06.03.2009 - 09.03.2009
Changing our minds several times, we finally decided to skip Phonsavan and the plain of jars, and go straight to Luang Prabang, on a very long and windy mountainous road. The view was even better than the previous leg, and we were given an even more intimate view of village life.
Cute kid and his pet
A tuktuk took us into town from the bus station and after a quick wander we found a fairly decent place, near the Mekong. Luang Prabang is the darling of Laos, with characterful alleys and a laid back contentment. We thought it was a nice enough place, but we didn't have a strong pull to the city as some seemed to experience. It was lovely to walk through the nightmarket, with the soft glow of the traders’ stalls and the bright colours of the fabrics and jewellery on sale. There is hardly any pressure to buy, which means we'll always stop that bit longer and are more likely to buy something.
The night market
The plan was to board the slow boat up the Mekong, a journey that would take two full days on the boat, and one night stop-over along the way. Our plans were scuppered when we were both feeling poorly, and sitting on a hard seat for two full days appealed less and less. Finally, after much consideration, of whether we would be missing a major part of our Laos experience in favour of comfort, we decided to take the sensible option and catch a night bus. We spent the rest of our time strolling the streets and enjoying the banks of the Mekong. Finally, after almost four weeks in lovely Laos, we boarded a very local bus, with standard monk aboard, and what seemed the entire contents of someone's house, including the safe, and made our slow way towards to the border. The view was even more extraordinary and wild, but darkness soon fell, and there was little to do but sleep. We were getting used to local buses in this part of the world, but no matter how many times it happens, we still can't help but feel frustrated when the driver stops the bus at two in the morning, bangs on the interior lights, and saunters off to get some food. Waking up from our intermittent sleep, the amazing countryside was waiting, bathed in the amazing morning light. We were treated to the school run - Laos style. Scores of children on bikes, holding on to each other in human chains of two's and three's. Novice monks numbering almost as many as the other children. Some ran, some walked, but almost all waved furiously at the sleepy farang (foreigner) riding the bus through their village. Their laughs and smiles leaving a pleasant image of Laos in our head as we arrived at the border.
Leaving for Thailand
Laos was undoubtedly beautiful, and the people are friendly and endearingly laid back. We had a proper giggle in Vang Vieng, enjoyed the breathtaking scenery and met some amazing people. The unfortunate thing is we cannot forget how expensive and over priced much of it is. We are under no illusions how much money we have compared to the people we encountered, and that there has been nationwide inflation. Nor are we unaware of the amount of things we consumed were imported, mostly from Thailand. We understand that looking at these factors, it is fair that there is a separate price structure for locals and farang, and in most cases we are quite happy to pay a bit more than the locals. All this considered, we feel Laos has gone way too far. We feel that the responsibility falls mostly with the tourist dollar, and how much money pours into some areas. Vientiane was bordering on ridiculous. The tuktuks charge fares on a par with London black cabs, it would be cheaper to buy a coffee in the Strand and the accommodation was amongst the most expensive we found. Of course, we found some shops still selling things at reasonable prices, and always went out of our way to revisit them. Laos used to be billed as a cheap backpacker destination, but we didn't really find this was the case.