Monday, 12 March 2012

Journey to Laos

The journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos took three days; one on a mini bus, then two on a slow boat along the Mekong river. On the first day, we stopped at a huge white temple, amazing for its mix of Buddhist beauty and arty weirdness, including severed heads hanging from trees, and hundreds of white hands reaching up from a pit to collect money.
The two days spent on the boat were lovely. It’s really interesting to watch the range of ways in which the locals use the river. We stopped overnight in Pakbeng, a crazy little town that seems only to exist to house the tourists in transit. We had to take a look at Hive bar, which claimed on the flyer to be ‘the best and only bar in town!’ Both of these things turned out to be true, and by best I mean a deserted wild-west saloon, with additional flashing lights.  
Luang Prabang is beautiful, sitting tucked where the Khan river meets the Mekong. It is a city saturated with temples, one in particularly impressive on the top of a huge hill behind our guesthouse. The amazing Kuang Si waterfall was well worth a visit, and also included a sanctuary for bears rescued from captivity. Apparently bears are imprisoned so that bile can be extracted from their stomachs—a process that is very painful—to be used unnecessarily in medicine.
Being in much need of some foot TLC, we decided to get a massage. When it came to it however, I was sucked in by the cheaper pedicure option (pretty much the same, right?) It was priceless watching the poor woman tend to Lee’s toenails. She’d obviously never seen anything like them and even had to get her friend in at one point to have a look too.
So, after what can only be described as a bit of an ordeal for Lee, I am now educated in the fact that pedicure means simply nail cutting. For some reason I had in my mind that it was something more elaborate. I'm quite shocked that people actually pay for this!  
The next day we tried again, this time indulging in a foot scrub. The hygiene element left something to be desired; Lee’s guy sat waiting patiently for mine to finish with the pumice stone, so that he could use it. Would it really be that hard to have two? Would it? We were left pondering exactly how many feet the stone had seen before. It had probably been in the family for generations, passed down proudly from father to son! Not a pretty thought. Nevertheless, the experience was worth it and our feet are now baby soft. 
Most bars in Luang Prabang close at 11pm, so for our last evening’s entertainment we went bowling, apparently the real hub of social activity in the city. I don’t know what I was expecting, a mini disco or some air hockey at least, but it really was just an old school bowling alley. The Laos guys next to us obviously agreed the place was the height of excitement. They were drunk, mostly topless and throwing the balls with such gusto that they fell over in the lane nearly every time. I’d love to see what would happen if this kind of thing unfolded at Megabowl in Coventry. I predict there would be a certain sense of humour failure on the part of security staff.
There was an advert on the table for prizes you could win if you scored well. For women it was 130 points for the lowest prize: alas still out of my reach, but I appreciated the gesture of being acknowledged as the weaker-and-therefore-more-rubbish-at-bowling sex. The prizes were varying amounts of packets of cigarettes, again something that would be brilliant to see back in Coventry. For your excellence in bowling, have a smoke on us!
And for the first prize, a motorbike! I was a little dubious about this, but unfortunately none of us were able to test out the sincerity of the offer with a score of 300.  
All in all I loved Luang Prabang, but if you ever go then plan to be there for more than two days, as it is simply not enough. 
My shorts were not deemed fit for the white temple

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