Luang Prabang

Luang Nam Tha - a whole lot of nothing I had felt a bit off-colour the last night in Huay Xai, after returning from the Gibbon Experience, and had headed to bed early - I had a bus booked for the next day to head to Luang Nam Tha. From there I planned to continue up to Phongsali, a fairly remote town in the far north-east of Laos which has excellent trekking. The three hour minibus journey from Huay Xai was... cramped, to say the least. I was rammed into the single back seat, without enough room to put my legs down, and a pile of luggage at one side. As well as spending the entire trip with my knees round my eats, I also suffered from several bags dropping on my head - not the most comfortable way to get anywhere. I felt squares and tired by the time I reached Luang Nam Tha, so checked into the first hotel I could find and slept. Sleeping proved to be my main activity here - I was ill with a fever, dizziness, and general fatigue, and over the next three days didn't venture more than 50m from the hotel. When I did venture as far as the hotels restaurant tables near the street, I was repeatedly offered 'Ganja? Opium?' by a series of wizened old ladies. Or it could have been the same woman several times, I wasn't entirely sure. On the third day, I rose again, feeling that the worst of my ailment was over. I decided to abandon my plans to head to Phongsali and to go down to Luang Prabang instead - I wasn't feeling up to anything as strenuous as more trekking, and Luang Prabang would offer gentler activities. Luang Prabang The bus from Luang Nam Tha to Luang Prabang was... entertaining. The route is only 300km but the journey took 8 hours due to the abysmal quality of the road over the mountains, which was varied between paved, dirt track, and a broken pot-holed mix of the two. Bumpy, twisty, bouncy and slow - but sort of fun! Based on the sound and smell, some other people on the bus didn't agree... A group of French backpackers were on the bus, and had a hotel in mind when the bus came in to Luang Prabang - I hijacked their idea and shared a taxi into town, and then sneaked in to the hotel first to make sure I got a room. I think I may have forced some of them to share a room, as there weren't many left - heh 🙂 After check-in, I wandered around Luang Prabang's night market, which must be the most chilled-out and relaxed market in the whole of South-East Asia. It was unhurried, the merchandise was well-displayed, and most surprisingly there were no pressure sales - if I didn't have another two months or so on the road, I would have filled my backpack with stuff here.
Wat Xieng Thong

Wat Xieng Thong

Houseboat on the Mekong River

Houseboat on the Mekong River

An attempt at wildlife photography.

An attempt at wildlife photography.

Odd little man

Odd little man

My second day was spent in a traditional aimless wander around the old part of Luang Prabang, which if I'm honest is the only interesting bit. If visiting a city in a different country, generally the 'Old City' is the place to go for the unique aspects of the place. For Luang Prabang, this is the peninsular part of the city, bounded by the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, so the rivers form a major part of the city's feel. The Mekong is about 80m wide here, and ferries and slow boats ply the waters along and across the stream - I spent my late lunchtime sat on the shore, watching the boats head back and forth at a suitably sedate pace. After that, I continued round the peninsula to visit Wat Xieng Thong (one of the city's main Buddhist temples) and the Royal Palace. Sadly, both places cemented my view of the Chinese as the most rude and annoying of tourists, as I was actually pushed out of the way twice by groups having their photos taken. I don't think I will ever understand the need to be photographed in front of every sight available, particuarly to the detriment of other people. This put a little bit of a shadow over the rest of the day as I avoided places with groups of Chinese, and probably missed out on some nice places. Never mind... The following day, I arranged to get a songthaew to the Kuang Si Falls - sharing with a couple of girls to save on the fare. The falls were spectacular - a main falls of about 50-60m, and then a series of cascades winding down a valley. I did climb to the top of the main falls, hoping for a good view, but the edge was lined with trees and the ever-present haze made the pictures a bit dull - though the steep climb to the top and partial views still made it worthwhile. Back on ground level, the girls went for a swim, but I limited myself to a brief paddle and a bottle of beer. On the journey back, we experienced some early Songkran activity. Songkran is an annual New Year and water festival, celebrated in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. The most obvious part of this festival is water flying through the air - whether it be from a bucket, water pistol or hose - directed as anyone passing. In our case, children were waiting in several of the villages on our route, throwing buckets of water into the songthaew as we passed by. I did try to retaliate with a water bottle, but it was no match for the huge tubs of water that the kids were using as their ammo dumps 🙂
Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

More Kuang Si Falls

More Kuang Si Falls

And more Kuang Si Falls

And more Kuang Si Falls

The final day I was to spend in Luang Prabang was also the first proper day of Songkran, so a brief excursion across town for a massage became an exercise in dodging buckets of water on the way back. I managed to do pretty well - distracting kids and slipping past them, and avoiding people with giant water pistols (high pressure water bazookas, really). This all came to naught when, on the songthaew to the bus station (for a mammoth drive to Hanoi) I got a full bucket of water in the back - wet clothes that accompanied me on the bus. That is my main problem with Songkran - there's no opt out - so if you're outdoors, you're liable to get wet. I now understand an American I met who lives in Thailand, and goes on a scooter tour of less populated parts of South-East Asia during Songkran to avoid it all. I'm not Oscar the Grouch, but if I had to endure four days of water-lobbing, I would probably have a breakdown...
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