Around the World in 32 Days: Stop Three: Laos
I thought I had escaped untouched. I was careful about what I ate (for the most part), washed my hands frequently, and avoided hot-ass riverboat fruit. I didn’t worry when Teresa came down with a bit of a stomach bug, because I felt fine. I went for a hike, had some bubble tea, and went to bed the last night in Taiwan feeling just peachy. But things in the morning were not peachy, and I did not escape untouched. It could have been worse. I mean, I didn’t exactly become a human fire hydrant open at both ends, but things weren’t pretty either, if you know what I mean. Stepping off the plane (where I had the pleasure of finding out that I couldn’t sit on the airplane toilet and have my feet on the ground – my legs were too long. I had to splay them out in a fashion that would have raised some alarm if the door had suddenly come open) in the steamy oven that is Laos in April didn’t do a whole lot for my well-being, but maybe there’s something to be said for working up a good sweat after an illness, right?
No, there’s not.
Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos, greets you in a pretty similar fashion to Vietnam. There’s a long line to get a visa on arrival, then a longer line to pass through passport control, but it’s relatively efficient and you’re dumped out onto the street after 45 minutes or so. Laos really is hot this time of year, hovering close the point at which pack-backers melt into the sidewalk, leaving behind only giant hiking packs and sweat stains. It’s not the heat though that makes it unbearable, it’s that April is in the middle of burning season, leaving the entire city and countryside smothered in asthma-inducing smoke. The city looks shrouded in a mysterious and romantic fog on the flight in, but once you land, you realize the only mystery is why the hell you picked to come here this time of year.
Downtown Luang Prabang:
Fresh made sugar cane!
Aside from the heat, and the alveoli-collapsing smoke, Luang Prabang is small town with disproportionally large amount of charm. Most of the town is a UNESCO world heritage site, and preserved French colonial buildings line the tidy roads and alleys. Like most of Laos, there are no shortage of Wats and monks (Laos is lousy with wats was an alternate blog post title – eh? -eh?), unlike neighboring Cambodia, which purged that segment of it’s population during reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. It’s a walkable city, but if you feel sedentary, there are plenty of friendly tuk-tuks roaming the streets. Restaurants and shops abound, many of them selling locally made goods and not just the usual tourist garbage. There are cooking classes and culinary schools dotting the city inviting people to stop in and learn how to cook a real Lao meal, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. The food here isn’t bad, but it’s not going to be something one would request as their death row final meal. And if they do, they should be acquitted, because clearly they are mentally ill. Ha.
Lao New Year runs from April 13-16th, and the celebrations were already beginning. It’s a huge holiday here, and it falls during one of the hottest times of the year. People, mostly kids and teenagers, take to the streets to spray everyone and everything with water as part of the festivities, named the Water Festival by westerners. Cars, pedestrians, scooters and tuk tuks, no one seemed spared. Water guns were stocked and for sale at just about every shop that sold anything at all. Huge buckets, giant tubs of water, inflatable kiddie pools, and pales were readied and strategically placed at ambush stations along at roadsides and various intersections. Watching people of all ages get ambushed with water guns and buckets of water, well; it just warmed the cockles of my heart. The celebrations continue when we land in Sri Lanka, where they celebrate New Year then as well, so I hope to see a lot more water fights along the way. Is my camera waterproof? I need to check.
Tomorrow – early flight out to the Plane of Jars.
Some poor backpacker getting doused:
Me falling gracefully at Kuang Si falls
How I got there: Flight from Taiwan to Luang Prabang $343
Where we stayed: 3 Nagas Luang Prabang by Sofitel.
What we did:
Kuang Si Falls – Despite the good reviews I wasn’t expecting much, but there were great! Stop and buy a T-shirt from the bear sanctuary at the same location.
Old Quarter – the whole city looks like the old quarter, which is a compliment.
Lots of Wats – hit the Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong) then skip the rest unless you have a passion for temples.
Mount Phousi – Nice little paved hike to the top, where you have nice views of the city…in the late summer when the smoke clears.