Crossing the border at Huay Xai was pretty standard in relation to other South East Asian border crossings. One bus takes you to the first border; someone there tries to and converts your money in a dodgy manner. You then make your way to the other border, in this case, via shuttle bus. When at the next border the guards will attempt to scheme tourists in some form of creative swindle. Today’s was an overtime charge, which is fair enough, we saw them start their shift at 4pm and it was now 4:15pm.
Nevertheless, we were now in Laos. Most of the group in the van had opted for a two-day boat journey on the Mekong to Luang Prabang, while we opted for the 10-hour, overnight, bus journey. We boarded, settled in and shut our eyes in preparation for some sleep. This was a very optimistic idea. The road was riddled with potholes that filled in the gaps between the never-ending turns that resembled F1 chicanes. A sport that our bus driver was clearly in training for. There was no sleep this evening.
4am and we experienced the, soon to be very common, transport scheme that Laos and Cambodia have mastered. Long distance buses would stop at an indescribable location outside of the city, kick you off and make you take the waiting tuk tuks at a higher fee than usual. But at 4am, in the middle of nowhere, one has no other option. We got in and were dropped at a central point in the town, where they left us to our own devices. Our map wouldn’t load, and finding someone in the town at this time in the morning that spoke English and knew the location of our hostel, was like trying to find an honest and decent tuk tuk driver in, say South East Asia. We wandered the dark streets, aimlessly looking for our hostel for an hour and a half. At the point of stumbling across a very intoxicated man in the middle of the main street, furiously pleasuring himself, we took the opportunity of squeezing through the semi locked gates of a 5 star hotel and woke them up to get directions. Thankfully, they were very obliging, and pointed us in the right direction.
We dropped our gear of at Kounsavan Guest House and headed out to the only thing happening in Luang Prabang at 6am – the Monk’s Alms Procession. We weren’t really aware that it was happening, but watched on from the comfort of a stool at the sandwich market. Similar to the procession we had seen in Mandalay, this was another case of tourists lining the streets to shove their cameras in the monk’s faces. We declined to be included this time, and instead watched, as westerners would buy food from the street sellers, sit on the ground in their brand new saris and offer wrapped food to the monks. It seemed slightly odd. We later learned that the Monks do not actually eat packaged food. We even heard a first-hand account where some people witnessed the monks, once around the corner, throwing their food out of their bowls and back at the street sellers so they could sell it again.
Soon, the streets were filling with smoke, as the early morning market got into full swing, grilling everything from chicken, to sausages, to fish and beef. Everything held together by bamboo chopstick clamps. It was a great little market, with incredible smells, and interesting items like pink eggs, something new to us. We wandered up along the main street of town. The buildings were beautiful, but they were slightly tainted by the shops that filled them. Souvenirs and Travel agents filled almost every building. There were a couple of nice shops and restaurants in between but it was slightly boring wandering. After another hour wandering the streets, looking in shops, and popping into temples, we were well and truly bored.
We tried booking into a cooking class, but they could only offer a half day lesson at the same price as a full day. We looked into what tours were available from town, a trip to a waterfall, so we decided to cut our stay in Luang Prabang short and booked a bus out the following morning.
With only the afternoon left to play with, we converged to the one place where all backpackers seem to go in Luang Prabang – Utopia.
This epitomises how hard travelling can be some days!
After a few Beer Laos, and one or 2 cocktails we headed back to the hostel. Everyone was getting ready to do the only fun thing to do in Luang Prabang, Ten Pin Bowling. We opted out and headed into town to see the night market and grab some dinner. The night market was closing, and it turned out, so were all the restaurants. We found one that was open, and then discovered that Laos has a curfew, which means everything shuts at 11pm. At 12:30am we were still in the establishment enjoying some red wine, when last drinks were half-heartedly called.