Luang Pobang has a gay bar (called LPQ), and we found it. And simply by ordering two large Lao beers, I won a t-shirt. Maybe this country isn’t so bad after all.
This one is really tough. It is not that Louang Probang doesn’t posses charms. It definitely does (or did). But what has obviously happened in the last few years has been incredibly destructive to whatever “real” town life was here before. Upon arrival, we were immediately run down by at least thirty people who offered us (in perfect english) rooms to let. The main street and its restaurants are impeccably presented, clean and pretty enough for any westerner, and offering all the western foodtypes to boot. One hardly needs to leave the comfort of Paris or New York to experience this gem of a city.
Architecturally, Louang Probang has a lot to offer. The mix of Franch colonial and local architecture give the town a very interesting feel, not dissimilar from New Orleans in fact. Its position on the Mekong and its views are stunning.
Stijn was even more bummed than I was at the crass nature of the tourist trade here. The night market we went to last night had to have been a contrived affair of the communist central planning committee, as the items presented were identical every few stalls and no one really seemed interested in selling anything. This was clearly set up to give tourists a certain impression of a market, but no local person ever shops here. We were fortunate today to find an actual, unsanitized street market that local people shop at, but it was clearly not meant to be seen by tourists.
At the same time, who am I kidding? We brought this here and are partially responsible along with the others. This is really no different than Venice, which stopped being a city and became a museum many many years ago. That said (and although I think Stijn disagrees with me), I think it was worth coming here. But I won’t be back.
See the pics for more commentary.
After evaluating the other options (a 2 day slow boat packed with about 100 tourists or a 6 hour, 6 person speedboat/deathtrap combo) we decided on a one day, 11 hour slow boat trip down the Mekong to Louang Probang with about 30 other people. I HIGHLY recommend this option. Laos is a country of extremely beautiful scenery and the trip was one of the most incredible I have ever had. See the pics for more, as they will tell the story better than I ever could.
…and not all of it good, although I wouldn’t trade the experience. Since there is so much, I will divide into three posts with three photo collections.
First, the arrival. We took a boat crossing from Chiang Khong and upon arrival, immediately got ripped off by some guy posing as the immigration officer. He was right at the landing wearing an official looking shirt and charged us 200 baht (about 6 dollars) more than he should have for our visas, pocketing the difference and then having hte gall to try to sell us a boat tour. We were pissed, but it seems like a right of passage to every country to get ripped off at least once.
Once in Laos and Huay Xai, I discoved what the third world is REALLY like. By comparison, Thailand seems super sophisticated and developed. See the pics to believe what I am saying, but there was almost no road, an open sewer, no real infrastructure other than ad hoc. The food was questionable and the huge number of tourists waiting to take a trek or trip down the Mekong only added to the disorientation. This place had never really been anything but a dump, and even so had been ruined by recent tourism.
While traveling 2nd class bus with no AC, that is. How DO they manage to fit so many people in so little space? We decided we would try to catch the early bus to Chiang Khong (the border crossing with Laos) from Chiang Mai, so we got our asses to the bus station at 6am only to find out that the bus we wanted to take was no AC and five (yes, FIVE) seats across. They initially assigned us the left side which was two seats, but the seats are clearly made for dolls or little people, b/c Stijn and I certainly did not fit. So we got moved to a 3 seat row for the two of us, but the seat in front was broken and the window was broken and the bus was bumpy as hell going around the hairpin turns along our way. I could not stop laughing and actually loosened up and had a great journey for the six hours we we on the bus. See the pics for details:
Tommorrow we will cross into Laos and I doubt that I will have internet access in a country that has no ATMs, but you never know. So it may be a few days before you hear from me, as we plan on taking a slow boat downthe Mekong and spending a day or two in the capital, Vientiane before heading back to Thailand.
Which is what we did in the night market after our exhilarating ride up to Doi Suthep and back down to the city. After making a few wrong turns we discoverd the other night market. The one the locals actually shop at, not the more sanitized one for the tourists. Check out the pics:
…and may result in an international incident. It was difficult enough learning to ride a motorbike AND using the left side of the road AND driving up and down steep hills and curving roads on the way to the incredible Doi Suthep. But then, after coming down and going to the local market and finding a place to park, I got into a wreck. Well, not a wreck, exactly. I accidentally knocked over some local woman’s brand new motorbike. She acted as if I had just punched her first born son in the gut, screaming about how it was all fucked up (or at least I assumed that was what she was saying since I don’t speak Thai). To get out alive and because this is what abusive farangs do, we offered some money, but fortunately a very nice local man said we didn’t owe them anything, and that this was just how it goes. She looked pissed. We got WAY LUCKY. Pictures to follow tomorrow (the above is from some other site. And after we return the bikes. You can stop worrying now, mom.)
(Monk Chat is what it says above) We walked thru town to the university at Wat Suan Dork to see about joining a meditation class on Sunday/Monday, but found that they now do it on Tuesday/Wednesday and we will alas be gone already. The young monks were very eager to ask us all manner of question about our respective homelands and try to answer questions that we had about Buddhism, such as the meaning of the various hand gestures of the Bhudda. (Though not sadly the answer to the question I had below). See here for pics from today:
Look at the photo below:
Above you see a picture of a Thai toilet, one of many I have photographed. They may be sit-down like this, or they may be squat, and they usually don’t have toilet paper and the Thais are used to all of this and make great use of the spray hose next to these toilets to apparently wash their ass (always with the left hand, the right is for eating) before emerging from this experience unscathed.So here is my question: How the hell do they manage to clean themsleves with no toilet paper and yet come out of the bathroom with no apparent wet marks anywhere? I thought about asking a monk or two, but it seemed somehow inappropriate after a discussion of the noble eightfold path. Gentle readers, any ideas?
After a harrowing bus ride moving at what seemed like warp speed, we arrived late last night in Chiang Mai. Wow. Already this city seems really great. We went to the night markket and bargained for things we didn’t even want (Although I may go back and get some lighter weight travel pants; most of mine are too heavy) I’m not entirely sure, but I think one of the reasons I may have fallen in love with Chiang Mai on the spot is that I am not sweating profusely. It is blissfully cool here. I have developed a bit of a cold that I am hoping to get over before we head out on our next adventrue: Taking a slow boat down the Mekong river to Luang Probang in Laos.
I will try to write more later after exploring Chiang Mai a bit. In the meantime: