It felt like a scene from My Cousin Vinny when a ridiculously loud bass drum, accompanied by chimes, started banging away at 4.00am waking me out of what had been a pleasant sleep. It went on for 15 minutes and the bass from the drum seemed to be vibrating through the building. Whilst it could have been called an unholy row – it seems it was ‘holy’ in origin, as the monks behind my hotel seem to be the culprits.
Mirroring a scene from My Cousin Vinny, I asked the hotel staff in the morning about the noise and whether it occurred every morning. Nope – it only happens about three times per year he told me. Seems I got lucky and had my first night coincide with some kind of Buddhist festival that required 4.00am drumming! I guess I should count myself lucky that it only lasted for 15 minutes because, at 4.00pm, they were at it again and this time it lasted for over 25 minutes (but I was in a steam room at the adjacent massage place at the time).
That was my first night in Laos – certainly something to remember it by. I had arrived in Laos the previous afternoon, Saturday 30th January. I took a one-hour flight on Lao Airlines from Chiang Mai (Thailand) into Luang Prabang.
After a short taxi ride, my driver finally found the Mekong Riverview Hotel, having tried to drop me off at two other hotels first. As its name suggests, the hotel is on the bank of the mighty Mekong River, towards the end of a peninsular where the Khan River flows into it.
After getting checked into the hotel, I set off to explore the town. First up was the local night market that had a variety of products for sale – many aimed at tourists but some for local consumption
I was ready for dinner and splurged on a nice meal at the Tangor Restaurant that is run by two French guys. A very nice restaurant with good food selections. I opted for the fish ceviche and the beef tenderloin (it is hard to get decent beef in South east Asia, as fish, pork and chicken are the staple meats). And a chocolate lava cake and a few glasses of nice wine for good measure.
The following morning, after my rude awakening, I had breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant that overlooks the confluence of the Mekong and the Khan River. After breakfast, I took a walk along the bank of the Khan River to photograph the temporary bamboo bridges. The bridges are only in place for about six months of the year and have to be removed in the rainy season to avoid being washed away.
Next up was a visit to Mount Phou Si – a 100 metre hill that is home to Wat Tham Pho Si (temple) and the gilded stupa of Wat Chom Si. On the way up the hill, there are several Buddhas – some of them attributed to specific days of the week. There is also a ‘footprint of Buddha’ that is the size of a bathtub. The stupa is at the top of the hill, giving a good overview of the town. Part way up the hill, I came across a woman who had a tray full of small containers that each held a pair of small birds. For 20,000 kip (about $2.50), visitors can buy one of the containers and release the birds for good luck. I’m not superstitious and don’t hold out any hope of ‘buying’ good luck, but I figured that I could bring some luck to a couple of birds by setting them free!
A walk through the morning market brought some interesting sights, including assorted rodents being sold as food items.
Video: Fish (tilapia) being prepared for sale
No, I didn’t try the rodents for lunch. I stopped off at one of the street vendors for a bowl of Pho (noodle soup) for the equivalent of $2.50. Very nice.
There are lots of old temples, scattered around the town. Most can be visited free of charge.
Massages are very inexpensive, costing as little as 600,000 kip ($7.50) for an hour. Peninsula Massage comes highly rated and is next to my hotel. I got a 90-minute massage for 100,000 kip and use of the steam room for an additional 20,000, so a total cost of about $15. At these prices, is it any surprise that I get a massage most days?
I tried another busy restaurant for dinner on Sunday evening. This time I opted for a Lao food sampler menu: soup, main course and a dessert (and a small pitcher of wine). Nice.
Monday morning came without a rude awakening at 4.00am, I’m pleased to say. Another breakfast overlooking the Mekong, watching the monks and the fishermen.
Well, that brings you up to date after my first two days in Laos. After the group motorcycle tour, I’m enjoying solo travel again and the flexibility that it brings.
I gave some thought to renting a motorcycle whilst in Luang Prabang, to do some sightseeing, but I’ve read a lot about a local scam where the dealers ‘steal’ their own bikes back, leaving the renter to pay the full value of a new bike (doesn’t appear that there is any insurance for theft). The dealers will only rent with a passport left as a security deposit. No thanks! Quite a difference to Thailand, where we left the bikes unaccompanied whenever we had lunch or did some sightseeing – and the bike keys were left in the bikes and our helmets, gloves and jackets left on the bikes. We were assured that nothing would happen to them – that there was very little theft in Thailand. Having said that, other than the reported bike scam, LP seems to be a very safe place.