Published: November 25th 2012November 24th 2012
As our nephew Chase used to ask (over and over) when he was 2 years old,
"What are doing?"
"Where are going?"
I couldn't resist titling this entry after those famous words, as the city of Luang Prabang is filled with Wats
These phrases also seemed to run through our heads as we spent time in this amazing city.
No trip to a new city is ever complete without something going just not right. As we landed in Luang Prabang we realized we didn't have any US dollars to pay the Visa fee. They let Nick through to go get Kip (the Lao currency) from the ATM. We knew the conversion was 8,000 kip to a dollar and the Visa fee was $35 a person. So we were going to pay 560,000. As we handed it to him he said no 700,000. What?! Do we look like idiots? Nick tried arguing with him but realized it was going no where so we forked it over. It was that or be stuck in the airport for 5 days. Nick had a few choice words as we got our passports stamped and entered Laos. So we
pick up our bags and look for our ride. After about 15 minutes we realized there is no ride for us and the airport is shutting down as we were the last flight of the day. So I paid some guy to use his cellphone to call our hotel. I guess I never emailed the flight we were on! Again I am usually much more organized. So they raced over and got us, luckily its a very small town. We settled in that night on our river bungalow at Thongbay Guesthouse.
Our first day in LP we decided to wander the town, confirm our trek, and maybe see a Wat or two. After walking to town and around for a bit we stopped to pay for our trek for the next day. By then we were drenched in sweat, so a ride to a waterfall sounded fabulous. We hopped in a van with a few other people, paid the $6 fee for the 30 minute ride to Kuang Si waterfall. Luckily we got there in the late afternoon as we saw many tour buses on the way out. We are tourists too of course but it is nice to
get away from the large groups. The falls were absolutely amazing. We did some swimming, rope swing jumping, and of course a hike to the top. That night we hit up the night market, had some BeerLao, and called it an early night to prepare our two day trek.
Now had I known what this trek really entailed I would not have signed up. Luckily I looked at the itenerary a few months ago and mostly forgot. Our group consisted of two guides and two other couples besides us. We had to carry in our water, sleeping bag, and whatever else we wanted. We could only really carry about 3-4 bottles of water. After a 40 minute drive towards the mountains we hopped into a small boat that crossed the Nam Ou river. I was so worried about getting a little dirt on my shoes I decided to take them off for the quick ride...little did I know what was about to come. We started to walk as the guide explained the tour - day 1 is 6 hours of hiking, stopping in two villages, and sleeping in the third. Ok 6 hours, I can do that. Yes 6
hours of steep hills, mud, thick brush, brutal sun and a total of 25km. Many times Nick asked if I knew this is what the trek entailed. Nope! Half way through I had finished most of my water and had a pounding headache. Luckily Phil and Karen from the UK came to my rescue and had salt tablets. I don't know what I would have done without those. We stopped in two villages along the way. One Hmong village and one Khmu village. The children loved when I would take a video of them playing and show it to them, because they rarely encounter a digital camera (well maybe more often than we think).
About an hour from the village we stopped for one more rest. I was tired but hadn't complained once when Nick even said he was ready to be done! I have never been so happy to see a remote Khmu village in the hills of Laos!
We spent time walking around the village, learning a bit about the culture, and then settling in for our homestay. We were given a thin mattress and a pillow to sleep on top of a bamboo floor. If
you wanted to shower it was a bucket and water, and the toliet was a hole in the ground. The water for the shower also housed fish to keep the water clean. Our facilities were even nicer than what the villagers have in their homes. Only the best for falang
(Lao for tourists)! Our host prepared dinner for us and we got to know him the best way we could without any words - a BeerLao and a smoke. No Nick and I don't smoke but when the chief of the village offers you a smoke with tobacco grown in their village, you take it.
So that's how we spent Thanksgiving. It just happened to work out that we did this trek on Thankgiving. I am glad we did. A person can truly survive with very little. These villages have no electricity, no running water, sleep on bamboo floors, yet are full of smiles and joy. Nick and I laughed many times that we would be sitting on the couch, eating way too much, and watching football all day long. Instead we sweated our asses off (sorry moms), tested our limits, and got to know what we truly our
thankful for. I often thought to myself "wat are doing?" and "where are going?". But it was totally worth it. The great part is the village elder is paid by the trek company and can spend the money as he likes. So in a small way our trek gives back. Right next to us they had a big tv and at night they would charge a small fee if anyone wanted to watch it. The money went to the generator cost. Just amazing to see how life works differently for everyone.
The next morning the community alarm clock went off about 4:30 am (a loud gong) to alert the farmers to get up and get ready to head out. This was followed by two more loud gongs. Someone must have hit the snooze button. We were up at 7, had breakfast, and began day two. This started with a stop at a local school. There were three classrooms and we entered the first grade room. We were all greeted warmly and I was asked to give an English lesson. On the board I wrote three phrases and the children repeated them with me and then had to write them
in their books. Phil drew the flags from each of our countries (USA, UK, and Switzerland).
The trek that day was nothing - a quick hour down to the river where we then hopped on kayaks. We first paddled to the Tad Se waterfalls, and then back to the start. The waterfall we stopped at felt a little like Disneyland to me. Its a waterfall but hey you can zipline here, you can feed an elephant, you can even ride one, or take a picture with them!
So we survived the trek. Anyone who knows me knows hiking, kayaking, and camping are not my thing. But in a country as beautiful as this I would do this anytime.
That night we treated ourselves to a fancy $12 massage, some pizza, beer, and a little more shopping. I've also been following another blog for quite sometime and was on a mission to find this soup they had talked about. Khao Soy! It is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!
After sleeping almost 12 hours it was time to explore the city of Luang Prabang. We checked out a few Wats, the National Museum, and hiked over 200 steps up a hill to
see the views. On top of the hill there is a Wat as well. Unfortunately as we were walking around I ran smack into a concrete step. Not sure at first if my toe was broken or not, but I spent the rest of the day hobbling around with two toes taped together. But that wasn't enough to stop us from crossing a bamboo foot bridge to get to one of the best meals we have had yet on the other side of the river. Later we learned that the a section of the bridge broke about 2 hours after we had crossed it, and it was now under repair. Whew! As the day wore on it was clear something wasn't right with my foot, as it started to turn pretty colors. Oh well. At least we are towards the end. I couldn't imagine having to hike with it this way.
That evening we had a trek reunion at a restaurant on the river. We joined Dean, Olivia, Karen, and Phil for dinner, some BeerLao, Lau Whiskey and some great conversation. One of my favorite things about travel is meeting new people and learning how things are in other
parts of the world - politics, travel, and views on travelers. For example, many people aren't big fans of Americans! I probably always knew this but hearing it was eye opening. I hope we never become the classic "american tourist". I can totally see why though as we found ourselvels actually going the other way when we heard American voices.
Today we are off to Chiang Mai. Looking forward to being back in Thailand. Video Links:
Rope swinging at the Kuang Si Waterfall: