Well I have made it to Luang Prabang, the quite charming, yet extremely touristy World Heritage town, and my final destination in the Lao PDR. First off, one thing I forgot to mention about my bike ride the other day was that I think I rode a total of about 25km which I was rather pleased about, thought it definitely reminded me how out of shape I am! I also got sunburned on my arms and hands. I guess I sweat the sunscreen off!
The bus ride over here was fine…very long–9 hours! It was also extremely bumpy, as the roads here are in pretty bad shape. All the rain had caused flooding and rock/land slides that covered most of the road! The road has also cracked (as in it was in two different levels) in several places too!
But alas it was a beautiful ride, winding around mountains through little tribal villages! You could see that the Nam Tha (Tha River) that passes by Luang Nam Tha was flooding…there were many trees were the water was up to the leaves! It made me think about the fact that these people go through this every year! The Lao people have a very calm, almost laid back attitude about life. I saw some people whose houses had been totally collapsed by the water and others whose houses were absolutely full of mud, and they were totally ok with everything. The people here, though they are poor by our standards, seem very happy.
I can’t say this is exactly what I expected to see in a communist country. There is private enterprise (which I think became legal in the 1990′s) and unlike the remnants of the USSR that I saw in the Ukraine, buildings dont all look the same either. I really haven’t noticed anything different here, except for one thing…there are no homeless people or beggars.
Anyways, on the bus I met 3 Japanese students and a French guy, all near my age. We shared a tuk tuk into town here and looked for guesthouses together. Everything in Luang Prabang is much more expensive than elsewhere (ex: my most expensive meal prior to this was around 15,000 kip–$1.50–while here my meals have been around 28,000 kip–$2.80). I was very surprised to find a great deal on a guesthouse–$3.00 per night with private hot water bathroom!
You can tell Luang Prabang is quite the tourist place, as everyone here speaks English and many restaurants solely have menus in English (as opposed to English and Lao) and quote prices in dollars rather than kip. There’s probably more tourists here than locals too! And for the first time this whole trip I’m seeing other Americans.
The town is great though. It’s like a 19th century time warp. Very quaint, small little town. Very very charming.
They also have an enormous amount of Wat’s (Buddhist Temples). Every other town I’ve been to has at most 3, and there’s something like 40 Wat’s here! I’ve visited several, including Wat Xieng Thong that’s almost 500 years old. Many of the monks are eager to practice their English and like to chat as well.
I also visited the Royal Palace Museum…back when Laos had a monarchy before the 1975 revolution, this was site of the Royal Palace, and a long time ago, it was the capital as well, before it moved south to Vientiene.
There is much to do here, many different markets (including a night craft market) and a wide array of food too. There’s a lot of French bakeries, as this used to be a French colony.
Oh ya, one more way you can tell this is a tourist town…lots of places take Credit Cards for the first time since I got here! I do have some bad news in all this…I’ve gotten a cold! Alas!