Once again, we got to experience the amazing scenery of Laos on our bus journey to Luang Prabang. Of course, we also got to experience it in a very uncomfortable van. Diarmuid and Guy were squashed in over the wheel arch and could barely walk on arrival. However, we did find a very nice guesthouse instantly, €4 each a night for a lovely room in a quiet part of town. The great thing about Luang Prabang was the whole town was quiet, there were plenty of people about but it was relaxed, chilled, just the atmosphere we needed… to recover.
Our detox plan was simple: no alcohol and only healthy food. The no alcohol part was greatly assisted by the fact that there is an 11.30 curfew in the town. Every night, the town shuts down and if you are not in your guesthouse by 12, you sleep on the street. So even if we wanted late nights, we couldn’t have them. Healthy food wasn’t an issue either. The restuarants in Luang Prabang were the best we had found in South East Asia. In several of the restaurants, they offered a barbeque menu, whereby you cooked your food on a stove on your own table. We also discovered that Buffalo makes all other meat taste like crap. The restaurants were cool and slick, Utopia, a favourite of ours offered beds rather than chairs, music that stoned people like and a great view over the Mekong River and the food – amazing.
There was plenty to do in and around the town. There was a night market that never seemed to end and what was strange was that the Laos sellers do not hassle you like in Vietnam, if you want to buy you come to them, it was surreal because we had grown so used to be hassled, in fact we kind of missed it. There were temples scattered about the town, beautiful buildings and one which sat atop a till looking over the town. We spent one day at the caves, just like Ted and Dougal did except these ones were full of Buddha statues. Getting a Tuk-Tuk around Laos is the best way to travel, the roads are magnificently bumpy, the scenery is spectacular and the breeze is refreshing in the 32 degree heat. So we took another Tuk-Tuk tour to the waterfalls another day, it was the most brilliant waterfall we had ever seen, we hiked all the way up the hill to the top of it only to realise you couldn’t see anything from the top. We also realised our fitness had started to fade.
So we went on a trek! 2 days – elephant riding, trekking through the hills, a homestay in a tribal village, more trekking and kayaking. A brilliant two days. It was just myself, Diarmuid, Guy and a German girl we became friends with who had the greatest name ever – Bender. Our German friend slowed us down a lot, she told us she got terrible blisters from walking too much.. so why the hell are you going trekking? The elephant riding was brilliant, amazing animals and they are really taken care of at the camp. We also got to swim in a plunge pool at the bottom of a waterfall which was like swimming in county Clare. The homestay was a real experience. We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to stay with a family, we stayed in little wooden huts and our food was brought to us. In fact, we felt a bit like animals at a zoo, the locals came to our living area to see us and stare at us as if we were entertaining or different. Nonetheless we saw some amazing things. The way the tribe lives, their trades, their living environment, their customs, we saw pigs having sex AND dogs having a threesome. Our detox was interrupted that evening when our tour guide brought us some whiskey distilled by the locals. We couldn’t refuse, that would be rude. It tasted like… what’s the worst taste imaginable? Well, that. So the four of us had some great games of cards, particularly the poker game. We had no chips so we used cigarettes, at a dollar a box, it wasn’t an issue getting them, that’s also the reason I haven’t quit. The little village was so quiet by ten o clock and we were all in bed by eleven. That was a first for us!
We awoke to a beautiful breakfast the next day and said goodbye to the village people. Not the band. We had learned some fascinating things about them, a lot of them didn’t even speak Laos, they only spoke their native hill tribe language. Girls and boys would get married at 15/16. When a boy decides which girl he wants, he simply grabs her and runs away with her for a couple of weeks, when he comes back, he tells the girl’s parents he is going to marry their daughter. If two boys wanted the same girl, they fought for her. Ah if only real life was like that. Diarmuid and I would be on the first flight to London and would end up in a fight over who would take Cheryl Cole. Anyway, we trekked through the hills again and then began our kayaking. Brilliant exercise, 25 kilometres down the river to Luang Prabang. At times, it got very rocky and we had to steer away to avoid capsizing. The German and the Israeli failed at this and fell in.
The detox took its toll on Diarmuid, he struggled to eat his breakfast because of a case of the shakes he had developed. Getting his fork into his mouth properly became a struggle and it was clear the withdrawal symptoms were affecting him. So on Saturday night we decided we had done well and we headed out for a few pints. We found a great club, had several very strong drinks where Guy found out how difficult it is to keep up with the Irish. The music was blaring, the dance floor was full, fantastic atmosphere but then… 11.30 – game over. The music went off, the bar closed and we sighed… Diarmuid and I shared a knowing look, we could never survive in a country like this!
Our last night in Luang Prabang was a massive occasion for both of us – United vs Liverpool… in the FA cup. The jerseys were ready, the pub had been chosen, the banter had begun and we were ready for a tense game. 4 minutes – GOAL! Dimitar Berbatov brought down by Agger in the box, penalty given. Giggs slots home with ease. 8 minutes – Diarmuid gets sick and has to go home. 9 minutes – Is it wrong that I am glad he is sick? 90 minutes – 1-0 victory for United. Shit. The less said about that night the better. A great week was had in LPB, just what was needed, next stop – the Monkey Jungle… mode of transport – speedboat up the Mekong.