Published: October 15th 2007September 10th 2007
I only had a few days to spend in Laos, but I still had time to have a good look round the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang, enjoying the excellent food, including my first delicious taste of bacon in a few months, in the French colonial restaurants along with one or two glasses of Beer Lao and the odd two-for-one mojito with some friends I hadn´t seen since Rishikesh.
I was woken every morning at 4AM by the monks in the temple opposite the immaculate Villa Sokxai, another colonial building with rooms decorated in a surprisingly simple, yet luxurious, European style, getting themselves ready to collect early morning alms from the townspeople.
For once, I was in the right place at the right time as it turned out that today was the annual Luang Prabang boat race. Ten or so teams from villages all over Laos competed hard all day to win the cup. I was plied with beer, whiskey and goat meat by the villagers here to support, what turned out to be, the winning team, while local kids ran round shooting caps from replica hand guns and a boat
Lunch at the boat festival
Goat, beer and whisky with some Scottish travellers.
load of drunk transvestites entertained the spectators between races. It was all good fun and by the time the sun set we wobbled off for another delicious dinner and some games of pool.
I discovered that a day out white-water rafting isn´t the best cure for a hangover, especially when there´s a two hour bus journey over, what felt to me, some of the bumpiest roads in SE Asia to get to the start point. However, I soon forgot all about my headache as our team of ten oarsmen and women successfully tackled some terrifying rapids. We ended the day in a riverside village, with smiling locals and playful kids.
Trekking into the hills of Laos was next on the agenda with stops at the timeless minority villages of Khmer and Mong tribes. We crossed several refreshingly cool rivers as we walked through the lush, rolling hills and rice fields of northern Laos, sweating profusely in the humid heat.
We spent the night in a large village, sleeping on the floor of the only shop in town having been amusingly serenaded by some local kids and plied with the lethal, local moonshine. The next
Rock n roll
morning at just before sunrise all the roosters in the village decided everyone had had enough sleep. Bleary eyed, I went for a wash in the nearby spring returning to find an unexpectedly civilised breakfast of scrambled eggs, warm croissants and tea. Marvellous!
We were glad to set off early as it was already getting hot. We only had a few hours to walk until we reached the starting point for the afternoon's white-water kayaking that proved to be a much gentler experience than the rafting and, thankfully, involved a lot more drifting than paddling as we enjoyed views of the spectacular hills and jungle that lined the river.
Back in Luang Prabang the trekkers enjoyed a Laos barbecue, where you cook your own noodles, soup and meat over coals in the centre of the table. It was delicious and goes down especially well with an ice-cool bottle of Beer Lao.
As in Cambodia, I felt there was a lot more to see in Laos, but tomorrow I'd fly to Thailand to meet my brother.
There are more photos below