Traveling from town to town, through farming villages, up and down Laos’s beautiful, lush terrain was both scenic and uncomfortable. From Luang Namtha, we boarded a half broken-down old bus with a bit of difficulty in explaining to the rude cashier what we wanted. Yeah, a rude local: they’re few and far between, but a goddamn hassle if you ever have to deal with one. I remember getting mad at the fact that it seemed like he was ignoring us the whole time, and if we tried to ask him a question, he would smirk and start jabbering to his colleagues in Lao, and then go on ignoring us. He may have understood some of what we were inquiring about and just choosing not to respond, or he may have understood none of it, but didn’t want to admit it so instead just acted like an asshole. I know saving face is a major cultural factor in almost all of Southeast Asia, and men especially never want to act as though they are ignorant to anything. Either way, he diverted our inquiries to another worker who eventually sold us our tickets. I remember it leaving a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and Teresa never liked the way I respond to this kind of attitude from other people (in kind or with vigor, would often be the case). But as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t stand being treated like that and it’s something that I had to learn to ignore, especially when someone is talking about you in a language you don’t understand. It leaves my imagination to run wild as to the possible phrases of disrespect that may or may not be directed towards my lady and myself.
When we finally boarded, I had to duck my head from the spinning metal blades with no covers that operated as fans, hanging from the precariously low ceiling of a bus that I’m pretty sure was built in the 40s or 50s. They weren’t an air conditioning comfort so much as they were lethal weapons to anyone taller than 5’6, but I’ll always appreciate their conversational value whenever I talk about this particular bus ride. Other than that, we had the breeze through the open windows to alleviate some of the nausea that inevitably comes along with incessantly winding roads and thick, humid air. Again, just another aspect of travel that we gradually got use to and which eventually became a non-factor for us. The 11 hours was worth it considering Luang Prabang was our destination.
Our guesthouse had a banana tree growing out front, the gentleman who ran the place offering us as many as we could eat. He was very cordial and spoke very proudly of his abode. After the exhausting trek, followed the next day by the long ride, we were ready to take a bit of a breather and just enjoy the atmosphere around us in this beautiful, riverside town. That didn’t stop us from hiking to the top of this massive hill to get a view of the surrounding area, the upward path peppered with stone Buddha statues and housing for local monks.
The river was lined with restaurants and bars, some out in the open, some enclosed in tents or small, open-fronted buildings. This was hanging from one of them:
A beast if I ever saw one. The riverbanks really were the best, though. A perfect spot to relax, sip on some iced sugar cane juice, made fresh with our volunteered help. The vendors passed up their curved blades and let us carve up the sugar cane before it was put through the mill. It was somehow one of the best experiences ever.
One thing I do remember, which was a recurring theme throughout pretty much everywhere we went, was the presence of tourism salesmen. They’d be standing on corners, or just be in any seemingly random place, attempting to attract the attention of foreigners to tell them about, in the case of Luang Prabong, elephant rides a few hours outside of the city. In Chiang Mai, it was a place you could go to pet docile tigers. There was something unnerving about the thought of those kinds of places…I don’t even like zoos very much, and I don’t think tigers are meant to be pet by random people paying money to do it. On a visit to Mexico, I remember seeing a baby lion and baby tiger being handled horribly by their supposed owners in the doorway of some random street-side business and it certainly pissed me off then. I’m not saying that these places in Asia (that I heard about but never went to) didn’t contribute in some positive way to animal welfare or ecological conservation, because some very well may have. And later on, Teresa and I did visit some sanctuaries that were definitely some of the best places an injured or at risk animal could be, allowing them to maintain their liveliness, and in some cases their ferociousness. But these touristy-seeming ones, if that makes any sense, just rubbed us the wrong way and we avoided them.
We never let it overshadow the absolute peaceful pleasure that was Luang Prabang. We had a lot of ground left to cover and only stuck around for three days, but it was a needed span of tranquility before moving on to Vientiane, Laos’s French-influenced Mekong-side capital.