Friday, August 16, 2013

Lao Trip 4.4 - Luang Phrabang

At first, I was unsure how long my time in Luang Prabang would be. I’d promised my wife that I wouldn’t be gone more than eight or nine days, so I had a cap to the overall trip I was duty-bound to respect, but what happened and where I was within that time frame was up to me.




My first full day in this World Heritage Site was spent walking around the city’s central historic section. I would have visited temples and temple grounds along the way, but they typically charged about 20,000 Kip to visit and there are at least twenty temples in the area, if not more – certainly a half dozen very famous ones.



I decided to save my money for beer and food (one expensive Beer Lao at a restaurant was the same price as on the slowboat: 10,000 Kip). The price of a typical temple visit would get me two 1.25 liter bottles of Beer Lao at a riverside restaurant, which was more of a value to me. Anyway, I could view all sorts of pictures and videos of the same temples, shot by others, uploaded onto the Internet.

I can hear you already thinking: “This guy travels all that way and doesn’t see some of the most famous sites?!” Well, I was really determined to keep this trip as cheap as I could get it and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back. I can save that tourist track stuff for another time.

  

It quickly became apparent to me that the city was totally geared to foreign tourists. As one waiter at a riverside restaurant mentioned to me, when we were having conversation where he was practicing his English, many of the locals call Luang Prabang “Falang City.” As testimony to this, guesthouses nearly outnumber private residences.

So, the opportunities to spend baht or kip or even dollars were everywhere. The challenge, really – if you wanted to be a “Cheap Charlie” like me – was to not be tempted to by anything you did not absolutely need or think “perfect” for another (like the silk scarf I got for Thip at the night market: perfect!).

  

After walking around the night market, I splurged on myself a little bit by buying a mini-pizza at a restaurant that specialized in them. There, I met Joe, a retired British world traveler. He came to my table facing the street and asked if I minded if he sat with me. About my age, he’s a solo traveler like me, but has seen lots more of it than I. Remember when I was bragging about being 64 and traveling on my own in Lao? Well, Joe puts my solo travels to shame.

I should have gotten contact info from him, but I didn’t, figuring we’d run into each other sometime during the subsequent days. Meeting people while you’re travelling is like that. One moment they are there, another moment gone. Thanks for some great conversation that night, Joe!

This would be the last time I’d eat at a restaurant the rest of the trip.

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