Sightseeing in Luang Prabang then biking in Vang Vieng
07.04.2009 - 09.04.2009 35 °C
After two days boating we were ready to leave our river legs behind and explore the beautiful town of Luang Prabang with it's French provincial architecture and multi-ethnic inhabitants. I was struck by the relative prosperity of this place due to the modern shops tailored for Western tastes, but the lovely Laos culture is still found in the smiley, friendly folk serving 'Italian' Ice-Cream, or 'Swedish' bread! We sort out more locals at the colourful fresh produce market, stocking up on leafy greens or dried shrimp. Once again we were amazed at the wonderful specimens on offer, both dead an alive; a giant, butchered catfish lay slumped on the stall while his smaller mates were squirming in a shallow bowl on the floor. One woman had a handful of plump, speckled frogs ready for the pot, looks like I was a bit late to kiss one and get my handsome prince... will just have to make due with Andrew the toad.
Climbing the 100m high slope of 'Phu Si' we got an excellent view of the town with the Mekong on one side and Nam Kan on the other. Standing at the summit is the majestic 'That Chomsi' stupa where a lady sells the little caged birds, but before I got a chance to set them all free Andy spotted a Russian anti-aircraft cannon on a nearby crest - which kids (and myself) used as a merry-go-round. Whoo Hoo! To end the day we got engrossed in the Handicraft Market selling dozens of similiar snazzy souvenirs - beautiful applique blankets, silk scarves, bamboo lamps. Shopping is not Andy's favourite pastime and unfortunately for him all the umbrellas and canopes sheltering the sellers were set at the average Laos height, so his enjoyment was somewhat severed by backache. A Beer-Loo by the river soon consoled him and we watched the fisherman coming home with their catch as the sun set.
I was really keen to get up at athe crack of dawn the next day to observe the sunrise procession of monks receiving alms. There seem to be so many monks here in Luang Prabang and their bright orange attire can be spotted everywhere, but I particularly wanted to see the large group together. However, I couldn't quite muster the energy after having a restless night from nearby noises - sometimes its feels like all sorts of animals gravitate towards our bedroom for a party, those gheckos certainly like us and make a loud "Whah-Urgh" noise over and over, a bit like a huge hiccup. If I didn't like them so much there would be a lot more squished gheckos in the world.
Andy was feeling a bit green from all the Beer-Loo, or maybe it was the frogs, and he became even greener on the zig-zagging roads to Vang Vieng. The usual top-class VIP buses slightly slumped in standard and we were back to the rickety dust buckets bumping along windy pot-holed tracks. Despite the nausea its hard not to be impressed by the dramatic landscape in Laos, huge undulating limestone hills, the kind you'd draw as a child.... mounds up to the top of the sky and valleys down to the earth... the stuff of fairytales.
Vang Vieng is essentially a backpackers party town where bikini-clad revellers drink their way down the river on tyre inner tubes, or spend their days chilling in a bar watching Friends. We're way too old for that.... well, not really, but due to Andy's aversion to alcohol (I know! Shocking!), we took a more sedate trip on a bike round the local villages. The roads are quite basic and our little 4-gear moped could just about manage 15mph on the stoney surface, zoooooommmm! Even at that speed Andy nearly crashed, but in his defence that was because a 6ft red and green reptile came slithering into our path. Snakes are a delicacy here but I didn't even have a chance to take a picture of him let alone bash him over the head. We kinda missed having the quadbike but we still reached some fantastic spots in the peaceful hills, although the locals are certainly cashing in with every point of interest there with lots of kids ready and waiting to show you around in return for a few dollars. Two little eager boys were keen to guide us to a secluded lagoon, and showed us the delights of swinging on a rope before plunging into the murky depths. When we were sure crocodiles didn't lurk nearby we too launched in with arms flailing, screaming with joy. Another small chap with a head torch showed us to a nearby cave and pursuaded us to follow him into the dark hole, which was amazing. There is supposed to be some fabulous caves to explore here so if we were more prepared we may have gone further, but as soon as Andy felt something on his neck we were outta there!.
So much to explore and such little time, we're off to the capital tomorrow.