Thursday, February 05, 2009

Laos - Luan Probang

Jan 31

So the adventure continues, and I am loving the flexibility of an unplanned trip. Landed in Luan Probang, tiny airport. But, the fact that we landed safely was really good news. Laos Airlines does not have the best safety track record (sorry mom!), so those wheels touching down safely was great. Got ripped off by a taxi to the downtown area for $5 (it appears at every airport I arrive at they have created a monopoly with set fares, ah well). Get into town and I am totally amazing. This city is amazing, quite different than I expected from one of the world's least developed countries. The city has such a great feel, is very pretty and surrounded by rivers, and has terrific restaurants with great views! After a 45 min trek to find a guesthouse, we settle on one that is a little nicer and more expensive than what we were looking for, but the hot water shower will make it worthwhile. I am surprised that the lodging is not less money, and there are actually quite a few luxurious options for $100+, crazy. Wander the streets of town, then grab a very good pad thai dish for $2 at a very ritzy restaurant, nice. We then go out for the night to a spot called Hive Bar, and the place is an amazing bar/lounge. If this place was in Arlington, they could easily charge a $10 cover and it would be hopping. We then walk next door to Lao Lao Garden, and it is also very cool with a big bonfire pit and great vibe.

Feb 1

We decide to rent bikes and tour the town and surrounding areas. We get out of town and happen to pass a house with a ping pong table and some young people lounging around (there seems to be lots of chilling out in Laos). I see this as a golden opportunity and swing into the driveway. I ask if we can play, and I take them on in a game. A little rusty at first, I got going to beat them one at a time, with them laughing and loving it (especially when I hit a really good shot). The competition was good, but I was able to edge them out and win games. After a few games, I go find Ed engaged in a fierce game of bocce ball. They love this game here, and are very good. They beat Ed and I in every game of bocce ball. they tell us that this is the first time they have met Americans (they are about 20 years old and in University). We are starving and decide to move on, but then the dad wants to play me in ping-pong. He states he is no good, and I quickly realize that is not the truth. We battle it out for 2 games, splitting them. We say thank you and head out to grab food. On the way, we see a nice temple up on the hill overlooking the city, but on the way out Ed's chain falls off his bike. We get it repaired and we are back in business, although his bike is not running very smoothly...oh well. We have a good lunch, then swing by this place called Utopia (bar/restaurant). It is amazing, with the most unbelievable view of the river. People are just laying down on the deck, reading and eating and enjoying the view. Probably the most nicely decorated open air place I have ever seen, spectacular. Ed and I decide we have to come back later in the week and enjoy it. We spend the rest of the day biking around and visiting temples. We return the bikes and hike up 350 steps to watch the sunset from a temple on the mountain, beautiful view! I then get a 2 hour Laos massage (massage count = 4), great massage but painful. Grab dinner and swing by Utopia and call it a night.

Feb 2

We wake up at 5:30 to watch the monks collect alms in the morning. They are sustained by the community reaching out and giving them food every morning. It is a very neat thing, and we give food to the monks as they go by collecting their meal for the day in a pot-like container. I get a great coconut waffle for breakfast, then we pack and head over to the boat association to boat up north to Nong Khiaw. The boat is NOT what I expected, and is rather rustic. We luck out though and 30 min into the ride get switched to another boat where it was just Ed and I on the boat, sweet. The 7 hour boat ride up river was absolutely spectacular, with breath taking views the entire way up river. It was also exciting when we would battle through some rapids on the long boat. It was a very majestic feeling going up the Mekong and Nam Ouk River, with OAR and U2 Beautiful Day cranking out of my ipod! I feel so free and happy, living life. I feel alive! As it is low season, there are many exposed rocks, with the long boat driver navigating his way through them. We stop on a sandbank and have a lunch with sticky rice and some mystery meat, then continue on. The boat driver would randomly stop at times, once to shower and brush his teeth in the river, and another time to fill 15 random. Maybe he is making a beach somewhere? We arrive at a small village called Nong Khiaw and find a great bungalow overlooking the river for $5. Great views, hot water shower, but squat toilet. We hang out that night on a little beach enjoying a fire with som English guys we met, good times telling travelers stories.

Feb 3
Head out of town to the next village (Ngoi Neau, just a short 1 hour boat ride (which was totally packed), once again with spectacular views. Ed and I find a good deal on the nicest bungalow in town, and book it. Then we head out on a hike to the nearby villages. Great hike through rice fields to a small village with friendly and smiling people. we grab a beer (always good to help out the local economy) and talk about village life. For dinner we experimented with 2 meals, both were terrible and we had to order 2 more. Sometimes it doesn't work out, others you eat great food. Ah well. Then we hung out with some travelers we met in Nong Khiaw, and our Spanish friend ordered a bottle of Lao Lao Whiskey. we had not tried this yet, and when I did...oh man, no good. This stuff was totally nasty. It actually tasted like rubbing alcohol. So, there were 5 of us, and a bottle to finish. At first, I had some...then I was done with it...but my glass kept getting re-filled. So, I thought, what should I do? Being a strategic and quick thinker, I started throwing it over my shoulder off the restaurant deck! Ed on the other hand kept managing to drink it...which he regretted in the morning! At one point, some spilled on the table and we actually lit in on fire - I don't think we should drink that moonshine!

Feb 4
We took the boat ride back to Nong Khiaw ( jsut as crowded as on the way up - makes it interesting to navigate rapids. we then got on a "bus" which was really just an oversized tuk-tuk and somehow fit 25 people onto it. I mean, I think capacity on it was aroudn 12, but he just packed them in, then added some chairs to the middle for additioinal passengers, then had 3 people stand on the rear bumper for the 3.5 hour trek back to Luan Probang. The driver then had the nerve to try to pick up more passengers as we passed through villages, crazy! After 2 days of village food, my stomach wasn't feeling great so I was very happy to make it back into a town with good food. Upon retunring to Luan Probang, we found a great guesthouse for $3.50 with hot shower, sweet! After a great dinner, I visited the night bazaar and got a very cool rice paper painting. We dropped by one of the uber-trendy bars and enjoyed a game of bocce ball against some other westerners. Then we decided to experience the "bowling alley." all the establishments in LPB close at 11:30pm, but the bowling alley is outside of town and stays open all night. We got there and it was quite a sign. After a playing a few rounds, we called it a night.

Feb 5
We had heard a great deal about this waterfall 30km out of town, and decided to check it out. When we got there, it blew me away with its beauty. I was expecting something really pathetic, but it really was beautiful and amazing, cascading over many different layers and several great swimming spots. We climbed to the top and enjoyed the spectacular views. We hung out with some Aussies (who gave me great insight into my trip to Australia), then I decided I needed to jump into one of the pools of water. I had been avoiding all rivers, streams, etc as I didn't want issues, but jumped right in and we called it the "parasite swim." Actually, the water was quite clean, refreshing, and views were spactacular!! Got back into town and I enjoyed my 5th massage of my trip. Watched the sunset at a great bar called Utopia, overlooking the river. This establishment is super classy. Then I grabbed a crepe, which was amazing, before showering up and walking the 2 short blocks to the center of the city for dinner. We at at the Lao Lao Garden and enjoyed a great Lao BBQ experience, where we have smoking hot coals in the center of our table and cook our food (similar to the Melting Pot back home - well, same same but different). Really a great dinner and great vibe at the restaurant with fire pits and social scene.

Feb 6
Off to Krabi for the Thai beaches!


At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mystery meat. my favorite.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger stromboni said...

Hey man - I just returned from Ko Phi Phi! What fun! Did you take the ferry from Krabi? Enjoy the rest of the trip.

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed till I fell off the computer chair over bathroom, elephants and other hilarious stories...keep those coming as are the funniest memories!

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yeah and the rooster!!!

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Corrie said...

ah! same same but different!! the most common expression i heard in indonesia....

And i know what you mean about mystery meat!! You gotta just try not to think about it - haha!

I found the same thing with taxi drivers - you will always pay more leaving the airport then when returning...

Sounds like you're having an amazing time!


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