Luang Prabang, where we visit the palace, eat pork scratchings, it rains and Nel is chased by a four foot high man

The Songthaew dropped us at the bus station. We were expecting to be in the middle of the town, just where the guesthouses were but the tuk tuk driver reckoned we were about 6km away.
Because of the ATM problem in Nong Kiaw we had no money for a tuk tuk but the driver said he’d take us to get some cash on the way. He was charging twenty thousand each, which we though was a bit steep but he wouldn’t shift and we had no choice really. There was a Thai kid with us who’d mostly been asleep on the Songthaew, and who’d had a haircut like Justin Bieber some time recently so he looked like his hair was on backwards and he really didn’t want to pay that much. He kept looking at us, and the driver kept asking him for money, and he’d put his hand into his Justin Bieber trouser pocket and then change his mind, it was all a bit surreal.
I said to him that he was going to have to pay or stay where he was. Finally he paid up and we were tuk tuk’d to the hostel area by way of the atm.
Twenty thousand is two and a half dollars, and I would think that’s a bit much. There was an American who said it was too much and walked. You meet these people, who like to let you know that they’re seasoned travellers and much too clever and wiley to be overcharged. We overtook him with his rucksack and I honestly hoped he was enjoying the walk, with his rucksack in the 35 degree heat, the arse.

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The view from a cafe over the Mekong

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO heritage city and is nestled where the Mekong and the Nam Ou meet. It’s the capital of Luangphrabang province and has been the capital of Laos in the past.
The king lived here and his former palace is now the national museum, though its not a lot except for an exhibition of the palace itself and the Royal Stuff, which is a bit odd in a communist country I’d have thought.
The kings cars are here, two Lincoln Continentals and an Edsel! There’s also a little speedboat, and these were given to him by the Americans with many other gifts, amongst them a hifi and a little model of the moon lander.
The Americans wanted the King’s support in fighting the communists, see. The war had spilled over into Laos and they wanted to cut supplies that were coming through the country. It’s all very complicated and nasty.
We met a bloke called Ed, who we’d last seen in Nong Kiaw, he’d been here in 1974 backpacking. He told us that he and some other backpackers scrounged lifts with American planes stuffed with opium. He reckoned he’d bought a t-shirt with the Luang Prabang Golf and Country Club printed on it, which he said was a front for the processing plant that was sending Heroin to Europe and USA. This was a big CIA operation. Nasty.

The city itself is very beautiful, all picturesque little alleys and beautiful old buildings, Laos and French. It’s a big tourists destination and consequently it’s pretty rich and as far from the dirt road villages we’d stopped in so far as you could imagine, I imagine. There are more temples than you could shake a monk at, one just opposite called Wat That, and I’m sure we could have lots of Morecambe and Wise type fun if we could find anyone who speaks good enough English.
Surprisingly, the cheaper cafes are along the banks of the river where you can sit and watch children bathing in the mud coloured water while you eat banana pancakes and drink coffee.

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A Naga is a sea monster who hoodwinked Buddha into teaching him whilst in the guise of a man.  When he was rumbled, Buddha made him the guard. Modern security guards have mostly not even been to school.

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A gorgeous Laos temple, there are more than you can count in Luang Prabang.

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Some Buddhas. This ones not fat.

We’ve had a bit of a disturbing revelation. We were having a lazy day watching a film in our room, staying out of the sun when Nel asked if I’d like to go back home for my birthday. This was a bit of a shock.
We’d planned on bumbling down to Vientiane and the Plain of Jars before coming back to LP and taking the slow boat to the border with Thailand.
We’d sort of lost track of time, the date, and what we were doing.
When we actually discussed it we realised that we’re running out of time quickly. Our return to England is now imminent, and not some vague and gauzy concept that we don’t need to pay any attention to for a while.
The more we talked about it, the more real it became and so we booked our flights back to London on 23rd, just over two weeks away, and allowing for delays, baggage collection etc we reckon we should be in the pub for last orders.
And so we’ve had to change our plans and tomorrow we’re getting a tuk tuk to the slow boat, which is about a forty minute drive we’re told, and then a two day trip down the Mekong, stopping at a village on route overnight and arriving at the border just too late for the bus to Chiang Mai in the North Thai hills.
From there to a place on the way to Bangkok which we’re told is very nice, before we get back to Kev and Jayne’s for a couple of days before flying back to the pub. Our return is now looming over us like a scary clown. We’d really not given much thought to going home.

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This is without doubt the nicest room we’ve had for a long time

On the first night here we went to a restaurant for dinner after finding a room and showering. Laos food is similar to Thai, and they put food and stuff in with the noodles, and give you chillies with it, unlike the plate of noodles and a few shavings of pork or beef like in Vietnam. I’m not desperate for western food.
There’s Thai food on the menu in a lot of places. In this place we ate there was also Deep Fried Pigs Hide. Pork scratchings! The taste of the Black Country!
Inside the menu there are cartoons explaining to tourists about the things that you shouldn’t do in Laos, things such as punching monks, dressing immodestly, taking drugs and showing your feet. This is considered to be bad manners, as it is in Thailand.
When we went out last night there was a party going on in the alley. Don’t know what it was for but there was the usual huge PA system.
That night we’d met Ed, the aging backpacker and a couple of normal enough Aussies we’d also last seen at Nong Kiaw, and we’d sat drinking Beerlao and chatting at a street bar.
Later, being confident that I can dance, we joined in the party. Beerlao is good for that.
The four foot high man who chased Nel around trying to grab her had obviously not read the menus or the cartoons that pointed out that public displays of intimacy are disrespectful. It was a bit Benny Hill.
Hilariously, when she got back to where I was standing talking to a Filipino man, he did a double take and his feet were skidding on the road like a cartoon cat on a carpet when he realised she’s married to a giant and he only came up to my waist.
Another, younger man took hold of her hands and asked her to marry him, using the tiny man to interpret. She tells me he was quite upset when he told him she’s married. I didn’t see this cos I was talking, and drunk. Beerlao needs to be treated with some caution.

There are storms here more or less every night. Maybe that’s why everything shuts at ten, just to give you enough time to get home before the lightning flashes that you’ve been watching getting closer for the last hour bring a wind and solid rain hits. We always seem to get back ten minutes before it hits and the thunder makes it impossible to talk. It’s fearsome, the ground seems to shake for thirty minutes and then you watch the storm get further away. In the morning the sun is out and the birds are singing

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