Thursday, January 15, 2009

Travels:Laos. Hello Luang Prabang!

Luang Prabang
Day 8
Saturday, December 27, 08.

This morning, as we were getting ready to leave Vang Vieng, it rained. It's just weird - when we were about to leave Vientiane, the weather turned gloomy and cold, and now that we were about to leave Vang Vieng, it rained. We must've been THAT lucky, huh?!

After what seemed like an eternity for Husband J to check out from the hotel, we were picked up by the tour company we bought the tickets from, to transfer us to the terminal. This time, we took the minivan. A bit more expensive than a bus ride, but definitely a little bit more comfortable.

We left Vang Vieng at 9am, as scheduled and made our way to Luang Prabang. It is a 5 to 6 hour journey, depending on the conditions of the road (and weather), and today, it rained, so the roads are wet, muddy and slippery. The scenery to Luang Prabang is pretty. Typical Southeast Asian I guess - paddy fields, with huts and rivers running through and the stunning limestone hills as the backdrop. And because it was raining, the clouds hung a bit low as well, making it look even more picturesque. The roads were awful; one kilometre was tarred, and then one kilometre was dirt. And it went on like that for quite awhile! So it was quite a bumpy ride. I think there were at leas 10 people in that van, so it was quite full.

30 minutes or so into the journey, we arrived at no where, with mountain tribal women seen selling fruits at the side of the road. There was a long line of vehicles. Uh-oh. Accident. Sure enough. One bus had one side in the ditch! Don't think anyone was hurt, the passengers were all at the side of the road waiting for another bus. Up ahead, a tanker was struggling to do a u-turn. The road was small, and it was not tarred. It was dirt road, slippery and muddy from the rain. I'm sure this happens a lot, especially when it rains. We waited for more than 30 minutes before our van driver bravely crawled uphill on the dirt road. Let me remind you that the van was full, and it was a van, NOT a four-wheel drive, which would have worked better in this condition!!

The ride after that was pretty smooth. We went uphill, through winding roads. The beautiful scenery along the way kept me from wanting to throw up (and pee!). We passed by many tribal villages, and it looked as if their houses were moved right to the edge of the hill to make way for the roads. Kids were playing at the side of the road, the womenfolk sitting together weaving dried grass to make into house tops (ceilings?), pigs and chickens running around.. it was quite a ride!

We had 2 stops, one was in the middle of no where in the highlands, where I had to pay 2,000 Kips to kids to use the toilet! Can't bargain OK! One mat salleh asked if he could use the toilet for 1,000 Kip, and this cute boy with rosy cheeks said, "No 2,000 Kip, no toilet!" *LOL*

The toilets were clean though, so it wasn't too uncomfortable for me. J had his baguette sandwich, I just hung around. It was so muddy, wet and cold, I just wanted to get back in the van and get going.

We did eventually, and the rest of the journey was nice and bumpy!

We arrived at the Luang Prabang bus terminal at around 4pm. It was bright and sunny, and a bit warm. We had trouble finding a tuktuk driver who knew our hotel (it is a new hotel), so we finally paid 20,000 Kips to take us into town. Once in town, we were delighted to see a familiar cafe -JoMa! We ordered food and coffee, sat and chilled before asking another tuktuk driver in town if any of them knew our hotel. Luckily one did, and off we went. We were taken to a bridge, which only allowed bicycles and small motorcycles to pass through. Apparently, the hotel is right after the bridge, which meant we had to drag our bags across the bridge. There was a small path way with wooden floors for pedestrians, and so we dragged our bags across the river, on to the other side. I am afraid of heights, so looking down and admiring the river below was not an option!!

Sure enough, the hotel was right after the bridge, much to my relief! However, we were put in a villa, some 20km away from the town centre beacause at this hotal, the rooms are full!! The hotel driver then drove us there way, way into a village and into this huge traditional looking mansion. This was our villa!! To get to town and back, we must arrange with the driver to send and pick us up. An arrangement that did not sit well with me nor with J.

Bel Aire Villa: beautiful place, but waaaay too far from town!

The room was exquisite. With wooden walls and shutters, I really felt like I was living in a Lao castle. We were surrounded by a village and not far, a river. But because it made of wood, and it was during the cold season, the room was cold. The beds were nice with very thick covers to keep us warm, but staying in that room was a little unpleasant. We didn't want to stay at the villa anyway, we wanted to see Luang Prabang town! So we had to make an arrangement with the driver to take us into town, and arrange for a time for him to pick us up. Hmmm...

Our room at the villa. Beautiful, but cold!

In town, we had dinner, and had coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes and watched the world go by. Every night, at the main street, there's the Hmong Market, where the hill tribes will bring their crafts down for sale. I was wide-eyed. I didn't expect the things to be so beautiful!! It's a lot of patchwork, and I like the fact that the graphics are quite simple. There were bed covers, pillow cases, tissues box covers, bedroom slippers, big ethnic handbags, the list goes on. It is so different from the stuff you see in Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia! I wasn't planning to shop because I thought the crafts must be same-old same-old, but I was totally surprised! I might change my mind after all!!

The Hmong Market. Some great Lao crafts to take home.

The buzz at the Hmong Market. Every night until 10pm.

J and I will check out the guest houses nearby tomorrow. Hopefully we can find something and spend the rest of our week here near town.

Meantime, back to our villa, back to our cold room....