Published: August 18th 2012August 9th 2012
My entry to Laos started with an overnight bus from Hanoi. I booked the bus through my hostel which is the easiest thing to do because they pick you up right from the hostel. My pickup arrived on a motorbike. He had to carry my backpack (which weighs 20kg) on his lap so I could sit in the back and be whizzed through traffic. He left me at another hostel and told me to wait. I waited there for about three hours. I wouldn't have minded the wait so much if I knew about it ahead of time, but I kept thinking I would be picked up at any time. Finally a minibus arrived and I piled on to be taken to a bus station where our minibus driver bought tickets for us and directed us to our various buses. The sleeper bus consisted of about 24 completely reclined seats in pairs with an aisle in the middle. It actually wasn't a bad sleeping experience. I would say it was an extremely unpleasant trip in general. We stopped about two hours into the trip at about 9:30 at night for dinner. There weren't any public bathrooms so us girls wandered around
until we found a hotel and begged them to let us use their bathroom.
Then around 8am we arrived at the border station. There was a bathroom there. I was in a particularly bad position because they issue Laos visas at the border on arrival, but at this particular border there were absolutely no ATMs or currency exchanges. And I had used all my Vietnamese currency in anticipation of leaving the country. Luckily I had stashed some Thai baht left over from Bangkok since I am going to Chiang Mai after Laos. The Laos visa office accepted my Thai baht although they gave me a horrible exchange rate. I think this is one of the downfalls of traveling for so long and doing the same thing (like border crossings) over and over you just assume that this next border crossing will be just like all the other ones complete with ATMs. The first time I crossed a border I had no idea what to expect so I imagined a dozen different possibilities and planned for all of them. Repetition leads to complacency I guess. Probably for the rest of my life I will never see another border crossing without
an ATM but I will always think of this obscure Laos border and carry extra cash. So I guess now I reached the perfect amount of border crossing experiences.
So after the border crossing the bus drove on until about 3pm when it stopped in a small town for lunch. In this time I hunted down a bank that would cash my traveler's checks because the only ATM didn't accept my visa card. Then after I had acquired Laos currency I bought some bread and water from a street stall and tried futilely to find a bathroom. Finally around 9pm we arrived in Luang Prabang and I paid a tuk tuk way too much money to take me to the night market which I had been informed was the place to find hostels. The night market in Luang Prabang is an awesome place. It has lots of wonderful crafts and souvenirs, but the first time I saw it I was trotting as fast as I could through it in an attempt to find a hostel. Eventually I found a guest house that had one vacancy and cost $19 a night. This is a lot for me to spend per
night, but I just didn't want to search anymore. I did have the room to myself which is a blessing and a curse, because I love spending time alone but it really isn't good for me not to talk to anyone.
Luang Prabang is a french colonial town and is listed as a World Heritage site. I enjoyed it for its sparse population. I think the ratio of residents to monks is probably pretty high. There are at least a dozen different Buddhist monasteries around the town. One of the tourist attractions is the 6am alms ceremony where locals and some tourists form a line and give monks donations of food. Women must kneel, but men are allowed to stand in the line. I didn't actually do this since if I was a monk I would be annoyed at people trying to take pictures of me during breakfast. Also it was way too early in the morning for me.
I spent a lot of time walking down the streets and not seeing more than ten people. On the other hand it is very touristy in its own way. There are lots of western restaurants and travel agencies selling
trips to the water falls and Elephant camps. You can do rafting and kayaking and trekking to your hearts content around Luang Prabang. I was there during the wet season so there weren't a lot of tourists but there weren't a lot of things I was willing to do in the rain. Like trekking. Apparently leeches are a common complaint.
I took a day trip to Pak Ou cave which included a boat trip down the river that was more impressive than the cave, and another day I visited Kuang Si waterfall which had so many cascade levels that I was truly impressed.
Upon the recommendation of a fellow traveler I met in Vietnam I signed up for a cooking class with a restaurant called Tamarind. It was definitely a highlight. We were taken to a local market and instructed on the various herbs and other ingredients that locals purchase for cooking. I have to say that Laos food is probably the strangest food I have ever seen or tasted. Probably because there aren't any Americanized versions of it at home like we have Thai, Indian, and Chinese food. We made something called stuffed lemongrass. When our teacher
told me we were going to stuff the lemongrass I kept thinking that it was a crazy idea. Lemongrass looks like a big spring onion. How do you stuff that? But he sliced it a few dozen times and created this bendable cage like thing to stuff with chicken and herbs. Bizarre and delicious.
I gave some thought about whether to spend some extra time in Luang Prabang or make a 6 hour trip to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is the home of drunken river tubing. You rent an inner tube and pay a tuk tuk to take you up the river and then you float down the river. You can make stops at various taverns along the river and buy beer. As much as I wanted to see what this experience was like it doesn't really sound like something I would enjoy. So I spent some extra time in Luang Prabang with all the monks instead.
There are more photos below