Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 27 2010


February 22, 2010

Prince Roy drove us to the domestic terminal of the airport this morning, dropping Spicy Girl off on the way. We had plenty of time, so we had some breakfast in the international terminal. The domestic terminal was an exercise in retro design, sparse and muted. I had some reservations about having breakfast before a flight in a relatively small prop plane, but I needn’t have worried. The flight was smoother and more comfortable than a large jet would have provided. The pressurization didn’t even give my ears any trouble, and we were in Luang Prabang in no time.

The help desk at the airport in Luang Prabang wasn’t very helpful. They did manage to suggest a hotel on the river, the Mekong Lodge or something, but after an expensive taxi ride into town, we were told by a guy standing outside that it was completely booked. Luckily for us, however, they did just open a branch down the street. I suspected this was a trick and actually went into the lobby to confirm, and they were indeed booked. The new branch is also on the river, and we bargained the price of a nice room with a balcony overlooking the river down to US$65.

After putting our things away, we walked over to the tourist information center, where we were assisted by a Chinese-speaking woman with crooked teeth; Po Jiao is a member of the Dai minority and lives in a village just outside of town. We booked two tours with her, one to some waterfalls and another up the river to see some caves.

By then it was noon, so we had some chicken sandwiches at a nearby hotel/restaurant that was charging 10,000 kip for their wifi password; I declined. Then we walked around town a bit until returning to our hotel at 1:30 to catch the bus to the waterfall.

It was almost 2:00 before we gave up and went back to the tourist center to ask what was going on. Po Jiao made some calls and found that since our hotel was new the driver didn’t know about it. Eventually the van showed up, and we joined the two Canadian women who were also going to the falls. A small TV screen was showing a series of Lao music videos featuring a band, old footage of the war, and various dear leaders. I’m afraid I must have seemed a little rude as I divided my attention between her and the scenery, which included an elephant and many leafless trees.

There were bears at our destination. I hear there were also tigers, but I didn’t see any. We were lucky to get the two hours we had, as the driver seemed to think the delay was our fault, and originally only wanted to give us half an hour. The smallish black bears were lazing around a complex surrounded by wire fences. Two of them seemed to be playing poker; another couple were having rough sex on top of a playpen.

The waterfalls themselves were nice enough, with the limestone shelves giving the water a light blue cast, but the place was overrun with tourists, many swimming and diving. Actually, most of Luang Prabang is overrun with tourists. You see more tourists than locals in most parts of town, it seems. Chenble was showing me a photograph he claimed included the ghosts of people who had dived in the water before (they were just rock shadows) when a voice just behind us made both of us jump. “Is that a ghost shot?” It was a member of a group of Malaysians, excited at the thought of such a thing.

On the way back from the falls, the driver stopped at a poor village with a sign announcing its participation in some kind of tourism development plan. The gist of this plan, I gather, is that a dozen small girls will swamp tourists that are brought there, demanding that they buy woven bracelets and little bags. There was also an elephant.

Back in town, I walked down by the riverside to take pictures of the beached boats as night fell, muddying my sandals as I walked. Then we browsed the night market, where I bought a T-shirt with the Lao alphabet on it. Dinner was from one of the alley-side buffet deals, all the dishes cold and vegetarian. Each plateful of food was 8,000 kip; Chenble, who is a structural engineer, somehow managed to fit half the entire buffet on his little plate. We sat next to a Western girl who was practicing Japanese with a girl from Japan. While she didn’t seem to know much actual Japanese, she had the exaggerated cuteness down pat.

We walked to the end of the street, down by the river on the other side of the peninsula, and then up to the temple, where we came upon two young monks looking at a laptop on the wall, their young faces lit up by the white Yahoo! on the screen. They were both studying English, so we chatted for a while. It turns out that they’d discovered that they could snatch a free wifi signal from one of the cafes at that spot. We might see them again tomorrow, if we can get up early enough.

posted by Poagao at 11:58 pm  

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