IndoChina Trip - The Laos days

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
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Trip End May 29, 2011


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Where I stayed
Villa Travandang

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, October 25, 2010

"Same, same... but different"
Local saying


After we had settled into our rather nice guesthouse we met up with our guide to explore Luang Prabang a little.

The town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 which I guess limits its development, or at least limits the development in a fashion that is out of character. Luang Pabang seems to be quite a sleepy little town of well preserved homes, shops and countless Buddhist temples.

The other thing Luang Prabang is known for is its monks. With all temples and monasteries there come monks and there are about 1,500 of them in Luang Prabang at any one time. Some only come for a few months, in an attempt to bring good fortune to their family, others stay years, and in doing so gain a better education than they might otherwise do so, especially if they are from a poor village whilst some will stay forever, relying on alms from the faithful.

Getting around seems to be done in 3 ways: There's obviously the tuk-tuk (for tourists mostly), there's the ubiquitous moped (beloved by locals all over Asia) and there's the 4x4 altho’ this does come in two guises: the pickup (usually a Toyota HiLux) or a Land-cruiser. Not bad for what’s supposed to be a 3rd world country.

At night a street market running along one of the main roads gives the place some life. Talking to our guide it transpires that most of the market stalls are actually owned and run by Thais who cross the border specifically to relive western tourists of their USDs, THBs and KIPs. The stuff on sale - clothing, wooden ornaments, fabrics - would be familiar to anyone that's been to a street market in Asia or indeed Greenwich (London) market on a Sunday although there was a refreshing absence of tat and fake rubbish.

After a very quick scout of the market, didn't buy anything because there's no room left in my luggage, I climbed the 200 odd steps up to Wat Chom Si at the top of the town's hill. From there you have a great view over Luang Prabang and the Mekong as it winds its way thru' Laos.

A night’s sleep on a bed that was only marginally less hard than the wooden floor and we were off to firstly visit a museum on the different ethnic races and then headed out of the town to a bear sanctuary and a waterfall, Kouang Si Waterfall, where we spent a couple of hours of so wandering around.

In the evening we were taken to a local family for dinner. The day was the last in the 3-day annual water festival where Buddhists thank Buddha for the rain that’s made the crops grow. As night fell the fire-crackers came out en masse, the Chinese lanterns floated gently up into the sky and paper boats carrying a collection of candles were carried downstream by the Mekong. And all around town an army of mopeds and 4x4s darted in and out of each other while passenger lobbed bangers behind them as they sped away.

The following day Claire and I took advantage of it being a 'free’ day and skipped the 'optional’ group activities of an elephant ride, zip wire rides and some other enforced fun things to do and instead decided to explore the town a bit more on our own. Luang Prabang isn’t a big place so we were able to walk everywhere which helped us get a better for the place. It’s all very civilized. Between the French influence (Laos is a former French colony) and UNESCO’s restrictions there are some very nice little cafes and bars, all tastefully integrated into their surroundings. We wandered around happily all morning and most of the afternoon taking a few pictures and generally chilling out before heading back to the guesthouse to cool down.

For our last night in Luang Prabang Claire and I skipped the group meal, more enforced politeness over a bar-b-q wasn’t that enticing, and headed into town where we found a decent bar and had a couple of beers and some nibbles. On the way back we braved the night market.
At one stall I stopped. I’d decided I needed another t-shirt, this time one with the logo "Beerlao". I pointed to the grey one, “do you have this in XL?” I asked.

“Yes” was the reply from the lady picking up a red t-shirt.

“No, Not red. In grey?”

“Yes” came the reply, again holding up the red one. “Same, same...but different

This is the Lao way of saying 'we don’t have what you want but take this instead’. It’s then up to you whether or not to accept this compromise. I didn’t and we once again headed back to the guesthouse as we had a really early start to get up in time to watch the monks accept alms at 5:30 am.
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