12.11.2010 - 15.11.2010 27 °C
Laos - PDR (Please don't rush!)
Writing a blog is sure easier when your mind isn't 9439 kilometres away… But here goes anyhow.
The beginning of my stay in Laos reminded me of my last day in Croatia - lots of things went wrong. Nothing serious, mind you, but it took me a while to find my balance and enjoy it here.
I'd booked a pickup with the hostel where I was planning on staying. I arrive at the airport, get my visa (noting Canadian as my "race"… What exactly was I supposed to answer?!? Odd question…) and pick up my luggage. My lift was nowhere to be found. Laos PDR stands for Laos People's Democratic Republic, but if you look in the guide books, they'll typically refer to it as Laos Please Don't Rush. I waited for about a half an hour and then decided to take a taxi to the hostel as the taxis were there and I had no idea how long I was expected to wait…
I get to the hostel to find out that the driver was there, but that he had a sign with the wrong name on it. The hostel manager seemed to be implying that as the staff had gone to get me, I should pay them, but in my mind, if the service isn't rendered, I don't see why I should pay. Anyhow, I grab a look at the the dorm I'd booked for 3.5$ a night and go back to the reception to ask if they have a room (the dorms were pretty bad - one of which was just a line of 8 mattresses on the floor side by side. The rooms are 4.5$. Though not great, the room is perfectly acceptable so I book it for a night. I should point out that the hostel had 2 toilets, though one was out of order, leaving one for 25 people. It also has a shower - outside next to the building which is a curtained off area giving onto the street. Hmm… I should also point out that in most of the guesthouses in Asia, the bathroom really is. I mean this in the sense that there is no tub or stall for a shower but rather the whole room is at a slight incline with a drain in the corner so when you take a shower, you get the whole floor wet. With 25 people sharing the one toilet/shower floor in a place where you are supposed to take your shoes off indoors… Well, walking on a dirty wet floor in a bathroom is rather gross…
Anyhow, I go out for an excellent meal which was basically the Laos version of a chinese barbecue (or fondue) with the ring over coal in the centre of the table, some Lao Lao (illegal rice whisky - though I'm assuming this was the legal gov't brand) and a couple of Beer Laos (excellent).
I return to the hostel and go to bed. In the middle of the night, around 1pm, I get up to go to the bathroom (what can I say… my ADH was inhibited (=too much beer!)) to find out that someone had locked the door from the inside upon exiting it and there was no way to get in. I look into the out-of-order toilet and use it. When I flush, it fills to the rim and doesn't overflow (phew!) but doesn't drain either (which is why it has the out of order sign on it). Upon returning to bed, I hear loud snoring from the dorm above. So glad I didn't stay there…
Next morning, around 8am, the door to the unique functioning toilet has still not been unlocked but as several other people have decided to use the out-of-order toilet which can't be flushed at this point as it won't drain, the lobby of the hostel smells rather bad… Ah! The joys of budget travels in Asia. I say this, though, but I've had some wonderful accommodations for 6.5$ a night (and even decent accommodations for 2.10$) and mediocre accommodations for 3-4 times that much. Luck of the draw I guess. So I decide to move into a guest house. What can I say, I'm no longer 18 and do appreciate some comforts in life… (though to be fair, the staff of the hostel were nice and I went with a tour with them later in the day to the Kuang Si waterfalls after having checked out and it was really good. They were also on the honour system for beer and drinks which was nice…)
So I move to a new guesthouse, Villa Shiyada, one of the first I find. I ask to be shown a room. It is quite nice and very quiet. I ask the price (30$ a night - ouch!) but say that I'll take it (I was willing to do anything to not stay another night in the previous hostel). I think the girl at the reception liked me, as at several occasions, after I agree to an initial price, she would offer me a rebate. For example, the 30$ became 25$ a night. Then when I checked out, she offered me a rebate on the breakfast I had at the hotel the last morning.
Later in the day, I visited the Kuang Si falls which were really beautiful. On the segment of it that I visited I counted about 11 pools with waterfalls between them. Peaceful spot, though fairly full of tourists, but less so that at the Erawan falls I visited in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. These were much nicer! It was possible to find a pool and swim alone. With the sunlight shining down into the the pools through the tree canopy, it really looked like the the pools were generating there own pale blue light. Fantastic. Nicest falls I've ever seen, to be honest! Got to visit it with three other people from the first hostel I stayed at, two of which were blokes from Liverpool. I must say I really like the rather strong Liverpudlian accent. Have for years…
Got a Laos massage later that day by a fellow that was really good at… Thai massage. I can't say that I noticed any difference between his massage and the one I received numerous times in Thailand. Anyhow, it was nice, vigorous and cheap.
I decided to spend the next day looking around Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is a nice town at the point where the Nam Khan and the Mekong meet. It has a hill in the centre with one of the numerous buddhist temples in the town. It sort of feels a bit like a resort, but without the ocean or any serious mountains in the immediate area. By this I mean, there are lots of tourists and lots of people willing to sell services to the tourists - good restaurants, good hotels etc… That being said, it is still worth a serious look - specifically the old town which is a Unesco World Heritage site. There are also several beautiful temples.
Food wise, they also have a green papaya salad, but they add the little eggplants that I haven't seen outside of Asia. They are smaller than grapes! They also make good fish on a stick, or rather fish between a stick, which is convenient, as you can peel away the fish fillet part from the parts of the fish that you don't eat and those parts stay stuck between the two sticks. Very convenient and really fresh fish!
By the time I arrived in Luang Prabang, I was worn out from my speed run around Hanoi and Siem Reap, so I also spent a considerable amount of time just chilling. It is a nice place, but next time I go back to Laos, I intend to see more of it, and specifically more of the countryside.