Extending the Excursion

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
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Trip End Apr 22, 2005


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, January 31, 2005

Your true traveller finds boredom rather more agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of liberty - excessive freedom. He accepts boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure. Aldous Huxley


Traveling within Asia is a beast unto itself and seldom do things go the way you've planned or hoped. When I went to the travel agency yesterday to book passage to Chiang Mai I was confronted with several dismal choices. I am a person who knows what I want and I make my decision and that's that -- rarely have I had regrets. Sometimes the choice however is not to choose but I haven't that ambiguous luxury. I have surely irritated half of all the travelers of Luang Prabang within earshot, as well as the travel agents about my conundrum.

My first option was to boat up the Mekong and spend the night in a border town before proceeding onward to the Thai border the following morning on another boat. Upon reaching Thailand I would have to take a bus. If I departed at 8:30 am on Monday I would arrive if I was lucky on Tuesday evening. Then I heard the major kicker from a fellow traveler, "That is if you make it to the border before dark otherwise you're stuck another night in Lao" she told me. Forget it. Another option was the speedboat that seats 6 and you have to wear a crash helmet and while the journey only takes 6 hours it is by far the most dangerous of all the options. Forget it. I decided to splurge and book the Thai Airways flight out on Monday morning. Too late it was booked up. Next option: Lao Airways, the tuk-tuks with wings and I could fly out the next day. Or I could wait several more days and take the Thai flight. Then I remembered the Presidents Airways flight to Phnom Penh while I was walking to the travel agent. I decided to stay a spell and fly out on Thai.

There are worse places to be stuck than Luang Prabang for a total of nine days. To sit by the Mekong enjoying a leisurely lunch reading a book for hours. Stopping into shops afterward looking at the textiles and Buddha statues and the clunky intricate jewelry from the ethnic hill tribes. Afterward having a dessert at one of the many French or Scandinavian pastry shops then wandering around down alleyways and suddenly seeing across the way is another wat to explore. When the women start setting up the night market in the early evening it's time for a shower and a change of clothes and cocktail hour on the Mekong. Then dinner at the same place I had lunch and more reading followed by a stroll at the now lit up night market. Not shabby this little routine.

I took a day trip the other morning to the Pak Ou caves of the "thousands Buddhas" but I think it's somewhere more around 300 of them. In this rare incidence the journey was by far superior to the actual destination and the destination was still interesting. The early morning mist rising on the Mekong was breathtaking and the two hour boat ride to the caves was beautiful and relaxing. En route we stopped at a little sand barge where the locals were brewing a type of rice wine/moonshine. They were stirring a large vat of boiling black rice wine in large oil drums that trickled down through a pipe and dripped into a gauze-covered pot. I tried a little shot around 9:45 in the morning and liked it so much I bought a little bottle to indulge at a more decent hour. The taste is a bit like sake with a subtle hint of pineapple and very smooth.

The caves themselves were interesting but nothing truly spectacular but for a five and a half journey for $3.50 who's complaining? The boat ride back with the sun directly overhead while cruising against the current lulled me into a nap. By the time I was on dry land my body still felt like it was on the boat. Back at my favourite riverside restaurant the black and white gingham checked tablecloth was undulating beneath my lunch. The trip back and forth was only about four hours worth of travel time. I thought of two days on one of those skinny boats heading to Chiang Mai and I knew I couldn't do it.

I've met some wonderful people here as well. The other night I had a very swanky dinner at a French/Lao restaurant called L'Elephant with two American ex-pats who live in Taiwan. They own a large import/export business and were thinking about working out some plans to export some of the amazing textiles here. We all agreed that while Thai silk is considered the finest it truly pales in comparison with its Lao equivalent. The embroidery and stitching is exceptional and the detail work is impressive. I had a great dinner with Faye and Howard and they even treated me! Faye said, "No, no it's our treat you're the traveler and you've got a budget." I was very appreciative and it was really nice to swank it up for a night. The following day we went to my favourite place on the river for lunch but wouldn't you know it? It was Sunday and I'd been eating at the only Christian restaurant in all of Luang Prabang -- it was closed.

I've also met a great couple, Jeff and Margaret who are staying at my guesthouse and we've had a couple of breakfasts together. They're from Queens for crying out loud and hopefully I'll be running into them in Burma next month. That is if Jeff is healed up by then. Seems he was riding a bicycle around town here and flew over the handlebars and bustled his back up something terrible. They're flying to Chiang Mai on the same flight as I am on Thursday to see a proper doctor in a proper hospital. In the meantime I've plied him with Vicodin since I had my Russian doctor back home load me up on all kinds of pain killers just in case. Mercifully, I have not needed them but I have helped out a couple of fellow travelers. "Can't sleep you say? I've got some serious sleeping pills! Back hurt? I've got Vicodin! Headache? How about some Tylenol with Codeine? Toothache? I've got some Ibuprofen 500MG and some Ambesol! Feeling weak? I've got vitamins! Hyperactive thyroid? I've got pills for that, too! Worried about Malaria? Have some Lariam!" By God, I am the Valley of the Dolls.

Tonight while walking over to my favourite restaurant for dinner I noticed candles everywhere. The shops, the guesthouses, the riverside bars and restaurants were all lit solely by candlelight. Blackouts are a rather common occurrence here in Luang Prabang my waiter told me. Still it didn't stop the musicians from playing their xylophone, drums and chimes amidst a constellation of white taper candles. I got my regular table and just stared up at the stars and the black Mekong slowly churning below. It was a magical moment to sit there with the chilly breeze floating up the river with the steam rising from my over-sized bowl of ginger and tomato soup as it warmed my face. After a few pages of my book I placed it back in purse and savored all that was happening so slowly around me.

If I'd gotten on the flight I had first intended I'd be in Chiang Mai by now. Instead I've got two more nights here in Luang Prabang for lazing about and being happily bored.

Christina
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