I had big expectations for our journey through Laos; we were going to float down the riverways on inner tubes, watch the monk procession at dawn and party with other travelers, but getting sick set the tone for the rest of our visit. James’ initial experience trying to acquire the basic necessities (food, water and internet) turned him off from wanting to explore more of the country and he was content to work on videos rather than go sightseeing. Personally I didn’t have much energy, with my ear still hurting I wasn’t going swimming anytime soon (bye-bye tubing) and drinking alcohol was out of the question. So instead I wandered around the center of Vientiane, enjoyed the cafes, little boutiques, the marketplace by the river and observed the monks in the afternoons at the temple behind our hotel.
It was such a treat to have delicious French baked goods at virtually every café and in Vientiane I found Joma bakery. I can’t explain the euphoria I experienced eating their delicious pumpkin pie, smothered in whipped cream. This was 2 weeks after Thanksgiving and I’d had to view all of the FB and instagram pics from meals enjoyed back home. Ha, I’m sure all of the French coffee and pastries really sped up my recovery! If Joma Bakery was my blissful discovery, for James it was Ray’s Grille – the best cheeseburger (or burger. ) he had this entire trip! We made 2 separate trips back to Ray’s Grille but both times they were closed. This was devastating as Ray’s Grille turned out to be the highlight of Laos for James.
In Vientiane's cafes and market I had a great time finding little treasures for family. The hand-sewn quilts and pillowcases made with natural dye, were just amazing. It was hard to resist shopping for the home we don’t have, back in the States. My very favorite “shop” was a woman pulling a wooden stand full of gorgeous plants and orchids on her bike.
After 6 days we felt ready to move north to Luang Prabang, again on the night bus. The trip started well, with us tucked into the “good” bed above the driver with extra space for bags and views straight up to the clear sky. We tuned out the noisy French (or German?) family with 2 young children across from us, by watching the movie Gravity and looking up at the stars above us! I fell asleep sleep but instead of waking up in Luang Prabang, we woke up to find the bus broken down on the side of the road. Hours later the guys were still working on the brakes (!!!??) and shrugging their shoulders when asked about timing, so we decided to take our bags and find a ride with a passing car. Maybe 5 minutes later we were squeezed (uncomfortably) into a tourist van headed for Luang Prabang. Exhausted and dirty, we made our way to Pangkham Lodge, which Kelsey had stayed at and recommended. The staff at Pangkham warmly welcomed us and took us up to our immaculate room, the fluffy bed in which resembled something close to paradise.
The center of Luang Prabang is made up of beautiful colonial style buildings, in between ethereal temples and slow moving rivers on either side. Its appeal is well known to travelers and it overflows with guesthouses, restaurants and bars. There are more than 30 temples in the small area, so its common to see monks of all ages walking around the city. I noticed that monks who spotted me in the distance would sometime look down or lower their umbrella to cover their faces, my theory is that they feel harassed by the omnipresent picture taking tourists.
In places like Luang Prabang where the spiritual atmosphere is a tourist magnet I get annoyed at tourists dressing inappropriately. A bikini top and jean shorts may be normal attire for you but if it offends the people who live there, COVER UP. Its difficult to maintain a balance between a conservative culture and tourism, with every new bar catering to western tourists that pops up its harder for some tourists to understand what boundaries they shouldn’t cross but I wish visitors would make some attempt to learn.
In the end, we didn’t do as much exploring as I'd planned (I guess my follow-up visit to the hospital doesn’t count?) and I mostly found myself reading and writing at the parks overlooking the rivers. I don't think we ever found our rhythm in Laos. I really wanted to love it there but the circumstances just weren't right.