Conversation, temple circuit and contortion

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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
January 29th 2019
Published: January 30th 2019
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Luang Prabang to Vientiane

We have slightly overslept this morning as we need to pack, check out, have breakfast and walk to the opposite end of town to attend another Big Brother Mouse volunteering session.

We arrive at BBM about 15 minutes late and the session is in full swing but there are young people waiting to join in so it’s not a problem. We grab a couple of chairs and within no time I have a group of four whilst Ian has a much larger group clustered around him.

Trying to describe my job has thus far been difficult but today I came prepared! I have two of my travel books which were destined as a gift for friends in New Zealand, but now we feel compelled to leave them behind in the BBM library!

Ian’s group is of mixed ability, but all are highly motivated to learn English. Once the standard questions about our family are answered, the discussion meanders over many other topics - how do you describe the British political system, and how do you describe coal mining? Most of their families live in the countryside where continuous education does not exist, and all of them appear to value the education they are receiving. Since this mornings group are all 16 to 20+, they are all working part time as well as studying.

My group all wish to become English teachers. One young man tells me that, when qualified, he wishes to return to his village as they have no English teacher in their school there. There is great interest in English customs, including how we bury our dead. There is also the usual expression of shock and surprise when asked about children. How many children do you have? None? Yes, really none...but why? This leads on to questions about what will happen to us when we are old and/or sick - the concept of a nursing home is completely alien to them and they worry for us. :-) Another young man raises the question of pets. How many pets do you have? None. Why? Well, when we travel they would starve. Oh. His family have pets...they are chickens. Do you eat them, I ask. Yes, of course. So they are not really pet’s then? He laughs.

All too soon it is 11am and another session is ended. We buy a couple more books from their shop and donate ours to the library. We hope they will be useful although we do stress that they are probably not written in perfect English and will include a good deal of slang! It doesn’t matter - the volunteer thinks they will really like them. Are we going to write one on Laos? Yes, we are, but how we will get it to them we do not know...apparently nothing ever arrives by post. Oh dear, we hope our postcards have been delivered!

We return to our guest house to finish packing and check out. Now it’s time for lunch at the morning market. Today I have chosen an egg and avocado sandwich - as usual it is massive. Ian predictably chooses tuna.

We set off for our town tour. It’s 12.30pm and extremely hot. The climate here suits us very well up until 11am and then after 4pm but outside of that it’s a tad hot. Never mind, we intend to make the tour all the same as today is our last chance. We now wish we had allocated an extra day to Luang Prabang, but we have booked our onward accommodation and travel so we have to make the best of it.

It’s hot, hot, hot and we are both melting. A very short tour around the town including a walk up Mt Phou Si hill has us beat. It’s a good job the town is small. We retreat to our guesthouse to avoid getting sunstroke with a view to going out again to complete the temple tour later.

It’s almost 4pm and still quite hot, but we decide to finish our circular town walk. We follow the Mekong down to the bamboo bridge passing old wooden balconies buildings and glittering temples on our way. We are back in the centre by 5pm where vendors are busy setting up their stalls for the night market. We have an early meal before returning to our accommodation to await the pick up for our night bus.

A tuk tuk arrives promptly at 5pm, taking us to the southern bus terminal. Here we exchange our receipt for bus tickets and load our baggage. From outside our ‘VIP’ sleeping bus looks OK, but once onboard it’s a different story. Unlike the previous sleeping bus, this one has single ‘beds’ which are really plastic recliner chairs. We both have upper bunks and there are three rows of bunks with two narrow aisles. They are incredibly difficult to climb up into and there is no space at all. I am far too tall to be able to stretch my legs out fully and, since there is nowhere to stow any bags, my day sack has to lie on top of me!

Ian gets the top middle bunk whilst I have the top window equivalent. It is dark, so nothing to see, but mine has the benefit of only being able to fall out in one direction. The seats have lap belts which don’t work - there isn’t even a buckle on mine! We are each supplied with a thin fleece blanket. I decide to lie on top of mine rather than sleep on plastic. Fortunately we have our own travel fleeces and small pillows courtesy of IKEA...we never travel without them.

Our tickets state that a meal is included. At the end of our bunks we have a small bottle of water rattling around in a larger moulded depression, a wet wipe, a small piece of wrapped sponge cake and a polystyrene box containing some kind of cold rice dish. Actually, my meal is missing, so I guess someone less fussy than me was feeling hungry. No matter, it’s one less thing to fly around the bus once we get moving!

Every bunk on the bus is taken, so now they start to load the ‘standby passengers’. A huge crowd of locals are waiting outside. They get on, one by one, and make their way up the aisles where they are directed to sit on the floor. They have been issued with blankets but that’s it. There is supposed to be a toilet onboard. I cannot see one, maybe it is at the back, but it would be nearly impossible to get to it without trampling these poor people in the process.

We had been cursing the fact that we had secured upper bunks, but seeing the squash down below, we now congratulate ourselves on our good fortune. Wedging ourselves in place, we resign ourselves to another bus journey from hell.

Our initial thought was that putting extra people on the floor was treating them like cattle, though everything is relative. Regardless of what we travel in, the road is still potholed, and the number of buses travelling the roads is limited. When compared to other countries in which we have travelled, sitting on the padded floor of a temperature controlled bus with a blanket is the height of luxury!

The bus sets off, and almost immediately we find ourselves on the terrible potholed, unmade roads to which we have now become accustomed. I am just dozing off and something bashes my’s the water bottle which I forgot to move and has now gone flying, narrowly missing the poor woman sleeping on the floor below. She does not seem at all put out, but quickly claims it for her own. :-)

The bus has stopped, the lights switched on, and a loud announcement that we have arrived in Vang Vieng. We have actually arrived well outside the town and it is only 4am so I’m glad we are not being dumped here. Considering the cramped conditions on this horrible bus, I have slept surprisingly well. Ian is grumbling that I have been snoring all night. I know this to be true as I woke myself up several times as The noise was so loud!

I now need the toilet desperately and wonder if this is an official stop. People do seem to be getting off. It turns out to be a ‘watering the flowers’ stop and I have left it a little late but I am past caring. I run behind the bus shelter for a little modesty, hoping I will not step in anything sinister in the dark. The driver is shouting at me to hurry up. Well it’s a pity he didn’t announce it was a loo stop 10 minutes ago!

Back on the bus, I wedge myself back into the seat and settle down for the final three hours or so of the journey.

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