Friday, February 26, 2010

The Road to Luang Prabang

When we were planning our trip we knew that we couldn't plan out each step very far in advance. It was too difficult to know what the conditions would be at a given time and place. Plus, we wouldn't have wanted to be held to a specific itinerary; we knew that we'd discover new places we'd like to visit along the way. This is how we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos. (Our guide book spells it Louang Phabang so you'll see us spell it both ways or just abbreviate it LP). Located in North-central Laos, LP is a charming, very much French-inspired town with lots of little temples, street vendors selling fresh sandwiches on excellent baguettes, and myriads of coffee shops and guest houses.
We've had two sandwiches in two days from this lady
However, getting here can be quite the adventure, as we can attest. First there was the border crossing. We took a pick-up truck to the border and went through Thai customs, which was easy, then boarded a boat across the river where we went through Laos customs, which involved securing a Visa from one guy, paying $35 US dollars each to another guy who stamped our passport, then getting it all checked by a third guy. I'm pretty sure the TSA from the US were involved in training the Laos border agents.

After getting checked in along with a large group of French and French-Canadian tourists, and one Japanese guy (who bragged that his Laos Visa was free!) we all boarded a van (14 of us in an 10-seater van) to the private bus station where we had two hours to wait before our bus left. Little did we know this would be the "calm before the storm."

First of all, although we had assigned seats, nobody sat in them because the seat numbers were underneath the luggage space so no one saw them so people just sat where they wanted and even after showing the people in our assigned seats, they wouldn't move because it would have meant the people in their seats would have to move, etc. Therefore, since we were the last on the bus (seeing no point in boarding early since the seats were assigned), we got seats in the last row, squished in between a monk, a Chinese and a Laotian, who I'll just mention were constantly on their respective cell phones most of the trip. Each phone had its own ring tone so after a while we would know who was getting a call just by the ring. "Oh, the monk is getting a text message now," we'd think as the bus creeped along the windy, bumpy roads.

Without going into too much detail I'll summarize and say the bus was delayed by over 10 hours, we broke down twice, got rescued by another bus (but only the locals had to get on that bus), and eventually made it to LP 25 hours after we left our Thai guest house.
The guy in the green sweatshirt was actually a passenger
We were so sleep and food deprived that I felt like I was hallucinating. (Why is everyone speaking a weird language? Where are we?) We tried going to a Guest House recommended by the Korean we met in Chiang Mai (he gave us the guest house business card and everything) but when we found the place we couldn't make out if 120,000 kip (the Laotian currency) was a good deal or not. Let's see, it's about 8,500 kip to the dollar or 260 baht to the kip, so that means 120,000 is? It's not easy even with all your faculties, which we definitely did not have at that point. Eventually, with the help of a calculator, we found out this was about $14 US, and being significantly more than we were used to paying, we decided to move on. We found a place down the road (you can't walk more than five feet without going by a guest house) where a room was 80,000 kip (about $9.50 US) so we took that.

After a street sandwich each and a couple cold glasses of Beerlao we crashed under the fan of our room. Today we switched to another guest house where we could have our own bathroom for the same price.

LP has definitely made it on the "tourist track" and we can see why. In fact, today we ran into a couple that was in our cooking class in Chiang Mai (they arrived today after only a 15 hour bus ride and just one breakdown). The town itself is very cozy, the food is good, and compared to the hustle and bustle of streets in Thailand, it's pretty quiet here. We're not sure how many days we'll stay. We might rent bicycles for a day and tour around or possibly take a boat trip down the river. Since we were supposed to arrive by boat initially, it would be nice to at least experience it for a bit. We do know we don't want to leave right away as the thought of getting on the bus anytime soon is not very appealing.

Here are pictures all the way from Chiang Khong to LP (we'll be adding to it as we do more stuff here).


  1. Greetings: Your "favorite sandwich lady" has Skippy peanut butter!! Sorry to hear about your public transportation woes. Looking at your pictures in order I thought I was going to see some interesting bicycle museum shots, to go along with the vintage tractor shots, but no such luck. Twenty inches of snow Wednesday, then a rainy day, then four inches of fluffy snow today. Very nice to talk with you the other day. Love from Vermont. Uncle N

  2. All the sandwich people have Nutella too! I don't know how they can use brand name products and still sell it for so cheap, but somehow they do. Sorry about the lack of bicycle museum pictures; we were disappointed it was closed too! Thanks for the update on VT weather. I'd say I miss the snow, but I'm not sure if that's completely true :-)


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