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An Alien in Spain - in Laos (Luang Prabang)

The next day I headed for the northern town of Luang Prabang in a 12 seater mini van at a cost of 110,000 kip just over $12 US. The road was good and the driver experienced however they do fill the mini van to the limit with 12 passengers and all the luggage on the top and the road does twist and turn through the mountains so not for the faint hearted and another tip best to sit on the drivers side of the bus for the best views.

Luang Prabang is a 6-7 hour drive and my favourite place in Laos although The Golden Lotus Guest House I booked into on the first night is not worth the $25 US charged especially as it is right next door to a Wat (Did you know they ring a damn bell every morning at 5 am)? anyway the second Guest House Nittaya was far enough away to not hear it and at only 100,000 kip a night ($10 US) a much better deal.

There are 32 places of worship in the town and 60 if you go around the outskirts and they are nearly all free if you are unsure there is a tourist information place near the post office and for 10,000 kip they have a map with all the best places to visit.

The centre of town and down by the riverside are the best places to find cheap accommodation near to all things and in the night there is a night market every night where everyone congregates to meet.

Here you can get an enormous plate full of food (chose it yourself from a buffet and have it cooked for 10,000 kip just over a dollar and there are street vendors with food and shakes and nibbles to satisfy any ones tastes.

As the sun sets a must to visit is "Utopia" a bar run by a Canadian (Scott) that is the place to go although beware of the house speciality drink a Chilli Cocktail which must be drunk through a mini straw ( and I didn't the first time) or your lips will just go numb. Also be prepared at 11 pm for everything in the town to close and you are sent packing without any warnings.

I hired an automatic motor scooter for the day from an agency on the riverside ( Tripthala Travel) who were terrific, for only $17 US and rode out with Denise one of the Americans I had made friends with in Vientiane and had turned up here, into the country. Visit the waterfalls and bear sanctuary entrance 20,000 kip and take you swim stuff as great to swim in the pools in the heat of the day.

Another place to visit is Pac Ou caves which we did on the bike but many people prefer to take a boat down the river and visit that way and visit a rice whisky distillery on the way back prices vary.

You hear many stories about the friendly people of Thailand but they will need to go a long way to top our experience in Laos with a family who live on a raft on the river in the middle of nowhere that we met in our hour of need. We had gone off the beaten track to find a temple we had seen from the hills with a Golden Roof that poked out from the Jungle and eventually found it.

The trouble was we were now in the middle of a Jungle with the petrol gauge almost on empty and no way of knowing where the the nearest Gas Station could be found we knew we hadn't passed one on the way there so we carried on along the track until desperate I came across a houseboat (Raft on which a lot of people lived). I then proceeded in my best mime language to ask if they knew where I could get petrol to no avail and had given up and about to leave when one of the guys come over with two bottles of beer and beckoned us back.

In a way, looking back I find amazing we were sat down and given food and drink and entertained for nearly an hour without a common language. Eventually I made it clear we had to go and as we were leaving, in one last attempt I took the petrol cap off the bike and shook it to show there was no petrol. Within a few minutes we were following one of the men down a dirt track to a small village where a lady sold me three large bottles that had once held lemonade but were now full of Petrol. As the song goes "I'm on the road again".

Back in Luang Prabang, walk the 190 steps up Chomsy Hill to see the sunset at 6 pm for only 20,000 kip but get there early as it gets crowded

Before you go up visit the National Museum opposite which used to be the Royal Palace it is well worth a visit and it is a shame they don't allow cameras inside only in the grounds as inside the walls are magnificent.

The restaurants and food are everywhere and they are all good and of course Beer Lao famous around the world only costs 10,000 kip for a big bottle but guys and girls if you can find it try Lao Dark beer, smaller bottle, but tastes great. Remember the cheaper guest house, well it was great until the one but last day before I left, when it allowed the torrential rain that started at 5 am to wake me with water cascading over me in the bed, but I was due to get up 3 hours later so not too bad !!!!!! Ok I could go on for ever of things to do but the fun is finding them yourself although a visit to an elephant camp is available with rides if you are not heading to Thailand or Burma and the ones I spoke to that had done it enjoyed it.

As I write this I am in Houey Xai on the border with Thailand going to cross tomorrow morning to Chiang Mai having spent the last two days on a slow boat up the Mekong with a stop at a small village to see the school and an overnight stop in Pak Beng a fabulous little town with a comfortable guest house, followed by another night in a not so good guest house here, all for the princely sum of $185 US that included meals on the boat for two days.

A much preferred alternative to Air travel if you have the time and as the Airfare was $150 US only a little more, and no hotel and food costs and a great way to meet people.

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