Lao PDR – Luang Prabang

Arriving in Luang Prabang, we shared a taxi with a couple of guys, who we ended up bumping into a couple more times in this small city. We checked into the guesthouse and went out to get some food, eating at a restaurant beside the night market, before going to bed.

We needed energy for the next day, which was a little too busy for such a relaxed place as Lao. We were in a great location for walking, and we did a lot of it! Starting at the Ethnology Museum, I was in luck to find the featured exhibition was focused on women, and I was told by a member of staff that the women work harder than the men – seemingly a general global predicament that women find themselves wanting to take advantage of new opportunities to progress themselves, but are also expected to do the majority of caregiving etc. I bought a hand-stitched ornament from their shop.

We walked to the Mekong river and wandered the streets. We eventually made it round to the Royal Palace Museum, and this was filled with such overwhelming wealth, as my boyfriend would say – it’s hard to put into words. We spent most of the day looking at some of the thirty-three temples Luang Prabang has to offer. All the streets were very neat and pretty, and it certainly didn’t feel like one of the poorest countries in the world at this point. Prices were higher than we were used to in Vietnam, but obviously a lot cheaper than in Western countries, and we afforded to eat in two very nice restaurants that day.

That evening we barely took a break and went to see a traditional Lao dance show at the theatre within the Royal Palace complex. I was so happy to see some arts, but it has made me think a lot about the privilege of the arts in a way I hadn’t considered before. To me, life has little meaning without the arts. Here, most people’s lives are a struggle, and can’t access art in the same way I am used to. On one hand, you can see from the traditional crafts such as the stitching and dying of fabrics, that art and creation are integral to our being as humans. On the other hand, there is a limitation to this, where traditional art forms perhaps struggle to find their place in modern society. There must be a balance between the two. 

Before I digress even further, I’ll continue to say that we went up to the Phu Si temple at night as my boyfriend had arranged to meet someone – we were late, and alas they were not there. Maybe we will visit again at sunset, or sunrise if we are ever able to get up so early! There were moths everywhere and my phone torch was dying, so we were down pretty fast! 

The next day was more chilled out. We booked a minivan to the Kuang Si falls, and booked our next trip for the following day to Vang Vieng. The walk started slow an steady, and we got to see bears that had been rescued.

The climb right to the top of the waterfall was a challenge. As I went up, I wondered why I was putting myself through it, how on trips with school, Woodcraft and family holidays I had moaned as a child about these things, and here I was putting myself through the same torture. I suppose it was the same thing that meant later that day, I did 50 lengths of the pool to relax. It was nice, but spoilt by some dude who decided to talk to me when funnily enough I wasn’t swimming to attract attention, and it couldn’t compare to the freezing cold water that pooled naturally at the waterfall. I wished we had more time to swim there in the sunshine.

That afternoon and evening we ate street food – crepes, fruit drinks, rice boxes and spring rolls. Laos has not disappointed on that front… Other than the meal we got with our bus ride today! We spent the evening at the night market and picked up a few souvenirs, one of which was a necklace made from aluminium from old bombs. One of the most important things to remember is that this country was bombed by the US more times than every country combined in the Second World War. The US have spent less money helping to clear the undetonated bombs than they did putting them there, and there are still 100 people who are injured or killed by these bombs each year, a lot of these people being children. I wanted to get this as a reminder, as well as to carry a message of peace.

Today we made the 7-8 hour trip (not 4 as advertised) to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang. I was worried about the bags being on top at first, but an older French man made sure they had been secured as much as possible. The roads winded through the mountains, and although I’m sure it made everyone a little sick, the views we saw at various toilet stops were incredible. I’d never seen such cloud surrounding mountains like that. 

We’re having a bit of trouble with where to stay now, but hopefully we will figure things out. I’m just hoping the rain won’t be too bad, so we can still enjoy ourselves, having waited so long to travel whilst working. Tonight we ate a great meal and tomorrow we might even get to have a Full English breakfast, or else some lovely baked goods.

For now, my anxiety is building to the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody from Gary’s Irish Bar, as the rain pours down and I’m still learning how to deal with uncertainty, and throwing myself into it all.

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