The Smorgasbord

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

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In the morning, a few of my tour mates and I lingered over breakfast. We looked at the sky and decided it was not a good day to go to the Kuang Si Waterfall. The clouds were rolling in and it looked like it could rain at any moment. I went to take a shower but couldn't. The water was turned off. I asked the front desk clerk about it and he told me that they had turned the water off while someone was working on the pipes. He said it would be back on shortly. The front desk clerk was so friendly about it that all I could do was smile and nod even though I thought it was a bit absurd to turn off water at a time when everyone wanted to shower. The work took much longer than they thought and they were nice enough to turn it back on briefly.

Enjoying the Royal Palace Museum, But Not in the Way Were Supposed To

I headed into town and made phone calls. I bumped into two of the people from the night before. They had seen some temples but weren't all that impressed. They also weren't happy that the admission was four times the cost of the temples in Vientiane. They were both long term budget travelers trying to make their money last for several more months. We walked around town and checked out a non-touristy temple. The monks there were busy painting, gardening, and cleaning.

We decided to give the Royal Museum Palace a try. At the museum, they don't allow photography and if you have a purse, they make you put it in a locker. I tried to be interested in the exhibits, but I really thought it was boring. When I reached a room towards the end, a large painting of an important looking man made me lose my composure.

The guys saw me staring at the painting and noticed that I was on the verge of laughter. They asked what was up and I pointed out that the man's head was way too small for his body. They agreed and we laughed about it for awhile. Our serious museum faces were gone.

In the same room, there were display cases of gifts to Laos from other countries. The lamest gifts were from the US. The Japanese guy pointed at various gifts from the US, looked at me jokingly and said, "Why? Why?" I have no idea. There are a lot of things my country does that I cannot explain. I can only imagine the dialog that went down when the US gave these gifts. "Sorry for secretly bombing you. Please accept this Man on the Moon figurine as a gift."

Loving Lao Coffee

If you spend any amount of time on the main street in Luang Prabang, you will run into everyone you know. We bumped into the rest of their group, most of my tour group, my guide and her Thai friend. One of the Swedish guys had met two women from Spain while traveling through India and he saw one of them. We made plans to meet them that night.

We bought some cakes and Lao coffee on the street and sat down on little stools provided by the coffee vendor. Lao coffee has a distinct taste that I like. Basically, any beverage with the word "Lao" in it is worth a try. This vendor offered Lao coffee in large or small cups and there was a choice of sweetened condensed milk or fresh milk. I think part of the Lao appeal is its way of offering tourists what they want without making them feel like tourists.

An Interesting Dinner Conversation

I met up for dinner with the group from the night before and we walked down to the Nam Kham river where we found a restaurant with an interesting menu. I had a great Lao fish dish, I think it might have been what I tried with Cat in Vang Vieng.

We were discussing our various cultures and somehow got on the subject of racism in South East Asia. One of the Swedes was saying that he heard many South East Asians were quite racist towards blacks and wondered about my experiences. I had read about it before in stories from black men who were denied hotel rooms or told that their skin color was no good. I'm guessing it goes deeper than this, but what I heard is that in addition to ignorance, some of the views of black people stem from the fact that there are many African men who are in South East Asia illegally and have gotten involved in shady businesses.

Hearing about potential discrimination made me lean towards going with a tour group rather than traveling solo. I explained to them that I've been breaking down barriers my whole life and I'm not about to let anything stop me from traveling. Though I had many questionable experiences on my trip, I think some locals saw me as exotic and new and I encountered many complimentary people. After the the Hanoi experience with the kids at the museum, I saw an opportunity. My trip wasn't just for me to see new sights, it was also an chance for me say, "I'm here and I'm just another person who wants to see your country."

A Smorgasbord of People

After dinner, we went to Lao Lao Bar, further up the street. A guy named Vladamir was there and some people in our group got all excited. Me and one of the Swedes wondered who he was. It was like this: Vladamir is here! Who is Vladamir? A waiter brought us each a large Beerlao. We didn't order this! It's from Vladamir! Who is Vladamir?!

We sat down and eventually met Vladamir who was quite a character. We liked him instantly. He was originally from Croatia and lived in Sweden. He had an affinity for underground California hip hop. He had a CD player with him and every so often he would put on his headphones, close his eyes, and bob his head to the music.

At our table, we had two Swedes, a Croatian, a Laotian, one from Japan, me, and we were later joined by the two girls from Spain and two more Swedish guys. I had a blast hanging out with this international motley crew. As midnight approached and the bar was winding down, we heard more and more about the after hours activity in Luang Prabang- bowling. We thought, "Why not?"

We piled into a jumbo and went off to go bowling. I have no idea where the alley is, but all of the drivers know and will ask you if you want to go as you are leaving the bars at midnight. I've always been terrible at bowling and my ball would either go in the gutter or I'd get lucky and knock down all the pins except one. On my last turn I got really lucky and got a strike.

When we were done bowling, it was raining so we quickly found a jumbo to take us back to town. Vladamir stayed in the jumbo jamming to his underground hip hop. What was he doing? He told us he was leaving early in the morning for Bangkok and wanted to go straight to the airport. He promised us he would be fine. Bye bye Vladamir!
worldcitizen says:
I've always liked that quote, but I always thought of it from the perspective of a traveler. I guess it can also can apply to the way locals view foreign travelers/immigrants!
Posted on: Jun 18, 2008
sybil says:
what an interesting dinner conversation that truly was. here's one of my fave quotes:

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends." - Maya Angelou
Posted on: Jun 17, 2008
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Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2