Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Luang Prabang

My next two days were spent on the slow boat to Luang Prabang. It was definitely a long time on a boat, but I got plenty of reading done, met some very interesting people, and it was fantastically beautiful. My favorite part was a three hour conversation I had with an older Italian gentleman who had been a journalist. He'd written about social and political issues all over the world and had some quite amazing stories as you can imagine. He'd somehow managed to visit Laos in the early eighties before it was reopened to tourists and journalists and talked about how he hadn't seen another foreigner on his entire trip.

Once in Luang Prabang I found a cute little guesthouse on a side street that was owned by a Belgian man and his Laotian wife. One of my favorite parts of this portion of the trip was speaking to both of them about what it was like to live in Laos. The woman actually had an American father whom she never met  Her mother was pregnant with her in 1975 when all of the foreigners had to leave the country. She has spent countless hours trying to find him, but with little more than a common name she hadn't had much luck.

After walking around the city I fell in love and stayed four nights, but definitely could have stayed longer. It is a quiet town with a river on each side of the city, so there are endless riverside cafes. The night market is fantastic with great street food.

I spent my first night with a group of Germans from the guesthouse. We went out to dinner then to a bar for drinks where I ran into a pair of Dutch girls who had been on the Gibbons Experience with me. The following day I met up with the Dutch girls for some sightseeing. There was a festival with boat racing on the river, so we joined the crowd for a bit then visited one of the two waterfalls  It was a bumpy journey in the back of a truck but it was worth it because it was very different from any waterfall I'd seen before. It had trees all through the middle of it that had then been surrounded by limestone as the sediments settled. When we got back into town we hiked to the top of Phusi Hill for sunset where we met a group of Dutch guys that we spent the rest of the evening with. In Luang Prabang there is a curfew of 11:30 and everything closes, but there is one place to go out of town, so at 11:00 when everything is closing down there are truck drivers outside of the restaurants prepared to take you to “Bowling,” which they describe as a club. It is not a club, but an actual bowling alley in the middle of nowhere.

The next day I walked all around the city and met a sweet Australian couple at the guesthouse. I had dinner with them and enjoyed stories from the woman who was born in France, was an au piar in the US, traveled through the middle east, and took a boat to Australia that was free if she worked there for two years. They may have been some of the best people I met on my entire trip.

My last day was spent across the Mekong in a smaller village. I saw only one foreigner on my short journey, which made it feel infinitely more authentic, well if you took away the satellites dishes which were attached to every single house. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage sight so everything on the main side of the river is extremely well preserved, but when you cross over it is completely different. Many of the temples were falling apart and it seems you are stepping back many income levels.

Luang Prabang is definitely a place I would like to find myself again, and I think I will!

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