I survived the road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. No bandits this time (maybe next if I cross my fingers)…however plenty of cows, no name villages, chickens, goats, and kids in the road. Our driver was on a mission to get us here before dark, he was passing blindly around turns which was almost a career limiting decision on one account. As our bus toiled up the extremely steep and windy mountain road, the views were unlike any I have seen. Many times the only thing between us and a 1000ft plumet was some elephant grass or sheer luck. We would fight up one huge mountain for hours, only to come speeding back down it in a gear grinding frenzy before the next mountain began. All together the trip took a little under 7 hours.
We did pass quite a few guys walking around with SKS 7.62mm assault rifles. They were definitely not communist soldiers, their clothes were rag-tag. Im thinking they were some small town local millitia.
The AC in the bus was worthless so it was very hot most of the time. The road was very dodgey and I was in the back of the bus over the tires so every bump vibrated through my ready-to-explode bladder. One look out my window though choked any start of a complaint I may have had. Here it was, a Saturday, and the fields were full of people working and sweatting under the burning sun. Even kids probably age 6 or 7, that in the US would have been watching cartoons on a Saturday morning or playing games, were working and toiling either by collecting firewood, or weaving leaves into things on the side of the road. Many times fields had been cleared right on the side of a mountain because there was no flat space, people would be planting crops on impossible inclines. I dont know how they could even stand. We stopped twice, once on the side of the road in the boonies which the men loved and the women hated for bathroom purposes. The other in a tiny town with a chow-line where I ate some delicous rice and fatty mystery meat. It hit the spot though for sure. There was a Laos man that came up and said hello, he was missing both hands cleanly below the wrists. He had the saddest look in his eyes. At first, I thought maybe he picked up a mine or booby trap, but he wasnt blind and had no other injuries. In my opinion, it looked like it had been done by someone on purpose. He never asked for money….my heart went out to him but we were herded back onto the bus before I could think more about it.
Luang Prabang is a city of indulgences. The French actually managed to do something useful and created a wonderful atmosphere here with tons of incredible food. For dinner, I ate in a huge night market for .90 cents US. It was 2 buffalo/bison patties and a big bowl of noodles and veggies. There is Venison steak here for $2, coffee, French bread, pastries, anything you can conjure up to get your drool glands working overtime. My guesthouse is only $4 a night, shared bathroom, but its a place to sleep and a short 15 min walk from the markets. I think that I can definitely spend a week here getting fat and sloppy. Plus, there are temples, waterfalls, and kayaking here.
This is the farthest north in major SE Asia stops that I can go without running into China. Very tempting because Ive always wanted to go to China. I will probably spend a week here then take the infamous speed boat down the Mekong back over to Thailand and enter Chiang Mai and the northwest corner of Thailand. The speed boat takes 7 hours at 50MPH and they issue you helmets. Crashes are frequent and messy on the river, in fact, my dive instructor on Ko Tao was almost killed by them. Its an experience for sure though and there is no way Im going to take the “slow boat” which takes 2 days and the only adventure is when some idiot gets drunk enough to jump over the rail.