Sunday, February 3, 2008


When we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos, we immediately noticed all the white people. We had these two super annoying Brit women on our taxi ride. Our taxi pulled up to a coffee house, and Emma and I did a double-take: the coffee place was pristine and modern, and the place had a vibe and clientele that easily could have been Portland.

Luang Prabang is a small French-influenced town in the middle of Laos at the juncture of some river with the Mekong. It has tons of cool temples and restaurants.

As an official World-Heritage site for the last 10 years, it's ability to handle tourists is well established already. So you get a fair share of British and French retirees coming to visit, staying in the fancer guesthouses that range from $20-100/night, smiling to themselves that their money gets stretched so far. It is also a major destination in Laos and along the only major north-south road, so you get any cyclist/motorcyclist on their way north. But the majority of tourists are in the 20-30something range. Many have just finished partying in Vang Vieng, a town to the south. Many proudly sport funky scarfs or simple cotton homemade shirts or homemade purses -- which would be considered cool and different among their friends, but here, everybody in the town has seen that exact shirt/skirt for sale from dozens of different locals.

It rained here the first couple days. Reportedly is very unusual for this time of year, the Dry Season. Everybody was buying umbrellas (we saw the Brits and they had huge frowns on their faces since they were hoping for sunshine and some tanning). We finally bought one after taking a walk around the town in the rain and two choices: a standard black one for 25000 kip (roughly $3) or another one, blue with floral decorations, for 15000 kip. We were leaning for the blue one because of its pure radness, but upon further inspection, it wasn't even waterproof; it was one of those delicate sun umbrellas that you see by the dozen when a Japanese tour group goes by. Gotta go for functional: we picked the black one.

The market here does kick ass. It gets bustling at nighttime, and there're tons of cool things for super cheap. Usually you ask a price, they look you up and down, they name a price (eg. $3), you name a price ($1.50), they name a price ($2.50) and then you give in because at that point you're only arguing over $.50.

Walking through the market, I kept getting creeped out because merchants kept saying "Somebody! Buy something? Please? Good luck!" It seemed so desperate that everybody kept saying "Somebody!" After mentioning this to Em, she laughed and said that they were really saying "Sa Bad Di!" (sp?) which means "Hello" here. Oh boy. After that, I bashedly started saying hello back. Quite a few merchants didn't speak English and used a small calculator to communicate prices while bargaining. Our favorite was near closing time (10pm) when a one merchant said, "You buy! Cheap price and I go home!"

I had been looking for a place to rent a mountain bike for a few days, but they were all part of guided mountain bike tours, and refused to just rent one. I considered getting a private tour for $35 (privately looking forward to pushing the pace with my guide and slowly ripping his legs off). We finally found one that would just rent a bike and since Em had some stomach issues, I took off for the afternoon. Felt like I had just jumped from the pond back into the stream, like a beached shark back in the deep ocean current. I was passing mopeds, hanging onto jumbos (a tuktuk-moped combination), drafting off pickups, and generally hauling ass. I felt like it was the first real deep breath I had had in a while. It was great.

I rode 20km north, and found a dirt road that went 10km along the Mekong to some limestone cliffs, and ate lunch along the river near some water buffalo. After getting back, we resolved to explore some more, and plan on renting a motorcycle to go to the Plain of Jars. We'll let you know how that goes.


Polly said...

I knew this day was coming...when the cyclist would rear his hungry head...glad you got to get your ya-yas out!

chelsea said...

emma! stomach issues? do tell more, haha

rnh said...

Your comment about all of the white people made me remember seeing the whities all over SE Asia, over and over, every new city. We started calling them (i.e. ourselves) the "white devils" and/or the "big noses."

Also, your story about misunderstanding what the locals were saying reminds me of when we were on the Algarve in Portugal. There were these old guys who would pace the beach calling out (what we thought was) "cold ling cow." I kept thinking I didn't want me any of that! Since returning, we now know there were saying "cold ling cod." :)