Monday, January 01, 2007

Day 16 - Loafing in Luang

Luang Prabang is a really sleepy town. This is a good thing. After our hectic time in Vietnam, we were grateful for the small scale and quieter mood of Laos.

This said, we were rather put out by the temple behind our house. Buddhism has quite a name for tolerance and this too is a good thing. Why they need tolerance was very apparent to us when the temple behind our hotel began broadcasting chanting through loudspeakers in the wee hours of the morning.

You know how uplifting Buddhist chanting is with its lilting melodies and energising rhythm? Well, by the time we pulled ourselves out of bed, we'd had just about as much lilting as we could take.

What made it worse... much worse... was the fact that our hotel room walls, while appearing to be made of teak, were in fact made of nothing at all. The priest and his monotonous drone could have been right there in bed with us. In fact, thinking about it, that would have been much more convenient. We could have just smothered him with pillows and helped him on the path to enlightenment.

This also meant that the temple had several accomplices. Our room was one third of a traditional Lao dwelling. We could hear conversations in other rooms, whenever they walked across their floor, the moving floorboards in our room made the bed sway, and when a group left early on wheeling their luggage past our door it sounded like they were dragging heavy machinery over gravel. Add to this the incipient whine of the water pump under our floor and you'll understand why we didn't get a great night's sleep.

But the gardens were lovely and we were right by the river and, surely, the temple would stop soon right?

We found our own way into town along the Nam Khan river through some ramshackle buildings (all of which toted satellite dishes despite being on the verge of collapse) and over an open sewer that had been a stream in some long-forgotten previous life back at the dawn of time.

First stop was the Sticky Rice Exhibition. We'd been told about this by our hotelier but hadn't really intended to go. But there we were standing right outside it. Good thing too because it really was excellent. Very well produced and extremely informative both about rice itself and the culture of Laos. There were insightful exhibits though such as the Contented Rice Farmer Song, a good glimpse into how socialism has become part of the mindset here.

Town was sleepy by day too. There were restaurants, Internet cafes and tour offices lining most streets in the main area but still plenty of areas of temples and houses where the locals lived. It was a great town to walk around. Better still to bike and we rented bikes for the three remaining days we were to be there.

We didn't do much but explore that day. We'd toyed with the idea of doing some trekking, rafting or even some mountain biking out in the forests but Vietnam had scared us out of the idea of an organised tour. Then we hit on something which turned out to be one of the best things we did on the whole trip. We booked it for the next day and spent the rest of the day in cafes or exploring.

We got back to our hotel late, but the Buddhists were still at it in the twinkling darkness. To add to our joy, the hotel staff had left us without any towels. We had to get the owner out of bed to get us some. It hardly mattered though. There wasn't any hot water either.

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