It was a really small space full of various food stalls – some selling meats, some with “all you can eat in one bowl for $1” buffets with a variety of bowls with vegetables, fruits, and vegetarian dishes. We chose one and found a picnic table to eat at; as we were eating, Dana made a comment about how we hadn’t heard from Rosie and right as she said that I spotted Giulia, who came to eat with us. Dana and I had found the only empty table and ignored the sign that said we could only sit there if we purchased meat from one of the stalls (which we didn’t) and had been left unbothered for a good 15 minutes before Giulia joined us. As soon as Giulia sat down, though, an angry lady from the meat booth came over and pointed to the sign saying Giulia couldn’t sit with us since she hadn’t purchased any meat (still not bothering Dana or I). Giulia (a vegetarian) went up to the meat counter and Dana and I giggled while we listened to her ask the prices, then ask if she could just give the lady money to sit at the table. For whatever reason, the lady refused and was adamant Giulia actually take some meat. Giulia tried a little longer to argue that she didn’t want any meat, just wanted to sit with her friends, but would pay for meat anyway to sit at the table while the lady kept her stern expression and her husband laughed behind her in a way that said the was a commonly occurring source of entertainment for him. Giulia finally got fed up and we all moved to a different table.
The next day, Dana had to go to the Vietnamese embassy to get her visa to Vietnam and then we planned to rent scooters to take to go visit Kuang Si Falls (about an hour away by scooter). The ride to the falls was absolutely breathtaking (can you tell I’m running out of adjectives to describe how gorgeous this trip has been?) along a small road through the rolling green hills, untouched jungle, and small villages. Kuang Si itself is something out of a storybook. The color of the water is the prettiest green/blue that every picture we took was beautiful, but still didn’t even do it justice. There were several levels of waterfall and various pools to swim in. It was a gloomy, rainy day so Dana and I spent hours swimming around pretty much by ourselves. The only AWFUL part was the little fish in the water. Those fish that you can pay to put your feet in a tank of while they bit the dead skin off you? They live in the water here, and they don’t only do feet. And they’re quite mean. By the time we got back to our hostels, it was pouring rain so we decided to go home and meet up early in the morning (like 6am) to ride our scooters around to use all the gas we’d paid for before returning them (that never happened).
We both got a late start the next day – me, because I’m lazy and I like to sleep, especially when it’s hot outside, and her because she apparently had another call with her boyfriend that ended in some sort of break up. She was planning on ending her round-the-world trip in the three weeks to go live with him in Istanbul after 2 years of long distance dating, so she was pretty torn up about it and didn’t want to spend the day alone. I’m absolutely terrible at consoling people in this type of situation, but I met her for lunch and did my best. Simon had messaged me earlier that day saying he was planning to fly in from Chiang Mai that evening, so I let him know the situation and he was happy to join the cheer up party when he got in around 6. We all went to the night market and ended up buying these AWESOME hand-stitched things… I’ll leave it at that,
since I bought 10 to bring home as gifts for people (;
After that, we found a place for dinner that served nachos (!!!) where I ended up eating my next three meals (of nachos) at. Since Simon had just arrived and hadn’t seen the night market yet, I walked through it with him while Dana went back to hostel to shower. We found a stall selling bracelets and decided to pick one out for each other. The thing about Southeast Asia so far is that I’m perfectly fine while I’m walking, but as soon as a stop for even a second, the sweating starts, and it’s relentless. To be fair, it’s been 100+ heat index since I started my trip, but I still swear I’m the sweatiest person around. As soon as we stopped to look at the bracelets, the lady selling them looked at me with genuine concern and moved her fan to be about 6 inches from my face. The worst part of this is, I thought my sweat was under control at the time. After we left, I asked Simon, “were you the sweaty one that needed a fan or was it me?” The look on his face said everything, so I just said never mind haha.
Once Dana was ready, we went to a bar called “Aussie Sports Bar” that was actually not run by Australians at all, and then to a speakeasy style bar run by a sweet Hungarian woman named Lisa. I spent some time talking to her and learned that she’d visiting Laos on a backpacking trip 17 years ago and never wanted to leave. Her story was fascinating and I’ve never seen someone serve drinks or food with such a genuinely happy smile on her face at all times.. Which just goes to prove my belief that everyone finds happiness by following their own path, and no path is wrong if it brings you genuine happiness. If you want to know why I put everything I have into my traveling, people like Lisa are why. Traveling brings me the most joy of anything I’ve ever done, and I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me through travel than I have at any other point in my life. I know that when I find the thing I’m meant to be doing to find my true happiness, it will be when I’m following my heart through travel.
ANYWAY. Dana wasn’t feeling up to anything else for the night, so Simon and I walked
her back to her hostel and then challenged each other to a drinking contest – drink for drink with a Brit, not my brightest decision. I lost, early on. But fun was had all around. We went to a laid back bar called Utopia that overlooks the river and just has cushions set up around the patio to sit on. This was the first bar of our challenge, and also the bar at which I was forced to concede and drink at my own slower pace. We decided to go back to the speakeasy bar because we liked Lisa so much, and were sat up at the bar so we could talk to her. When it was time for closing, a Spanish man, probably in his mid-forties, came up to pay his bill and got really upset that he was charged 100,000kip (basically $12) for a drink he had ordered with the most expensive gin at the bar. Lisa tried saying that he had asked for it, pointing out that the price was clearly written on the blackboard behind the bar, and explained that she never offers that type if someone orders unspecified – she always offers two of the cheapest options first. He continued to yell belligerently at her while everyone in the bar had now noticed what was going on. I was sitting right next to the situation, and it just continued to escalate, so I basically told him to fuck off and I would pay his bill. He continued to yell, at this point for no reason, and all the guys in the bar worked to push him outside (thankfully with no violence) – twice when he tried to reenter to yell some more. Once he was gone, Lisa cried a little and we all gave her around of applause and she poured herself a drink and bounced back to her bubbly self nicely (:
After bar close (which is at 11pm in Luang Prabang), the thing to do is go bowling. The police commissioner of the city apparently loves bowling and the only place licensed to sell alcohol after 11pm is a bowling alley. We met a group of people (a married couple from Sweden celebrating a 30th birthday and two American girls) also leaving the speakeasy bar to go bowling and joined there group. Once we got to the bowling alley, I saw that there was an archery range right outside (obviously designed for drunk people so no one gets hurt). Since I’m TERRIBLE at bowling, I decided to try my hand at that while everyone else got started on a round of bowling so I could slide back in with the group afterward and not be expected to actually bowl. I paid for my arrows thinking, “my dad taught me how to shoot a bow when I was like 7, I’m probably still a pro.” Nope. I shot my first arrow into a totally different lane and hit someone else’s target, then got scared and gave all my arrows to someone else and went back inside. We stayed there for quite awhile, but my plan worked and I never had to actually bowl.
The next day Simon and I both had crippling hangovers so we did absolutely nothing. I had to check out of my hostel that morning, but Simon was staying in a private room with two beds so he let me take the second one for the next couple of nights until I decided whether I wanted to stay part of the boat plan or go off on my own. I ultimately decided to ditch the boat idea and go back to my original plan of seeing Vietnam. At this point, we were so behind in everything that if I spent a month on the Mekong, I would miss my only firm date (July 14) where I had flights booked to Ko Samui (Thailand), Bali, Kota Kinabalu (Malaysian Borneo) and Sri Lanka.. And if I missed one flight, I missed them all. I booked a flight to Hanoi, stayed one more day to say bye to Alex and Cecile when they arrived from their slow boat, and was on my way.