No joke, guess it was a way to keep them fresh as they headed home but there were a couple women with their catfish on a leash. We stayed in a hotel at Pak Beng en route, and the second day most were feeling a bit precious from the previous day so we chilled, read and playing copious games of Uno. It's amazing how many familiar faces you meet along the way. Mostly people are doing the same route as you so on the boat I was with all the crew from the Gibbon Experience, and also a bunch of the guys who were staying at the same hostel as me in Chiang Mai suddenly appeared so it turned into a mini reunion! Good times.
We arrived into Luang Prabang in the early evening and, as usual, were greeted by hoards of locals swarming around you trying to shepard you toward their guesthouse. It’s all a bit over whelming so we hightailed it and managed to stumble across a complete gem of a hotel that was all rich mahogany and ornate decorative wood carvings on the walls. For 50,000 it was a bargain (The currency is laughably highly denominated! 11,700 kip to the Euro). In the lonely planet guide it describes Luang Prabang as lovely and languid which is pretty spot on. It's an Ex French Colonial town so is dotted with these beautiful town houses that have been immacutely preserved which is strangely impressive as when the LDP came to power as a communist party they vowed to get rid of all status symbols but for some reason they let Luang Prabang off with all their shows of wealth
. It’s just as well, parce que c’est tres jolie! They also tried to stamp out the national religion of Theraveda Buddhism but that didn’t work either people went on believing and praying. You can definitely still feel the French influence with some really cool and chic cafes and restaurants then sell coffee, croissants and some fairly decent efforts at crusty baguettes too. The main street of the town is beautiful and small enough to amble around without having to worry about the constant pestering of Tuk Tuk drivers to get anywhere. We hit the museum to check out the ex Monarchs digs, The Royal Palace Ho Kham, not as ostentatious as Queen Vic but you can imagine his coffers weren’t as stacked as his British countepart. The royal car collection consisted of a handful of Lincoln Continentals from the 50s which I thought was amusing as every American and his dog probably had one at that time. Just shows what a different world this is. We saw one of many Budda's foot print at Wat Pa Phai on the top of a hill in the centre of town where we watched the sunrise after we had just joined in the daily feeding ritual for the monks. At the crack of dawn they are given food by the townspeople for their one meal of the day. They can’t refuse anything so you give them whatever but the done thing is to give them rice so we bought a bamboo container with some rice for 10,000 kip and then they ceremoniously passed you by with their alms as you gave them each a little piece. You weren’t to make eye contact or talk to them as that would seem demeaning I guess
. It was very surreal and the fact that you had to get up at 5am made it more so.
Along the main street there was this amazing market where all the Hmong people came to peddle their local hand crafts, so the girls I was with have all kitted out their future apartments already, it’ll be Asian-Dutch fusion. One of the main attractions of the town is just a few Kms outside where there is an exotic waterfall which stands about 50m high with about five different tiers and some watering holes that you could swim to cool yourself off after the hike to the top. Plus a quality rope swing and a 3 metre high waterfall you could launch yourself of off. Really nice and chilled couple of days.
Next destintion Vientiane, via Vang Vieng.
After the Gibbon Experience there was only ever one way to continue south, The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang, two days slowly and lazily drifting down the Mekong. The boat was an old wooden number which sat very low to the water which made the walk over the plank with my big rucksake a bit precarious. We were told by our eccentric land lady to get down early to nab the best seats, but the 10 seats ripped out of an old bus had already been taken so we got the cheap seats which were basically Church pews, but less comfortable. Not that we sat for much of the first day as there was a little bar selling the ubiquitous Beer Lao so not long into the journey we got stuck into the them and talked and watched the banks of the Mekong drift by us. The scenery was striking, huge mountains jutting out of the landscape covered tangly undergrowth and occasionally some lush forest, fisherman fishing the river with only a net attached to a rope as a tool, children swimming, Ox drinking. And my personal favourite, women walking their catfish!!