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Heading North for New Year's

LAOS | Monday, 31 December 2007 | Views [1424] | Comments [2]

Luang Prabang is filling up with visitors as New Year’s Eve approaches. Today there was a traffic jam on the main street, which is quite unusual if you know this sleepy town. In the late afternoon, the streets are filled with backpackers searching for a room. As I was paying my bill at my guesthouse this afternoon, three hopeful backpackers separately stopped by in the space of 5 minutes, all looking for a room. Everything is full, full, full. I will make someone’s day tomorrow when my vacated room becomes available.

There are so many people that it is near-impossible to walk through the night crafts market, which I must do to get to and from my guesthouse in the evening. I drank coffee for the first time in over a month this morning (at a French café, it was heavenly), and as a result I am wound up tightly and buzzing with energy, and I found myself getting very frustrated as I tried to navigate the main street behind people who are meandering slowly and stopping suddenly, as you do when you are walking down the street in holiday mode.

This was one sign that I need to get out of town. The other is the smoke that drifts into my room at 5 am every morning – burning plastic – from the adjacent home. It’s easily the worst wake up call I’ve ever had. The town is also filled with construction, and next to nearly every guesthouse, there is another one being built, mine being no exception. The table saws and hammering start at 8 am and go until 5.30. I’m not ready to leave Luang Prabang for good, so I’ve decided to go north for a few days to spend a quiet New Year’s, and to wait out the hordes of holiday-makers who have descended here from all corners of the earth and who hopefully will de-camp in a few days.

I’ll take a bus tomorrow morning to Nong Khiew, and from there it is a short boat ride up the Nam Ou River to Muang Ngoi, which is supposed to be very beautiful. When I told the guy at my guesthouse that I am going there, he said, in his broken English, interspersed with a lot of Lao. “Caves there, the people go, Americans bomb. You American? John Kerry bombed Lao!! John Kerry, the Americans, bombed Lao!!” He was referring to the fact that in that region, people hid in caves – even vacating their villages to live in caves – during the bombing of Laos during the American war (which we call the Vietnam war). He seemed to think that John Kerry was involved in bombing Laos, but wasn’t he in the swift boats in Vietnam?

I was surprised he knew who John Kerry is, and it was the first time a Lao person acknowledged the US bombings to me. Most of the Lao people I speak with – or who speak enough English to have a full conversation with – are very young, 25 or younger, and would not have been alive during the bombings. Surely they have parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents who were affected, but somehow they are too polite to bring the war up in conversations that usually revolve around such topics as: “Where are you from? How long are you in Lao? How old are you? Do you have boyfriend?” and on my side: “Where are you from? (usually young men from the northern provinces) Do you study? (usually students at the Teacher Training College here) How long have you lived in Luang Prabang? (usually since they were 16, sometimes as young as 13) What do you want to do when you finish your studies? (often they want to be teachers and return to their village to teach since there are not enough teachers, a very touching response). The war doesn’t seem to come up, and I certainly don’t want to be the foreigner probing around painful events which I cannot begin to imagine experiencing.

I plan to stay in Muang Noi, a village where there is only electricity for a few hours every night. It occurs to me that it might not be a good idea to eat meat given the questionable refrigeration situation, but I am sure the fish will be very fresh as the village is right on the river. I’m looking forward to getting away from it all at New Year’s. This year I feel no need to go out and party, and I’m really looking forward to some peace, quiet, and solitude to reflect upon the past year – and months -- and look forward to the new year. I’m also hoping it will be a good place to begin learning some Lao besides “sabaidee” (hello) and “kap jhai” (thank you) and “dii ly ly” (very good). I’ll come back on Wed or Thursday, hopefully by slow boat (a 7 hour journey), but if there is no boat, I’ll take a bus.

Happy New Year!!

Tags: luang prabang, new years eve, on the road



A traffic jam? I don't believe it!

Almost no one mentioned the war to me - I was shocked. A few rumblings about the Hmong relatives in the US, else very little. See what happens when you go on an official visit? sigh.

Can't wait to read your post for new years.

  Maria Jan 3, 2008 3:54 AM


Lao speak somehow close to Thais as your examples hello, thank you and very good. Thai speak same word. Once you learn Lao you will get Thai as well.

  narongporn Jan 12, 2008 6:04 PM



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