I love going on weekend trips that somebody else researches and plans and all I have to do is show up. I went on such a trip a couple of weeks ago to Phnom Penh that my friend Dianne organised and it was great. It inspired me to spend a couple of days of my October holiday somewhere. But as everyone else I knew had already planned trips long ago, I knew I would be doing it by myself. I’d heard about Luang Prabang in Laos (or is it Lao – I still don’t know), so on Saturday, I booked a trip to leave the following Wednesday.
Here is the sum total of all the knowledge I had of Luang Prabang before going:
- it’s in the mountains so the weather is cooler
- the town is world heritage listed and really only has one street
- there are monks that collect alms in the morning – very early
So keeping this information in mind, I packed my hand luggage bag the night before the trip. I packed for cooler weather – jeans, long skirts and a jumper. I double-checked that I had my passport and a credit card in the unlikely event I had forgotten something important.
I was on the plane when I realised I had forgotten my charger for my phone. This is not a big problem. I knew I would be able to pick one up probably at the airport since this was a tourist town. Once I was at the airport, I totally forgot to do this.
Instead, I was preoccupied with getting cash. I had bought with me enough US dollars to get the visa on arrival but that didn’t leave me with much more so my first priority was to find an ATM and get some more dollars. For some reason, I thought that the system in Laos was similar to Cambodia and the ATMs would spit out US dollars so I panicked when the ATM gave me options in a currency I had no idea about. The local currency is Kip. I had no idea what the exchange rate was for a Kip so I picked a random number and withdrew that amount. Later in the hotel when I finally had wifi and could check the exchange rate, I discovered that I’d probably withdrawn enough for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of days.
Silver lining #1 – now I’m sorted cash-wise for my next trip to Laos!
Once leaving the airconditioned sanctuary of the airport and the transfer vehicle to the hotel, I was hit by the sweltering midday heat. It reached the mid 30s each day I was there. This cooler climate that I had prepared for was not happening. Needless to say, my jumper never came out of the bag but I had to suffer with the jeans as the only other item I had was a long skirt and with the heat, I wanted to avoid chafe issues that have been a blight on previous trips.
Silver lining #2 – although not temperature appropriate my dress did tick the boxes for modesty and being sun safe!
I sweated through lunch at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel whilst my room was being prepared and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the a/c waiting for the sun to go down. Once it did, I slid on my jeans and took the shuttle into town to find the night market and a charger. I did find a charger. It cost 50 000 Kip. Is this a reasonable price? Who knows! But I was Kip rich so I paid it and got out of there.
Silver lining #3 – if I was overcharged, I’m sure the money is going to some Lao child’s education, feeding, clothing or whatever so in the end, money well spent.
My charger wasn’t the only thing I forgot to pack though. I also forgot to pack my pyjamas.
There is no silver lining here. Forgetting one’s pjs is always a disaster.
So now I’ve arrived and survived the first night in LP. What to do with my remaining two days? I had been told that seeing the monks collecting alms in the morning was a must do despite having to get up at ridiculous o’clock. One of the guests at the hotel told me she was doing a full day tour that started with the monks and she was getting up at 4:30am so she could be picked up at 5:15 am. I said to her she should sleep in her clothes so she didn’t have to get up before 5:00 am. When working, I get up at 5:00 am. I don’t want to have to do that on holidays. So I wrote the monks off.
The next morning I was woken up by some tuneless chanting. I threw on my bathroom robe and headed out to the balcony of my room which looked over the street and there below me were the monks collecting alms. Tick! Two minutes later I was back in bed.
After a leisurely breakfast, I took one of the free hotel bikes and rode into town in my jeans. I had a pleasant morning viewing temples, riding around the river and checking out the town. By midday, my jeans kept sliding down as there was a film of liquid sweat between me and them so I headed back to the hotel and the pool. On the way back I saw a grown woman squatting outside a shop taking a shit. It was a busy street but she was unperturbed. She was just squatting there, over a freshly laid turd, texting on her phone like it was the most normal thing in the world. Just as she did, I’m going to leave that with you.
The highlight of the trip for me was a sunset cruise on the Mekong river. I had a table for one but I chatted with a couple from Perth and we made a merry party. Our departure was delayed after I ordered the last glass of white wine on the boat so the manager had to run back into town for another bottle. Two Perth ladies and only one glass of SB was not going to work!
On my last day, I fell down the stairs as I was heading to breakfast. I twisted my ankle badly and my foot is very swollen. I still made it to breakfast but I spent the rest of the time before my departure in my room watching bad American tv with my foot up on a pillow.
Silver lining #4 – I actually wanted to spend my last morning just watching junk tv in the a/c but felt guilty about not getting out and about. Being crippled meant that the guilt went away!
Some people think that when it comes to travelling, preparation is key. I disagree. I think preparation runs the risk of ruining a good story!