Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lovely, Lovely Laos

Sunday, June 7, 2009
Luang Prabang, Laos

Lovely, Lovely Laos

Laos... I want to say something really cheesy right now to express my genuine love for this country! "Loving Life in Laos" springs to mind, but even that is inadequate. Honestly, if I had more travel time, I would spend a couple months in Laos and never be unhappy or bored- there is so much to do here. Laos is an amazing country, and any person who enjoys the outdoors should definitely make their way here. After a rough voyage, primarily due to the uncomfortable seats aboard a slow boat that makes Laos-time seem like a busy street in New York City, we arrived in the city of Luang Prabang. First impression of the city- a tropical paradise of small, cobbled streets lined with family-owned stores and beautiful flora. After making our way through the hotel hustlers clustered on the ramp leading from the dock to the street, and who's only real purpose seems to be disrupting our normal path so we were forced to zig-zag our way through the maze, turning in a new direction whenever confronted with the image of a guesthouse or calls of "cheap, cheap, special price for you!", we made it to the main street, a bit bewildered and forever lost. Two English girls in tow, we decided to try out a guesthouse suggested in the Lonely Planet. We were a bit timid after our experience with hotels the previous night. Our slow boat had stopped in a small town for the night, breaking up our travel time into two consecutive days. When we arrived, we allowed ourselves to be herded by one of the hotel hustlers. A whole group of fellow slow-boaters clambered into a tuk-tuk that was owned by the hotel for the 5-minute hike up the hill. Let's just say, we were better off pushing with our own two hands than leaving any faith in the engine. A couple of whistles and groans later, the hotel staff decided to push the tuk-tuk up the nearest hill and roll it down to jump-start the engine. Did I mention that while this whole commotion was going on, not one of the staff allowed to us to get out of the tuk-tuk or help push? They rolled the entire thing, 15 passengers and all, up the hill. Unfortunately, after all their effort and our extra weight, the tuk-tuk STILL did not work. We ended up having to transfer ourselves and all our baggage into the next tuk-tuk. They refused to let us walk the 5 minutes it took to reach the guesthouse. Our experience with the tuk-tuk should have been ample warning to leave that guesthouse behind, but us, in our tired stupor, decided to pursue it. We arrived at the guesthouse and were shown to our rooms. Like the tuk-tuk, nothing worked and the rooms were dirty and musty. I have to say, I am not normally a guidebook traveler and like to make my own decisions about things, but that night, the guidebook saved us from a sleepless night of wondering what bugs were sharing the bed with us... After that experience, we were ready to put a bit more trust in the guidebook the following night in Luang Prabang, at least for the moment. Trekking all our stuff through the town, we ended up following the Lonely Planet directions up a small side street to a clean guesthouse right near the center of town. No sooner had we sat down outside the guesthouse to sign in than our English friends from trekking in Thailand emerged from...GUESS WHAT?!?... the guesthouse next door. We couldn't believe the luck. We spent a night in Luang Prabang socializing with our long-lost friends and settling into the new scene. We've really enjoyed getting into the traveling lifestyle and it seems that there is a predefined path of travel. People either move across SE Asia from Thailand to Vietnam or make their way in the opposite direction. Where ever we go, we run into people we’ve met somewhere along the road either a couple days ahead of us or a few behind. The company makes for a more enjoyable ride, and although we have fallen into our own backpacking habits, it is nice to have them disrupted by the commotion of a group. The next morning, our English friends appeared on our doorstep with plans of heading down to the tubing in Vang Vieng. They were on a bit of a schedule- how Western of them-, seeing as this whole trip was leading up to a wedding in Malaysia, and were not sore because their trip down the river consisted of a speed boat, some goggles, a helmet, and a life vest, bringing their travel time down to 6 hours instead of 2 days albeit at the expense of their safety. Although our bums still hurt from the benches and we were in desperate need of a laundry service, we agreed to sit for an additional 6 hours on a bus. So, we packed up and left Luang Prabang, to return in a couple days and give the beautiful riverside town justice. The bus ride was unreal. Zigzaging through the mountains, we came across some scenery that will forever be ingrained into my memory. Our bus drove high into the mountains and we saw a view that can only be comparable to what you see when you look out the window while flying and see the clouds beneath you and the sun hitting the peaks in a rainbow of colors. Suddenly, you are introduced to a whole new world... And I've finally come to understand what Jasmine was saying after all these years. We stopped at the end of the world to take pictures- pictures that still do not do the scenery justice, but are magnificent all the same. Then down the mountain we went, as the sun sunk lower in the sky, until we were twisting through the mountain passes in the pure darkness. Another unreal, albeit sickening experience. I have never been good at the buses here, perhaps it is the winding roads, the pace of travel, or maneuvering too close that cause my stomach to grip the bottom of my throat for support, but arriving at the destination had suddenly taken on a completely new joy. VV is more similar to Haad Rin than any other place we have stumbled upon since our first week- numerous Western tourists seated in restaurants and bars watching reruns of Friends and Family Guy. Again, it is a destination on any party-goers list, but tubing instead of full moon dancing becomes the activity of choice. The bus deposited us on the side of some street in town. Relieved and pulling our backpacks on, we began the trouble of searching for accommodation. Tomorrow, our abilities at tubing will be tested.

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