Utopia...

Trip Start Sep 09, 2011
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32
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Trip End Jun 29, 2012


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Where I stayed
Souk Lan Xang Guest House
What I did
Watching the monks make merit... at like 5am
Utopia Bar... best bar in the world probably
Sai Waterfall (the little one!)
Wat That Phu Si (at the top of the hill)
Hive Bar
Dyen Sabai Restaurant
Night Market
Bowling
Discotheque

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of a kingdom that had the same name, and until the Communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital of Laos. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and you know how we love a UNESCO site). It has a profoundly French influence, and there are many bakeries and patisserie type shops, as well as more traditional Asian inspired crafts and food. It is really, really lovely, and the guesthouse we stayed in was really nice too. It had... a shower cubicle. We were so pleased we did a little dance of shower cubicle joy. There is something about not having to shower right next to the sink and toilet while water sprays everywhere that warms the soul.

We went to meet Dave, Myles, Tracey, Kate and Coco at Hive bar, and when Tracey arrived she had met a lady called Cheryl at her hostel, who in turn had brought some of her friends. It was a really interesting group of people, and we ended up spending our next few days with them (and in fact joining them later in Vang Vieng, and then having them following us down to Vientiane later on!) Cheryl had been in Luang Prabang for a few days so she was able to act as a tour guide which was really nice. She took us to a bar called Utopia... and there has never been a more fitting name for a bar.

It was beautiful and chilled out with a large open garden, low tables and candles, stone floors, a veranda next to the river with cushions and little tables, and even a sand volleyball court. They also showed really interesting videos on a big screen, played awesome music, and as well as normal drinks served things like Hibiscus juice... I loved it. We all loved it. We mourned the loss of it when we left Luang Prabang. I cannot recommend this bar enough if you end up visiting Luang Prabang.

Laung Prabang, as a UNESCO site, in fact has a curfew of 11.30pm... this meant that at that time the city kind of shuts down. The only option if you want to keep the party going is to go to the bowling alley. And by this, I really do mean JUST A BOWLING ALLEY. Fluorescent lighting, about 16 alleys. That's it. But it does serve beer, and what the people want, the people must have.

Our first full day in Luang Prabang we all met up in the morning and climbed up to see That Chomsi, the temple at the top of Phu Si... it was a very hot 300 steps climb, but the views were amazing. In the afternoon we went out to Sai Waterfall (the little waterfall). Most people tend to just go to the bigger one, but we had been advised to go to the smaller one instead, and it was definitely worth it. It was really beautiful, and so nice to get into the seriously cold water after many days of hot, sticky weather.

In order to get there we had to get a little motor boat down the river, and the driver was having to bail out water as we went along... didn't really instill you with confidence, but the views of Lao people farming and tending crops from the river was really cool.

Dave and Myles found a rope swing, and spent most of the time jumping into the pool below. Turned out Dave did gymnastics for 12 years, so he was able to do various fancy somersaults and spins which I hate to admit were actually very impressive.

We went to the night buffet for dinner, which was delicious and ridiculously cheap, and then wandered through the night market looking at craft, clothing and jewellery. Obviously we ended the night at Utopia... this became a recurring theme during our time there. 

I went with Luis, Cheryl, David, Silvina, Stefan and Liane to the Discotheque that evening, which was one of the most surreal experiences ever. There was no dance floor as such, but lots of people arranged around these sort of tables made out of petrol drums just sort of dancing where they stood. There was less of a bar, more of a cupboard selling Beer Lao. The music was incredibly loud dance and trance, but then at 12.30 exactly, the lights came on, and they started playing backstreet boys as we all left. Bizarre. We went on to bowling alley, which was actually kinda fun as I haven't bowled in ages.

I actually went back to the discotheque the following night, but took Tracey, Myles, Dave and Bec with me this time. It was genuinely entertaining trying funny dance moves out, and this Laos man wanted his picture taken with Dave and Myles, before giving Dave his number and saying that his nephew is a good footballer and would like to come over to England and train... as if Dave had any connections at all. Maybe they thought he was famous.

Afterwards we went bowling, and hilariously Bec had the luckiest game of bowling of her life... her technique involved literally slamming the bowling ball into the ground, and yet it rolled along and kept hitting pins down. We were all in stitches as she slammed yet another ball into the ground and it rolled along and knocked them all down. You couldn't have done it if you tried. Hilarious.

During the day we had been out to the 'big' waterfall, which was very beautiful, and also had a rope swing... so the boys were happy. We were also loving it... until the fish started nibbling. We found that as long as you kept moving they didn't nibble, so just had to keep jumping around and swimming backwards and forwards.

We visited the royal palace the next day with CoCo, which was quite simple and uncluttered as a building, and had some interesting artifacts in. It did not have the same ornate quality of the temples we had seen. It was built originally in 1904, but during the 1975 revolution the royal family were exiled to the caves of Vieng Xai in Northern Laos, so it hasn't been a royal palace for a while... but still. You expect a little bit of fancy stuff... the temple in the grounds was stunning though. Very ornate, but not as garish as some of the Thai temples.

We had some Internet stuff to do, so found a little Internet place... and then disaster struck. The Internet place was clearly dodgy, and connecting the memory pen and camera up resulted in their computers corrupting my camera memory card and wiping files from both mine and Bec's memory pens. We were so annoyed, especially as the guy who owned the place was not polite at all... I ended up not paying for my Internet time after an argument with him. Grrrrrrr.

We visited Wat Xieng Thong to try and raise our spirits after such an annoying episode, and it was very interesting, but didn't quite lift our moods. The highlight of our day though was without a doubt going to the Dyen Sabai restaurant. 

They offer a free boat ride over the Nam Khan River to get to the restaurant which is perched on the hills on the other side. The river was flowing very fast though, and as we approached the other side it became apparent that we might not make the moorings. The guys paddling at the back and the front started to shout to each other (I don't know the Lao for 'Shit, we're all going to die' but I would imagine this was pretty close to what was shared between them), and the guy in the front jumped into the thigh-deep water and had to pull us up to the river bank. It was an experience to say the least.

The food and location though was absolutely amazing and Bec, Tracey and I had a really nice night there. Going back across the river in the pitch black was even scarier, but shots of tequila in Utopia afterwards calmed us back down again.

Myles and Dave are doing a bit of whistle stop tour, so while we and the rest of the slow-boaters were heading down to Vang Vieng the next day (and Cheryl and the others had already headed off), they were in fact flying to Hanoi to carry on their SE Asian adventure. This meant that they had no money left, so Tracey and I bought them a beer on the proviso that on their 29th birthday they would have to buy us a beer back... if they are reading this we WILL hold you to that boys ;o)

We were due to be picked up at 6ish am by the minibus taking us to Vang Vieng, so we decided to get up even earlier (ridiculous idea in retrospect considering we didn't get to bed before about 2am) to watch the monks 'make merit.'

Every morning monks get up at sunrise and go to the temples in order to collect alms, which is generally sticky rice, in a large iron pot that they carry at the waist. Like in Thailand, men are expected to spend time as a monk at the temple during their lifetime. Some will do this for years, some will do it for a matter of a few weeks. Often men will do it just before marriage to purify themselves. It means shaving your head, dressing in distinctive orange cloth, and living with the other monks, following the temple rules and studying the Buddhist faith. Because they take a vow of poverty as part of this, they rely only on the food given to them, which they collect during the mornings.

Going out at about 5.30am, we saw that mats had been set up ready, with bamboo pots of sticky rice placed at the front of the mats. The monks were due to pass past these collecting their food. It seemed very peaceful... but this did not last. It sadly turned out to be a very touristy thing to do, with tour guides bringing groups of people in who had paid to be able to wear a sash and kneel on the mats serving the monks. One group arrived just in the nick of time with the monks in sight further down the road, and had to kick off their shoes quickly as they knelt down, as their tour guide shouted at them to 'Hurry, hurry... the monks are coming, THE MONKS ARE COMING!'. The tour groups were all laughing and posing for pictures, and the whole thing felt very voyeuristic, which was a real shame. We felt a bit dejected getting on the minibus down to Vang Vieng after this, which was a shame as the rest of our time in Luang Prabang had generally been amazing.









  
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Comments

Myles on

I thought it was your 39th birthday that's coming up??

princessbecs
princessbecs on

Charming as ever Myles...Enough of your cheek. You are a lot closer to 29, and payback time than I am to 39. You best stop buying angry birds crap in Vietnam and start saving for that drink, 'cause after that comment I'll be upgrading it to Champagne ;-)

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