Luang Prabang, Laos
After days in Hanoi and some level of frustration about many cancellations in my trip to Ha Long Bay (stupid typhoon), I boarded a Lao Airlines flight to Luang Prabang. It was nice to get another meal on the plane, even if it was a propeller plane (an ATR 72 for the av-nerds). Since the flight took off around sunset, by the time we reached Luang Prabang, it was dark. Consequently, it was difficult to get a real appreciation for what the city was like. Upon landing, I hired a tuk tuk and made my way to the Spicy Laos hostel. It wasn’t the nicest place to stay in the city, nor the least expensive, but a friend recommended the Spicy Thai hostel in Chiang Mai and since Spicy Laos was run by the same fellow, I thought I would give it a try. It was no mistake. The hostel was really fun; the owner (Pong) was passionate about his job and forthcoming with both advice and ideas for new adventure.
At the hostel, I met a pair of young women (Sarah and Kate) from Australia who invited me to join them on future travels. Their other friend, Lauren (a Wharton alumnus) would also join us. So, after a couple of days exploring sleepy (and serene) Luang Prabang, the four of us boarded a slow boat up the Mekong River to Huay Xia. It was a long trip – two 11-hour days of travel, broken up by a night spent in Pak Beng (the midway point). I loved the adventure and put-putting up the Mekong was neat, but it took an awfully long time, so I wouldn’t do it a second time.
It was fun to travel with the three women because they are all on a much tighter budget. So, watching them negotiate for rooms was amusing. They managed to get us a room for four people for 50,000 Laos kip one night and 60,000 the next. Split four ways, that works out to about $1.45 each a night. Crazy. Kate generally comes off as one of the most placid and sanguine people I know, but she is a tenacious negotiator. So, watching her have at it with hotel proprietors was great. I like a good bargain as much as the next frugal Scot, but 50 cents isn’t a big deal for me, so I’m willing to part with it, to avoid a lengthy battle of wills.
After what felt like an interminable voyage, we reached Huay Xai. It was here that Lauren left us to pursue new adventures in Laos. Kate, Sarah and I then crossed the border to Chiang Kong and hopped on a public bus to Chiang Rai. From there, we took another public bus to Chaing Mai. The first bus was pleasant, but clutch problems with the last bus quickly became obvious. As we squealed (and chugged) our way up each hill, the passengers were left gasping for air with the same enthusiasm as the wheezing engine. With each new hill, the burning clutch filled the bus with acrid fumes. If I die of some unknown illness in the next week, inhaled clutch (asbestos?) should be treated as first culprit. Notwithstanding nearly choking to death, we made it to Chiang Mai alive, ready for new adventures.