As we had decided not to take the slow boat we thought it might make a nice change to travel down river by long tail boat from Muang Gnoi to Luang Prabang. Our favourite happy travellers the germans, were waiting at the boat station when we arrived. I can't explain why Dan and I found them so entertaining. They were comedy geniuses without even realising it. Two hours before their boat was due to leave the german chap was sitting with his bags on the front of the boat, much to the annoyance of the Laos driver. The people getting off the boat hadn't even sat up from their seats before he was pushing them out of the way to get the best seat of which there are none on the longtail boats, you're sitting on the floor for goodness sake! It was all very funny. He then proceeded to sit their scowling for two hours whilst waiting for the boat to leave as though it were late. His wife, kitted out in a very fashionable bandana then sat next to him and then shouted to each other in german. I assume they were discussing how terrible the service was. Perhaps they are yet to learn the beauty of Laos time. Anyway, enough about them...
The boat ride was really fun. With it being Laos' dry season, the river at points was too low for the boat to cross and we all had to alight and walk along the river bank and then hop back on. It did get a little tiresome after 7/8 hours of jumping on and off but it was certainly much nicer than travelling by bus. After having spent the last few days out in the sticks Luang Prabang seemed a treat. The town was designated a Unesco World heritage site in 1995 and many of the books or articles you read consider the town to be the heart of Laotian culture. I'm not sure whether I would wholly agree with that statement, after having experienced life in the rural villages but I can see why some would think such a thing. The town has been entirely taken over by tourism and therefore prices have sky rocketed over the last few years, giving our bank account a bit of a nasty shock after living cheaply for months.
The town feels oddly European and we spent many an evening sipping a glass of wine in a beautiful little bistro. The architecture is predominately french influenced, every road is a 'rue' and the food - well you can't escape baguettes if you try. It was nice to spend a few days living rather lavishly and spoiling ourselves with home comforts that we haven't been able to get our hands on for a month or so. The tourist attractions feel somewhat designed for that purpose and the temples weren't particularly interesting compared to others we have visited. We did take a short trip across the river to visit a Buddha cave which was interesting. It's basically where they house 'retired' Buddha's and we were shown around by some tangerine robed monks who then led us up to a hill top temple where you can see the whole of Luang Prabang. It was stunning.
We moved on from Luang Prabang rather quickly, as our bank account was crying out for help. Our next stop was to be the capital Vientiane. We had been advised by the ticket office that the journey would take around 8 hours, in Laos time this usually means around 10 hours. We should have known that the journey was doomed when the bus broke down 3 minutes after leaving the bus station. We pulled out, changed into second, pulled into a petrol station and stopped whilst the bus relieved itself of it's fuel all over the forecourt. Fantastic. The 'engineer,' that being a man with a spanner, came out and worked his magic and eventually we were on our way. To cut a long story short, our 8 hour journey turned into 16hours, with an insane amount of stops. We would drive for 10 minutes, stop for 15 to make some sort of delivery and then set off again. It went on like this for the full journey. We had a mental local sitting behind us with a live cockrell in a handbag, which magically died at some point during the journey. Not sure what happened there!!
As for Vientiane, we spent just one day there. I'm going to write a separate blog post about the cope centre that we visited. Running out of steam again. More soon....