Finally I reached the winding mountain roads I had been expecting throughout most of this trip. Karst enveloped landscape swimming in fog. Something about the houses here struck me as much more attractive than elsewhere. It took me several hours to determine just what it was. Finally I realized it was the lack of signage and busyness. Everywhere, everywhere in this part of the world buildings are covered in beer banners (Beer Lao, Angkor, Tiger, Singha, Chang – depending on which country you are in), person-sized signs for ice cream, phone provider ads, Nescafé umbrellas. So much busyness everywhere, but these small roadside towns were completely devoid of it all. I am all for it. It’s so much more pleasant to behold the quietness of these villages.The minibus I caught from Vientiane to Luang Pranang is the nicest, newest, cleanest transportation I’ve taken yet. The driver seemed very safe to me, despite the quality of the road, despite the fact that we were driving on the edge of cliffs, and despite the fact that we passed one major wreck and one semi that had simply tipped over in a ditch into the side of the mountain.
Luang Prabang had an immediately noticeable nicer feel to it than Vientiane. It seemed smaller, and less official. I liked it already. My guesthouse very proudly offered free bananas, and I had my share. The building was old and wooden. The stairs to get to my room were so steep it almost seemed more like a ladder than a staircase. I liked my room immensely, too (despite the fact the walls were pink stained and unlovable), and that also took me a while to grasp the reasoning. Because it was my first [non-CS] room that was mine. It was as cheap as anywhere I’d seen, but this was a single room instead of a dorm. I would be taking full advantage of this fact. I think I skipped dinner the night I arrived, but breakfast was the first order of business when I awoke the next day. I sought out a local noodle soup, despite the morning being already uncomfortably warm. The main difference I noted between this soup and the countless others I have tried was the abundance of thinly sliced, ultra crispy fried garlic pieces. Which were awesome. I walked along the Mekong for a long length of the town, particularly appreciating the [french influenced] architecture and the way the buildings here fit together very snugly. It boasts a very different, quaint aesthetic to all the other cities I’ve visited so far. During the afternoon I retreated to my room and splayed myself under the fan. This particular day I bought a small tub of taro ice cream and consumed the whole thing. Not a whole lot went down during the hours nearing 100°. But I was very excited for the evening. In Vientiane all I had wanted was to watch a film. Unfortunately for me, there is not a single cinema there. Not one. How excited I was to learn, then, about L’etranger – a bookshop in Luang Prabang that shows a movie every evening. I showed up early and ordered the local mak toum (bale fruit?) tea. The film that evening was The Cobbler, which sounded really charming, until you learned that Adam Sandler was in it (only one girl knew this fact, and when she shared it we all had the same reaction). Nothing against him, it just wasn’t what I was expecting based on the description. Anyways, the act of sitting in that beautiful space with a pot of tea, watching a film was exactly as magical as I anticipated. Afterwards I popped over to the night market, but it was already in the process of shutting down. Still, I came across these tiny banana leaf baskets stacked delicately with little coconut cakes. They aren’t exactly cake: they are fried and spongy on the outside, but the inside is a gooey, custardy molten lava of creamy coconut. They are perfection. Soo…I might have even had them again for breakfast the next day at the morning market. This market had the weirdest selection of things I’ve yet seen. There were live frogs in a giant basket, frickin thigh sized lizards both whole and chopped up (I’ve seen a lot of dead animals around, but these chopped up lizards win the gross out factor for me), seemingly innocent baskets which actually held small dead pigs, and some other unusual meats and critters that I can no longer recall. There were no other tourists at this early hour. I did some shopping for the next day’s journey up the Mekong.
For my heat induced indoor period that day I happily occupied myself with some sketching and painting. I almost indulged in another film at L’etranger, but decided instead to tackle the night market early. There were a lot of foods I wanted to try and I opted to have a night market feast. Despite my best intentions, I could only fit about $4.50 worth of food into my stomach. Oh well, it was a very exciting experience, and I’m certainly not going to complain about being satiated for less than five bucks. Between my various courses of foods I wandered back and forth along the long strip of tents filled with amazing handiwork. The skill of people here is so impressive. I think I probably spent like four hours lost in all of the colors and patterns and delicious smells there. This has been my favorite market so far.
It was only just lightening when I started out the next morning. I walked once more to the morning market to grab fresh baguettes for sandwiches…and one more helping of coconut cakes. I bartered with a few different tuk-tuk drivers before finally agreeing on a price that was favorable to both of us. And so I bid adieu to lovely Luang Prabang.