We've made it to Vang Vieng, Laos, home of some rather infamous river tubing, amongst other things. This post is from a few days ago, in Luang Prabang. Sorry about the lack of photos, the internet connection is terrible here, but that just means there will be tons of photos next time - as well as a quite awesome moment of zen.
Since we last posted, we did hit the road again on our bicycles, but only briefly before caving to a new-found philosophy of cycle-a-little-less-and-see-a-lot-more. We decided to avoid cycling through another series of monstrous hills in order to spend some more time in Luang Prabang. A UNESCO World Heritage town, filled with active and well-preserved temples, it's definitely a fantastic place. Based on a balance of things to see, things to do, shopping, and variety of food, LP definitely has to rank amongst the top tourist towns we've visited on our journey, if the not the best so far.
From Phonsavan we rode our bicycles 48 km to the town of Ban Nong Tang, more just a collection of houses next to a lake than anything else. Having decided by then that expediting our travel to LP was our main priority, we waited outside a restaurant for about three hours before managing to secure a ride to the next town, Phu Khuon. For another three hours we then bounced around in the back of a large truckbed, at times freezing cold when we weren't in awe of the clear sky and bountiful stars above us.
Phu Khuon is little more than the crossroads for two of Laos' major highways, so other than eat and sleep there wasn't much to do. In the morning we had to change leftover Thai baht for Laos kip since we were essentially out of money, but fortunately that didn't prove to be too much of a problem despite being in a bank-less town. The ride to LP the next morning was pretty enjoyable, full of dazzling scenery and a plethora of mountain bikers. Kind of strange, having been the only people on the road for so long, but now we're on a stretch of road that's very well ridden. In some ways we felt a little inferior hitching a ride, in others we felt superior for having cycled so much terrain already that few others dare to do.
Luang Prabang is a very busy town compared to where we've been staying since Hanoi. So many white people, a multitude of restaurants, and a massive tourist market all seemed overwhelming at first. But 10,000 kip sandwiches, 5,000 kip fruit shakes, and 5,000 kip chocolate banana rotis (that's $2.50 total) are all filling us quite nicely, never-mind the scrumptious spring rolls, abundant baked goods, or the plenty of amazing Asian food available down by the river-side. Our first night we just walked the streets in awe of all the choices, indulged our neglected sweet teeth, and filled up at a cheap vegetarian buffet (5,000 kip).
For our second day here we did a walking tour of all the temples, which are completely integrated with the rest of the town's architecture. A block full of hotels and restaurants often holds a large unassuming temple within it as well, home to monks who turn musical at dusk as well as ornate paintings and statuary. The temples are all well-maintained, and surprisingly free of sellers and beggars – these are revered places of worship in the morning time, but they retain that atmosphere to a degree throughout the entire day. The evening was spent wandering around again, before engaging in a well-known local tradition: bowling. The government of Laos maintains a curfew, so the streets must be empty by midnight, and all businesses must be closed by 11:30 or 12:00 at the absolute latest. However, the bowling alley apparently pays off the local police, and since it is several kilometers outside of town, is allowed to stay open until 3am. So the late-night LP party scene exists solely at a noisy bowling alley, selling Beer Laos and microwave popcorn to a rowdy mix of tourists and locals, all bowling their best :-). We were actually terrible, no one even broke 100 in the first game, but we were there for the delightful change of pace more than anything – we go from spending days in a crazy city to spending weeks on the road in rural settings where the entire province shuts down within hours of the sun setting.
Yesterday involved checking out a local football game, enjoyable yet under-attended: we were the only fans present when the match started, but others came slowly drifting in. We also took care of a lot of “business” on the internet, figuring out the rest of our route and time schedule while in Laos, etc. Today we're going to hit up a waterfall about 35km outside of town, it's supposed to be pretty fantastically fun - we'll find out shortly!
More news when there's better net,
A&E+3 (for only a short while longer, we're splitting up in just over a week :-(