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Published: March 9th 2008
Dad: “So Casey, what exactly are you going to do or see in Laos?”
Casey “Well, actually, I don’t really know. Everyone just keeps telling me how much I am going to like it.”
This perfectly describes my time in Laos. I admit I was a bit scattered and unplanned at this stage of my trip. I did a lot of backtracking and missed some real gems of the country, but overall that didn’t bother me. You always have to leave something to come back to anyway.
So what was I going to do in Laos? The beauty of Laos is that there isn’t much there and there isn’t too much “touristy” stuff to do, although tourism is encroaching quicker than the country can handle. Due to its very sad history and very controlling government, Laos was only recently opened up to tourism, and well, civilization for that matter. I didn’t know really what I was going to do in Laos. The main thing to see is how pristine the country is and how genuine the people are. It was a great place to get lost for a few weeks. In hindsight it is one of the countries I really want to return to sooner than later. Read on to see what unfolded for me during my 3-week stay in Northern Laos.
Since the 24-hour bus from Hanoi to Vientiane is
voted one of “top five worst bus trips in the world,” I opted for the flight. Looking back I kind of wish that I took the bus, just so I can brag and say I did it. I made sure I was on a Vietnam airline because I heard horror stories about Laotian airlines. Out the window of our little airplane all you could see was jungle. At this point of my trip I had never see a place so desolate and free from human civilization.
Fresh off the plane I met a French guy and Irish girl who just arrived from Chiang Mai. We took a “jumbo” (Laos version of a tuk-tuk) to a road with numerous guest houses on it. The lady at Wat That? (Wat is temple in Laotian) Guesthouse took a liking to Frenchie Andres, so we decided to call it home for our time in Luang Prabang. We set out to explore the city, only to realize that “the city” was one main road with an occasional car, jumbo or motorcycle. I had never been in a main city where I could do cartwheels across the street without fear of dying and could even
hear myself breathe. It was seriously unbelievable. I guess I had envisioned Luang Prabang to be like Hanoi. Boy was I wrong.
We popped into the Royal Museum and at the last minute decided to watch the Laos Royal Ballet. Whilst there I ran into Steph, my hiking buddy from Sapa! I was intrigued with the dancing for the first 5 minutes, and admittedly after that I was ready for the door. Definitely not your Circe Du Soleil ensemble. I consider it my cultural experience in Laos. After that we wandered the streets for some dinner, scoring a veggie buffet for 50 cents, and meat on a stick for a dollar. Overall things were cheap in Laos, but not as cheap as I thought. Since it’s landlocked, everything has to be brought in from another country, driving the prices up.
Early the next day Andres and I headed out to check out Luang Prabang’s UNESCO World Heritage Wats (temples in Laos). There is a whopping 3o+ in this unpopulated city. We weren’t aiming to see all of them, just get a taste. I was personally on a hunt for monks. I am so
Kouang Si Waterfalls
me and Nilam showing off
fascinated by them and what they do. Wats were the perfect hunting grounds. When I saw them walking on the street I would get excited and occasionally let out a little squeal, almost as if Brad Pitt was walking by. I get even more excited to talk to them!
The temples were very beautiful, same same but different than the ones in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I seriously should have taken a class on Buddhism before going to Asia. The golden roofs and ornately painted walls were phenomenal, but I couldn’t help but put all my attention toward the monks living at the temples. The highlight of my afternoon was sitting with a crew of monks, teaching them English and Japanese. We met up with a Japanese girl named Yasuko who lived in the prefecture just west of Hiroshima. The best line of the day was when a monk told me that it was cold out, explaining why he was wrapped up completely in his robe. There I was in the shade using my fan and still sweating bullets.
For sunset we huffed, puffed, and sweated like crazy up the Phu Se mountain to see the temple. From
there you could see all of Luang Prabang. It was absolutely stunning- once I stopped sweating. I did a bit of monk stalking up there as well. With so many temples in LP, you can’t help but run into monks. You think I would get sick of them, but no! Luang Prabang was Monk heaven. I thought it would have been cool to make out with a sumo wrestler, but having a monk boyfriend would have been even better…and would be one more reason why I would be going to hell. Don’t worry, I didn’t attempt it!
Andres, Steph, Idel (Irish girl) and I had all been on the road for a while so we opted to get takeout and head back to Wat That Guesthouse to watch movies. To my wonderful surprise, Laos has sandwiches like the ones in Vietnam! I of course had to indulge in one to test them out, only to conclude that they weren’t nearly as good as the Vietnamese ones on the streets of Saigon. I was becoming quite the connoisseur of sandwiches. Randomly, my overnight train bunk buddy to Sapa was as the same guesthouse as me! Small traveling world! I also
little boys all dressed up
ran into my Hanoi homies Nilam and Hazel at an internet café.
Having seen the main sites in Luang Prabang (I forgot to metion you can walk the main drag in 15 minutes), Andres, Steph, Idel, Yasuko, Nilam, Hazel, and I piled into a jumbo and head out for Kouang Si waterfalls. There are GREAT day trips outside the city. Rumor had it that if you go on the right days you can see monks playing in the falls. That got me pretty excited.
It turned out to be such a fun day trip. It was a great experience to just drive through the countryside. Being the rainy season there were fewer tourists so we basically owned the waterfalls. They were so wonderful, picturesque turquoise blue pools tucked away in the jungle. We spent the afternoon checking out all the pools and hiking around. We even had a nice little rain shower in the afternoon. Being the rainy season, it basically rains for at least 30 minutes a day and then clears up. After lunch I managed to severely sprain my finger when I ungracefully went off the rope swing. I have never
Nothing better than meat on a stick
been good at those damn things. No monks nor any Laos people were there, probably because it wasn’t a weekend….oh and because it was “cold” out.
The Bowling Alley?
What I thought was going to be a tame night turned out to be absolutely ridiculous. I blame Nilam and Hazel, the two crazy girls that got me into more trouble in Laos in numerous places than I ever expected. While at dinner they spotted their Irish boys that they met on the Trans-Siberian “Vodka Train” (yeah….now you know why we got along). Just the term Irish boys associates a long, fun, drinking night out. From our Indian restaurant we went to get death buckets at Lao-Lao Bar, where I proceeded to try to teach the cute waiters how to a body roll. This seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking back, not so much. There I was, the drunk American girl corrupting these naïve and innocent boys. To my defense, at this time I didn’t realize how unexposed to western culture Laos people were.
It is national law that every place must close at midnight and everyone must be inside…MIDNIGHT! Can you believe
that? A curfew on the entire country! This shows you how strict Laos still is and how much the government controls the country. I don’t think they would have approved my body rolls either. But, somehow the bowling alley is a loophole in the system. My friend Sara told me this, so we all decided to check it out. When she told me this I just laughed in her face…a bowling alley? Please! Once inside we saw how hopping the place was with young Laos people - this was the place to be seen after midnight.
We managed to persuade them to let 12 people go on one lane. These poor bowling alley employees had to put up with us. Such good souls. To make things interesting I installed rules for each round, consisting of things like bowling backwards, bowling with your off hand, and bowling after spinning 5 times. The craziest Laos man was in the lane next to us. He was a horrible bowler, but despite his ineptitude after turn he did a happy dance by shaking his hands above his head and jiggling his belly. I even kissed his ball for good luck.
it was time to close. We were sufficiently liquored up with nowhere to go but home. For the finale, one of the Irish boys decided to go human bowling. Funny yes, but we were definitely borderline pushing the limits. I was glad I wasn’t going to be going back. Later I found out that they went to the bowling alley another night and were forever banned from going back. It was fun at the time, but I cringe now at how we took advantage of their kindness.
The next morning I was up early because I promised Steph I would go watch the monk offering in the morning. Since it was a full moon that night, it was an extra special offering and one that we definitely didn’t want to miss. Still drunk, I drug myself from my very comfy pillow and wandered to the street to meet Steph and her cute Canadian boy from the night before at 5:30. (someone got lucky in laos!!!). Despite my pounding headache, I was really glad to go. The monks (aka my boyfriends) all had freshly shaved their heads. They walked along the sidewalks lined with people collecting offerings in buckets.
After my spiritual morning I headed back to Wat That and put myself together. Andres and I packed our bags and caught the bus to Vang Viegn. It was a short time in Luang Prabang, mainly because I was hoping to do some volunteering in Vang Vieng at the organic farm. I knew I would be back before I went onto China.
So far, Laos was pretty sweet. I want a monk boyfriend, and the bowling alley will never forget us.
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