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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 118: Luang Nam That to Luang Prabang

LAOS | Sunday, 2 March 2008 | Views [879]

Sunday  2nd March

I was up at 06.30, feeling like a complete zombie until I forced myself under the icy cold shower and felt instantly wide awake. I packed the rest of my stuff, paid for my room and met the guys for breakfast. Kara was staying for another day, but Paul & Karine were headed east, so we took a pick-up to the main bus station to find it already heaving with people.

Although the Lao people I have come across have been very warm and friendly, I saw another side to them when I went to queue for my ticket. When I got the ticket booth, there was a right old scrum involving both men and women, and nobody was giving an inch (bringing back memories of India once more). I subsequently realised why this was happening, as, once all of the seats on a bus are taken, it's not as if another bus comes along; you have no option but to wait for the next one, and that might be scheduled for the next day. So, it's first come (or strongest push, as seems to be the case), first served. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't quick enough or aggressive enough (call me strange, but I didn't feel comfortable pushing back at the old woman beside me!), so I missed out and had to make alternative plans. A bus to Udomxai and another from there to Luang Prabang would have to do.

Paul & Karine were also unlucky, more so than me, as there was no direct bus at all going to their destination of Nong Khiaw. So, they joined me on the bus to Udomxai and we set off at 09.30. It was a particularly cold and grey morning, and it was at least good to get on the bus and enjoy some shelter from the elements. I wasn't enthralled with the prospect of a long bus journey on bumpy, winding roads, but there was nothing else for it than to grin and bear it.

The journey to Udomxai wasn't so bad, and we got to the bus station there at 13.00. The road was patchy in places (to say the least) but we arrived on the early side. I was relieved to find out that the bus to Luang Prabang was due to leave at 13.30, so things were looking up for me. The same could not be said for the others; their bus to Nong Khiaw wasn't due to leave until the following morning, so they had to spend most of the day and that night in Udomxai, a nondescript town which is an important trading and transport hub on the route between Thailand and China.

I bade the guys farewell, got on the bus and left around 14.00. Once again, the roads weren't great and we made slow progress, but we passed through some interesting countryside, so that made up for it in some way. For the second half of the journey, the road ran parallel to the Mekong River which is wide and winding, with small islands and large rocks scattered through it, forming minor rapids in places.

After a five hour journey, we arrived at the bus station outside Luang Prabang. I didn't have a room reserved at any of the guesthouses but knew that there was no shortage of places to stay. A pick-up brought me and a few other backpackers to a road with some of the budget guesthouses along it, and I found a decent room with a hot shower attached to it for 70,000 kip at the 'Thavisouk Guesthouse'. I knew rates were going to be higher in LP than any of the places I had stayed so far, so this seemed like particularly good value, so I was happy enough.

I took a hot shower – which felt great after so many cold ones – and headed into town for some food and to check the place out. LP is one of the bigger towns in Laos and it has enjoyed the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. This has allowed it to retain a great deal of character and to avoid falling victim to the negative impact that tourism can sometimes have on places that suddenly become 'discovered', like LP was a few years ago (probably a direct consequence of it being granted it's World Heritage status).

It's a small enough place to get about on foot and it has a really good atmosphere: relaxed, comfortable, and cosmopolitan. It's not somewhere that you would expect to find in a country as under-developed as Laos, but some of the cafes, restaurants and shops really appeal, particularly to someone like me who had just spent 10 hours on rickety buses and bumpy roads.

I had a hamburger and chips for dinner while watching the live football on a big screen, and I was very happy to be in Luang Prabang. I was only planning to stay for two nights, my main task being to book a flight from LP to Siem Reap in Cambodia, then make a move back into the countryside for a week. I was pleased that I had decided to leave a few days at the end of my time in Laos to spend in LP as I already knew that I was going to enjoy spending some time here. 

Tags: on the road


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