At about 6 pm on New Years' Eve, we packed up and headed to the Luang Prabang airport to fly to Vientiane. Nobody seemed terribly fussed on our drive there that it was NYE - I was totally with them as I have never really understood the pressure to have the best night of the year. There did seem to be an inordinate amount of dogs being washed though.
Our flight left just as it had gotten dark, and we arrived in Vientiane on schedule an hour later. A taxi whisked us to Villa Manoly. We were both a little disappointed, as I had specifically booked a double, but were given a twin. We had to press for a double, which the manager finally begrudgingly gave us.
We then went out for an Indian dinner alongside the Mekong and had a Beer Lao to celebrate. We were back in the hotel room around midnight to continue watching Dexter.
The next morning we checked out as we had walked past a nice looking hotel near our restaurant the night before, and were able to book a "VIP" room for less than our room at the Manoly. The Riverine was sure worth it - huge room, four-poster bed and the bathroom was like something you would find at a spa.
We spent our first day proper in Vientiane cycling around on rented bikes. Again it was a great way to see the city, and our first stop was Patuxai, the victory gate built in the 60's. I climbed up to the top, while T opted to mind our bikes down below and listen to some music.
We made our way through the huge park that Patuxai is set within, with huge crowds of people enjoying a large fountain, music and ice cream in the heat. We rode out to what was my highlight of Vientiane: Pha That Luang, the Great Stupa, which is Laos' national symbol. By this time it was late afternoon, which was the perfect time to see the stupa in all its' glory.
It seemed like a good idea to celebrate New Years' Day with a cold Beer Lao at a Mekong riverside bar and watch the sun go down. This was followed by dinner at a huge beer garden type place that had a tree growing out of the middle, accompanied by more Beer Lao and some night-cap cocktails over the road at a quieter bar. Two Singapore Slings later and T was escorting me back to the guesthouse to sleep one off. Very sensible, that T.
Another break from Laos: I am currently midway through reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. So far I am loving it - I'm sneaking moments to read an extra page or two when my computer is loading at work in the morning, waiting for T to put his shoes on, whenever I can.
The story centres around a birthday party in a mythical Latin American country for a wealthy Japanese industrialist. The party is overtaken by terrorists and the guests held hostage when it is discovered that the country's President has stayed home to watch his favourite soap opera.
Friendships and bonds have been forged between hostages, and I suspect they will also be with their captors. A few seeds have been planted along the way of some people falling in love, but it is done in such a way that I am continually guessing as to who the couples may turn out to be (from the dust jacket, I can confirm that two couples do in fact fall in love). I'm also looking forward to the three Generals in charge of the situation (or are they?) hopefully being further developed.
From David Byrne back to Laos - T and I flew from Bangkok to Luang Prabang and it is one of the most incredible descents I have ever experienced. We descended over the Mekong amongst the greenest mountains into the tiny city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos. A sign proudly proclaimed the city a Unesco World Heritage site as we walked into the terminal.
After providing our passport, visa fee and application form in one queue, we then queued up for immigration where our passports were handed back with the visa affixed and stamped. Getting your passport back seemed to depend on the order of the line remaining the same, but it was very quick and efficient and we were then able to head out to the outdoor waiting area and organise a tuk tuk to our guesthouse. We stayed at Senesouk guesthouse, which I would highly recommend. Our room was upstairs in the traditional Teak house out back:
Luang Prabang is a very small city, but it is one of the most wonderfully friendly and beautiful places I have ever visited. Highlights of our time in there were:
Watching monks receive their morning Alms
I had not been on a bike since I was 14 years old, so was a little nervous and wobbly when we started out but after a block I was racing T and careering down hills. It was such a lovely way to explore a city, so I am going to endeavour to rent a bike to explore places on future travels.
There is a craft market every night in Luang Prabang from about 5 - 11 pm. T and I would head down to the two vegetarian and vegan food stalls and get a big bowl of Laos food for about AU$1. It was fun to eat at the table set up behind the stall and watch all the action around us - a young woman selling gorgeous looking cakes, families zooming past on motorbikes and and huge fruit and vegetable stalls. For dessert we shared some banana and coconut type donuts.
We bought lots of little gifts for people, although my favourite thing that we bought was a handmade doona cover and two matching pillow slips. It was the only one I saw that was a vibrant turquoise. I haven't gotten around to taking a photo of it yet, but I will post one when I do.
T had a little trouble with all the low hanging poles holding up the shelters, as due to his height he kept banging his head on them. At one point, he managed to plunge one stall into complete darkness as he tripped over the plug linking them to a power supply. It was all sorted out in a matter of seconds with laughter all round, but T said he felt like Godzilla.
Visiting Tat Kuang Si Waterfall & Moon Bear Rescue Centre
We took the hour long trip out to Tat Kuang Si to see the beautiful clear turquoise waters of the waterfall. T even managed a dip in one of the more secluded pools lower down. At least it was secluded until a tour group came through, which meant he had to stay in the freezing water for a little longer than he would have liked.
There is also a Moon Bear rescue centre at the waterfall. These bears have been rescued as cubs when their mothers had been killed by poachers. T and I already sponsor a Moon Bear named Somerset through Animals Asia, so we were both excited to meet some Moon Bears in person. We watched them forage for food, snooze in their hanging baskets and play together for ages. They all seemed to be happy and well cared for.
Given the plethora of places offering massages for such a small amount of kip, we continued our streak of daily massages in Luang Prabang. I particularly enjoyed a foot massage we got reclining side by side in a fan-cooled sheltered outdoor alcove. The women who provided the massage giggled and talked (seemingly about us) a lot. I think they were amused by T's height and the size of his feet. His masseuse looked quite incredulous when he took his shoes off.
The set list was mostly from this years' Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. I like some of this album, especially Strange Overtones, I Feel My Stuff and Poor Boy, and they were great live. Still, I was very excited by the prospect of some Talking Heads numbers, and some from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. In addition to the songs from Everything That Happens above, highlights for me included:
Many of the songs were accompanied by dancers that often involved Mr Byrne in the choreography. At first I thought it didn't work, but it grew on me and after a few songs, the movement really started to work for me - especially when the Road to Nowhere run was incorporated.
Thanks David - I also really liked how you matched your white hair with everyone onstage wearing white.
I am a very absent blogger. Things have been so incredibly busy at work that I have been exhausted when I get home from work and on the weekends. Not to mention this heatwave that seems to be neverending.......
Still, I was inspired today to write and try and catch up on everything. First things first, T and I had a wonderful holiday over Christmas and New Year in Thailand and Laos. Our first stop was Bangkok, where we had a great time visiting Wat Po, Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. We spent a lot of time getting massages at the Wat Po traditional Thai massage school. Here are some of the highlights: