15.10.2010 - 20.10.2010 -28 °C
A Lao Airlines flight got us to Luang Prabang in 40 minutes in a wee ATR72 prop airplane, you definitely feel a lot more in the little plane but the flight was great and couldn't fault Lao Airlines. A hell of a lot better than a 12 hour bus journey would have been methinks.
LP is a great little town, very pretty. Lots and lots of temples and monks roaming about, but it seemed the tourists outnumbered them. Every shape and size tourist too, from your backpacker types to old Australian lesbian types, very odd. The food is nowhere near as good as Vientiane however.
The following day we were feeling unusually energetic and decided to climb Phu Si. Now it's only a 100m (I think the guidebook lies I really want to get and altimeter!) hill in the middle of the town, but it was tough, particularly on my little unfit legs (which were still hurting two days after). The view from the top was worth it.
That evening we went to dinner at Lao Lao Garden and had an especially good feed shabu shabu style where we cooked our meat over our own mini barbecue. The waiters were kind enough to give us our first taste of Lao Lao, a whiskey made from sticky rice. Surprisingly quite nice but very sweet as with most things in this part of the world.
We also made it to the former Royal Palace where the most impressive thing to be seen were the collection of presents that were given to the royals over the years before they were shoved out by the Commies. So you could see China had given them an impressive dinner set, Japan gave them cut crystal, for some reason the Danes gave them a silver ice bucket and the Australians gave them a boomerang. The most interesting was presented by Nixon on behalf of the United States and included a miniature of the Lunar Module alongside a plaque containing a Lao flag that had been flown in the LM to the moon and back (bit random I know, who knows if it actually happened or not) as well as a few fragments of moon rock (unfortunately we weren't allowed any cameras in the building). A very impressive gift from Nixon...just unfortunate for it to have gone to the Communists in the end!
On our last day, we signed up for a tour to the Pak Ou caves and Kuang Xi watefalls (I know I know more waterfalls!). The caves we reached by boat, our fist boat outing of the trip surprisingly so it was good to be out on the Mekong again. By the end of it we decided the boat journey was slightly more enjoyable than the caves them selves. There are two caves to be explored one lower cave and an upper one, and by upper I mean up at least a couple hundred steps. I really don't know why these people insist in putting temples and shrines in such inconvenient spots and I swear the locals take pleasure in seeing a sweaty white girl panting and wheezing her way to the top.
Anyway, the lower one isn't that impressive it's very small and filled with a billion buddhas. The upper one is worth the climb, it's bigger and in pitch darkness, they give you a torch in return for a donation for the upkeep on the caves (what the maintenance costs are like on a cave I'm not too sure). It's nice and spooky in there with buddha statues in every nook and cranny and we were lucky enough to be in there on our own. Other than that, not sure the caves are that impressive, the area is certainly pretty but an accurate description would be a poor man's Halong Bay. The most interesting thing perhaps was that we discovered Neil Houlihan's Lao doppelganger, our boat captain..
You would think that we would be all waterfalled (waterfell?) out but Kuang Xi waterfalls are amazing. They are particularly large and have several tiers that fall into gorgeous little pools suitable for swimming in. I didn't have a change of clothes with me and the water was a bit murky for my liking but Will went in for a paddle, until he saw a dead scorpion and scampered on back to shore.
On our last night in Luang Prabang, and our last night in Laos, we decided to check out a local hilltribe fashion show we had heard about in a shop where I bought a rather pretty silver necklace. The fashion show used models from the local area who are members of these particular hilll tribes (not sure if that's the correct term as I don't think any of these communities actually have a chief and therefore can't be tribes as such but whatever) and displayed various traditional dress associated with them. Very impressive set up in a very cool bar. They were followed by a group of local kids who had some very impressive breakdancing skills.
We ended up drinking with a bloke from Tokyo who had left Japan because he had broken up with his girlfriend (downer), a lovely bloke from Finglas who had caught dengue fever in Chiang Mai (only and Irishman can make dengue sound glamourous - his hospital room was better than his hostel and he spent all his time surrounded by adoring Thai nurses who even said hello to his mammy on Skype!), and an Aussie copper whose nickname was Hacksaw. A good night was had until the barman says he's shutting up shop at 11.30 as a result of the Lao government curfew - the theory is that you should be where you are registered to be at midnight each night, Lao Communists could learn a thing or two from the Cubans. It was probably a blessing in disguise as we were moving on the following day to somewhere completely different - Koh Samui. Two flights will get us there, one to Bangkok and from there to Samui. We're expecting a lot of tourist tat but hoping for some nice beach action.