I left Vang Vieng yesterday morning. I left Vang Vieng yesterday morning without doing what people supposedly go to Vang Vieng specifically to do. I do not own a t-shirt or a tank top advertising that I have been tubing down the Nam Song river with vats of Beer Lao sloshing around in my belly. Vang Vieng made me feel nauseous and leaving it behind and for once heeding the advice of my long suffering parents was perhaps the best decision I had made since being in Indochina. Vang Vieng, as I said before, looks like someone has taken pieces of Khao San Road and dumped them next to some pretty limestone karsts. During the day, people are either sleeping off the night before or getting f***ed in makeshift beer shacks on the sides of the river before planting their flabby white arses in the middle of a tyre's inner tube and float away to what will hopefully be a painful death in the arms of the murky waters. Perhaps had I been with other people it would have been more appealing but the raging cynic inside me feared a solo effort would most likely result in death through a combination of alcohol and sharp rocks or a punch from some some t*** from Birkenhead. So I gave tubing a miss. In the evening, bars in vang Vieng resemble sardine tins choc full of travellers watching endless reruns of Friends and eating cheeseburgers and french bread pizza or downing buckets of gutrot to the soundtrack of saturday night in Walkabout. I really cannot see the attraction. I bought my ticket out of there and started preparing myself fror Luang Prabang. Being typically disorganised, I finished packing at 2am and spent another 2 hours wading through Chuck Klosterman's awesome collection of essays and listening to my ipod, which seems to be on its last legs and may die at any moment.
Half dead from no sleep and a banging head, I boarded the world's most uncomfortable minibus and started a 7 hour marathon to Luang Prabang. I fell asleep immediately and blacked out for 2 hours or so. After that, sleep seemed more or less impossible. My legs were bunched like a human slinky up against my stomach . The minibus swerved constanty to dodge the myriad of cows, goats, potholes and children that littered the path through the mountains. But I'm glad of this. The scenery was probably as stunning as any I have seen since being away. For the next 4 hours or so, the minibus weaved its way through ridiculous troughs and peaks; the landscape a dense fern green set againt an almost turquoise sky. Why I didnt take any photos I do not know. The hills stretched as far as the eye could see and taking it all in as the driver threw us round corners at 50mph almost made me forget that I had lost circulation in the lower part of my body a couple of hours ago.
Getting off the minibus, we were greeted with the usual guesthouse owners all vying for attention and dollars. I am staying in a $6 a night place with a double bed, its own hot water bathroom and cable so I can't complain.
Sat in the tuk tuk, I started to Like Luang Prabang straight away and the rest of the day turned out to be one of the best in Asia so far. Laos, up until yesterday, had left me asking a lot of questions about peoples' motives to go travelling and whether the Laos government continually spend the vast majority of their budget on bribing guide book authors. I wasn't enjoying Laos and despite searching high and low, I reall couldn't see what the fuss was about. But the journey through the mountains had left me reinvigorated after my Vang Vieng nightmare (getting my flip flops stolen had been the last straw). Luang Prabang was the ultimate pick me up; a veritable tonic for the soul. There is something about it that makes you smile. If Malacca had been run by the French, it might look something like Luang Prabang. Perched at the confluence of the Nam Song and the Mekong, the pace of Luang Prabang is as slow as the boats that cruise its waters. Its quiet here but there is still a healthy buzz that sucks you without really trying too hard. Colonial guesthouses and silver shops sit in pockets along the tree lined boulevards. Tourists and locals alike sit at one of the numerous cafes and watch. I walked around last with a Beerlao glaze, snapping up bits of pieces from the market and throwing countless pieces of dim sum down my gullet before feasting on a whole barbequeued fish and having some absolutely amazing coffee that was grown only an hour away. To you, the reader, this probably doesn't sound that interesting but I challenge anyone not to be seduced by its charm. If I had more time, I could stay here a week and do very little apart from eat, drink coffee and watch people. Its intoxicating.
This morning I got up at 10am and strolled around a couple of the temples. Monks mill the streets. They look a lot happier than thai monks. Thai monks look like they think that life may owe them something which seems a bit odd for someone in their position. The monks here get to bang on badass drums and play football in the monastry. I went to the museum and mulled over life as a Laotian monarch before having more coffee and more cake. This evening I aim to buy more things from the market, (including some awesome fishermans pants) eat more street food and organise a tour to go mountain biking and kayaking tomorrow. I just re-read what I wrote. Sounds prrtty gay doesnt it.