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Luang Prabang, Laos Sunset

27 Sep

Yesterday was our last full day in Luang Prabang which meant the last chance to take some good pictures of the sunset on top of the main temple. So, for the sake of art we ran all the way up hundreds of steps to catch it in time.

Once at the top, there was a small gathering of people including Paul, all snapping away at the sky. There was also a slightly raised collection of rocks – the viewing platform, where people were posing for silhouette style photographs.

Paul then thought it’d be a good idea to say, “Let me take a picture of you both up there kissing”- The ultimate bad postcard/ awful film still shot. Completely unexpectedly, once we were up there, everyone below started clapping, cheering, and taking photos of us for themselves.

It’s a good job we’re leaving today because as we walked out of our hostel this morning, a girl smiled at us and said, “You’re the kissing couple from yesterday- sooo cute.”

Cycling Map Free around Luang Prabang, Laos

22 Sep

Yesterday, we (me, Dom and our older nomadic traveller friend, Paul) went on a bike ride to nowhere in particular, which I quite like doing because there are often surprises along the way.

About half an hour in though, we came to Luang Prabang Airport; not really a must see site. We’d decided to take the route across the wooden plank bridge because it looked nice. It kind of seemed like we’d gone the wrong way and that bringing a map would have been a good idea after all.

However, when you’re on a ‘let’s just cycle and see’ bike ride there isn’t really a right or wrong way, providing you have no expectations. I think we were all hoping for lovely countryside, mountainside jungle or interesting riverside paths, apart from Paul who was just happy to lose some calories.

We carried on cycling anyway and stopped again after an hour to sit in this wooden shelter in the shade by the side of the road opposite some houses and fruit trees.

Unsure which way to go next I asked a man walking past, “Khwy sawk haa” which translates badly as “I’m looking for forest.” He shook his head and I asked again replacing ‘forest’ with ‘river’. He then smiled and pointed left. In the mean time Paul had been given a papaya from a lady who lived in one of the houses opposite.

As we continued to cycle, the river turned out to be unsuitable for swimming but we later found a small cafe where we could consume sugar and eat the papaya. The woman who worked there happily agreed to cut it up for us. 10 minutes later she returned with a plate of the South East Asian speciality, papaya salad- spaghetti like strands of papaya, soaked in a kind of chilli fish oil with tomatoes and green herbs. It was surprisingly tasty.

Towards the end of our bike ride we ended up finding a 3-floored temple on a hill with a fantastic view over Luang Prabang. Most temples contain mural paintings and artworks. However, in this one the work was different. Am I right to think that the people in this part of the mural are eating themselves?

On the way out of the temple an old wise looking, white robed woman, who I assumed worked there smiled at me and gestured for me to come over to her. She reached for my hand and tied several plaited, gold threads around my wrist whilst muttering something in Lao. I thought, how lovely, she singled me out because I’m paying extra attention to the art and deserve a bracelet. However, once she’d finished she held out her hand and said, “Money.”

Now I have 2 thread/ string bracelets on my right wrist which are supposed to symbolize happiness. The left wrist is knowledge. Perhaps I’ll get another one of those soon.

As we rode slowly back to Luang Prabang, we spotted a huge rainbow running right through the sky; a lovely clichéd ending to a ‘There’s no right or wrong way’ bike ride.

Tat Sae – Or “Not this waterfall, the OTHER one!”

22 Sep

Tat Sae Waterfall

After a brief encounter with an “Older Nomadic Traveller” over breakfast we decided that we should all head to one of the two waterfalls around Luang Prabang. After pointing at one of the waterfalls on a faded card the ‘tuk-tuk’ driver had shown, me, Clare and Paul were on our merry way.

We arrived near the waterfall in the pouring rain and were told that we would have to take a boat up river to the waterfall. We insisted that the one we wanted to go to you could walk too. After a heated debate of “NO, NOT this one the OTHER one, I SAID the OTHER one” and “I think I heard about this, them trying to rip you off by taking you to the smaller one”, I realised I had pointed to the wrong falls to begin with.

I'M ON A longtail BOAT!

As we were now near A waterfall we decided we might as well not spend money for nothing and jumped into one of the little motor boats (a 12ft long thin boat with an engine with two speeds, full power or off). It was actually quite a pleasant ride up the river and when we arrive we were even more pleased by the falls.

The falls were a tributary joining the main river we had sailed up and it looked as though the jungle was flooding. Seriously, water rushed over short drops and swept around full grown and alive trees. Small bamboo woven bridges crossed at various points and further up the falls the reached up into one of the steps so you could actually wade out across the falls. From one tree hung the remanence of a tire on a rope. From the edge of one falls you could get a good swing and dive into the pool of the step below.

The falls were hardly the crystal blue that a lot of pictures had shown, but a choclate brown. Aparently this was due to the huge amounts of rainfall that come with the monsoon season. This didnt actually take away from anything and infact meant there was a lot more water to play and dive into.

We also heard from another couple of tourists that the other waterfall was so flooded and fast flowing with water that it was completely impossible to swim in let alone jump into. So in the end it seems like we inadvertently choose the better one for this time of year.

Arriving in Laos, Luang Prabang, and an angry woman and her dog

20 Sep

Laos seems to be one of the more mysterious South-East Asian countries, probably because I’ve never come across a Laos restaurant outside of Laos or owned anything made in Laos, etc.

And before arriving here, whenever I asked anyone about Laos they’d talk mainly about the tubing which despite sounding kind of touristy, I think I’d quite like to do. For the equivalent of a few £’s, floating down a river on a rubber ring in the sun and being handed free shots doesn’t sound so bad.

But where is the real Laos? The Lonely Planet mentions that “For about 80% of the population, the ‘real Laos’ is village life, and the best way to really get a feel for how the Lao live is to spend a night or two in a homestay.” Quite like the idea of this too.

However, we only arrived in Luang Prabang in central Laos a few days ago, and for now I think we both want to stay here for a few more days. The city is full of character and seems almost European in some ways; probably because it was originally a French colony. When we arrived it was a pleasant surprise to see lots of stalls selling baguettes. It made me hungry for sandwiches.

Aside from the bread though, Luang Pragang is an entertaining and endlessly intriguing place. Perhaps we haven’t yet got to the core of life in Laos but we’ve sampled some delicious food, stumbled across some great art, experienced Saturday night in a Laos nightclub, and met some interesting people, both nice and nasty.

On our first full day here, we were walking past a restaurant and met an Aussie girl, Nikki who had just finished doing a Laos cooking course and was sat alone surrounded by bowls and plates of yummy looking vegetarian food. She couldn’t eat it all so she invited us to sit with her and eat some, which is still some of the best food I’ve tasted here.

Unfortunately a bit later on, the next person we met wasn’t so nice. We ventured into the second hand book swap shop across the road where we were greeted by a horrible barking ratty little grey dog (reminded me a bit of the severely inbred dogs when you type ‘ugly dog’ into google).

Shortly after us, a Swedish guy walked in calling ‘Sabadee’ which is hello in Lao. I thought he was calling Zebedee and assumed he must know the woman who worked in the shop, because a few seconds later this booming Australian female voice yelled something back quite scarily.  I thought, you can’t surely be that rude to a stranger- he must be family.

The Swedish guy couldn’t hear so said something like, “I’m sorry I can’t here you.” And the woman completely lost her temper and started yelling at the top of her voice, “I SAID WAIT A MINUTE…” When she appeared (an overweight, ratty, grey woman in her 60’s), the Swedish guy timidly asked if she had a copy of a book he was looking for, to which she barked back, “No” and he left muttering, “sorry for disturbing you.”

By this point we were pretty keen to leave this bad tempered woman and her ugly dog alone, so Dom handed his Terry Prachett book to her which she disinterestedly flicked through and said, “Well, I suppose we can take it because we had one of these in last week and it sold pretty fast.” The other books on the shelf were so bad; we didn’t even swap it with another one. Talk about being ungrateful.

It’s also important to note at this stage that the shop this woman was working in was a charity, and all the money made supposedly went to help children in Laos get an education. How and why was this woman allowed to work there is completely beyond me.

I very much doubt that this little encounter had much to do with experiencing the ‘Real Laos’ but it was amusing to see such a well matched, ugly and angry dog and owner combination.