January 11, 2009 - 12:16 am No Comments

After a much-needed full night’s sleep, Doug woke up feeling better and I woke up refreshed. Went to breakfast at a little café around the corner that has wifi.

Lao Breakfast at Cafe 56

While Doug was getting some Internet time, I took a walk down the street and up some steps, finding a wat with a couple of older monks chatting right at the top. I motioned with my camera as if to ask them if I could take pictures, and they gave me a friendly little nod.

Posing Monk

Standing Monk

Giggling Monk

Laughing Monk

The oldest monk seemed to enjoy getting his photo taken, rushing over me to see them on the little screen on my camera after every few shots. He held my arm to get a closer look and giggled as I scrolled through them.

We tried conversing, but he knew no English and I know no Lao. The only thing we truly understood is that we couldn’t understand each other. He seemed really interested in my watch, though, pointing to it and discussing with his friend what he thought all of the numbers and letter meant (I think).

Busy Monk

A few moments later, one of the younger monks came over to me and introduced himself. He spoke a bit of English. His name was Bhun Khung (a guess on the spelling). He was 16 and all smiles, beginning the conversation by asking me if I had a wife and then if I had a girlfriend.

One his friends, Douang Chan, came over to join the conversation. His English was superb. He asked me where I’m from, where I’ve been, and what I’ve seen around Luang Prabang. He’s never been on a plane before, and he’s never seen snow before (which I find hard to believe considering how cold it gets here at night). He studied computers for two years while in school and wants to be a tour guide when he grows up. The wat I was standing in, and their home, is called Wat That Noy.

Douang Chan

Douang Chan and Bhun Khung

I gave both of them a business card, and Douang Chan even wrote down his e-mail address for me. I promised to send him some of the photos I took when I get home. How weird is it that I’m going to send an e-mail to a Buddhist monk?

Bhun Khung Gives Me His Info

I decided to rush back to the café to grab Doug and introduce him to my new friends. I brought him back, introduced them, thanked them for their time, and then set off to explore Luang Prabang with Doug.

We made a quick trip to the Royal Palace Museum but didn’t go in since they charge admission and force you to check all of your bags and expensive camera equipment (no thanks). We visited a few random wats and continued walking through Luang Prabang.

Wat Haw Pha Bang

Inside Wat Haw Pha Bang

Sakkarin, Luang Prabang’s main street, has tourist activity booking and airline ticket offices everywhere. The gaps in between are filled with souvenir shops and mostly mediocre restaurants. Every doorway has the same stained wood signage with gold lettering. And just like in Thailand and Laos, there are stray dogs everywhere. The dogs here have outrageously large nipples.

Looking at the English transliterations of the Lao language on signs and menus, the Lao language looks like a weird mix of Thai, Chinese, Indian, and French. You can definitely see some of the French influence on the signage around town. Some of it has Lao and French but no English.

We stopped for lunch at a little crepe stand on Sakkarin. While the girl was squirting some sauce out of a plastic bottle and onto a crepe, it made a farting noise. Knowing I was watching her, she peered up and I gave her a look. She giggled. Fart humor is universal.

While eating our crepes, a very cute little girl came up to us to sell us bracelets out of the little box hanging from our chest. She asked 47 times, and as much as I wanted to help the little girl, I declined. A young boy, maybe her brother, joined us and realized I was not going to budge. Suddenly, they both started saying “Cookie! Cookie!” and pointing inside the store. I wanted to make the kids happy, so I went into the store. Of course, each of them pointed to the largest party-size box of Oreos they could find, and they each wanted their own box. I told them I would only get them a smaller package and that they would have to share. After some scowls, they accepted. I bought the cookies, they dropped the package into their box, and they skipped out without opening it. I’m thinking they went to sell it for a profit. Pretty smart, these kids.

Kids with Candy and Jewelry

Walking around Luang Prabang are two types of people. You have the younger hippie backpackers wearing the hippie uniform: loosely fitting, minimally patterned, frayed and tattered clothing, and “hey look at me I’m crunchy” dreadlocks. You also have a lot of older guys with big-ass cameras, many of which put mine to shame.

Made it to the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula to cross the bridge over the Nam Khan River. The bridge was built by a local family and is privately owned, so they charge a small fee to cross. I don’t like contributing to the local economy by buying shitty souvenirs, but if someone has made an effort to improve things for tourists, I’m more than happy to. We crossed over for a quick look at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.

Nam Khan River Wooden Bridge

Monks at the Bridge

Monk on the Hill

Nam Khan River Kids

Heading back into town, we stopped at Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest and largest in Luang Prabang. Kinda cool.

The Grounds of Wat Xieng Toung

Wat Xieng Toung

Praying Tourist

Then off to climb Phu Si, the hill in the center of town offering a 360 view of the city and the spot Lonely Planet suggested was the best place to watch the sunset. With all my camera gear and oozing knee, the climb up 300 or so steps was a bit grueling. Uncomfortably crammed onto the viewing platform at the top were about 200 other tourists who had the same idea. We had to wedge ourselves between people and hang off a rock to get a decent look at the setting sun.

Mountains of Laos

Buildings of Luang Prabang and the Mekong

Laos Sunset

Then a quick stroll through the Night Market.

T-Shirts at the Night Market

Had larb lao for dinner, which is amazing if you like onions and sprouts. I think I’ve given up on Lao food. We paid for our meal in Thai baht, getting our change in kip, the official currency here in Lao. The kip is more or less worthless. At the current rate of 8500 kip to US$1, meals cost about 30,000 kip (US$3.50), a rum and coke costs about the same. I have a 500 kip bill in my wallet that is worth 6 cents.

After dinner, we headed over to Hive Bar, which played cheesy trance music and was nearly empty. Cheap drinks and an attempt at coolness are worth something, though. By that time, it was very cold outside, so we huddled around the little clay pots with burning coals to heat up before braving the walk back to our guest house. Late at night, the roads of Luang Prabang are cold, quiet, and empty.

Overall, the Lao people seem very friendly and happy, especially the kids. Over the course of the day, we learned the customary Lao greetings, some of which sound a bit Thai:

sabaidee : hello
kop chai lalai : thank you very much
larcone : goodbye
num lai : very beautiful
sep lai : very delicious

Unfortunately, the innocence of the Lao people was slightly tarnished by the sketchy guy offering us weed and a “Lao lady” on our walk back to the guest house.

For tomorrow, we’ve booked a boat ride up the Mekong to see some caves and a half-day trip to waterfalls in the jungle.

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