Wednesday 23 August, cloudy, fine, thunderstorms, foggy, 33°
We got up at 6:30am and headed down for our breakfast at 7am ( after we had made sure that the gecko who shared our room last night was ok ). Breakfast this morning was eggs in a bread roll ( it's funny that after a while of travelling you get less fussy about what you eat at what time of day ) and we also picked up our packed lunch ( chicken in a bread roll ). One of the things that the French left behind when they were kicked out of this part of the world was the ability to make great bread.
I went for a quick walk up and down the street to stretch my legs and then we grabbed our bags and walked down to the boat dock at 8am for our 9am boat. I had heard that the boat for the second day was smaller ( they use different boats for the 2 days, our captain from yesterday took his boat back to Huay Xai today with passengers doing the 2 day trip in the opposite direction to us ) and it was harder to get a seat. This wasn't the case and there was plenty of room, but there were no tables on this boat.
While we were waiting to leave we saw an elephant and mahout on the other bank of the Mekong walking along the shore.
The boat left at 9:30am ( close to the scheduled 9am departure in 'Laos time' ) and we headed off again. Not a lot different today than what we saw yesterday, if anything the villages became more remote and the countryside more rugged.
At some stage a group of woman got on with big plastic bags with something green in them. We couldn't see what it was at first ( it looked like green wool ) but then they starting spreading it out on the floor and sorting it. Eventually I wandered up to the front of the boat to take some photos and asked the "lady with the baby" what it was, and she explained that it was river slime from the rocks that they had collected, and would dry it and use it in cooking. She then said "we will eat anything". Which I thought was at the same time practical and a little sad.
Also a little sad is the ease at which the locals toss their rubbish overboard from the boat. We saw this many times and it seems to be the norm.
Nearer to Luang Prabang we saw some tunnelling work on the hill on one side of the river and a building site on the other. We would see this type of work going on all the way to Vientiane, and it turns out there is a Chinese backed high speed rail line being built to link the Laos / China border to Vientiane, via Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. This is obviously a massive deal for Laotians as it will open the country up to much easier access ( the trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane will take a couple of hours rather that the 13 hour (at best) bus trip it is now ), but it might also ruin the appeal of this out of the way country, with it's had to reach places.
And then we were at Luang Prabang at 5pm. Well actually we were at the boat dock for Luang Prabang, which is about 10km from town. The boats used to tie up at the dock right in town ( and many of the day boats and cruises still do ) but we suspect they just wanted the tuk tuk drivers to be able to earn a living, so moved it out of town. probably the same reason most bus stations in SE Asian countries are outside of town.
After the free for all for our bags ( the man pulling them up from under the floor was keen to throw the bags onto a pile, even if the person whose bag it was was standing next to him and made it clear it was their bag ) we climbed the 30 steps up to the top of the river bank and went to the tuk tuk office. This was a well organised system where you bought a ticket for the tuk tuk ( K20,000 each ) and then got on the next available tuk tuk. Of course the tuk tuk driver was keen to get as many people onboard as possible to maximise the profit for the trip, but ours could only get 4 of us in.
So off we went into town, and found the Cold River Guesthouse ( after our tuk tuk driver corrected my pronunciation of the name to something more like 'colriv' ) and we checked in. The guest house is run by a French couple with their 2 children and they were super friendly. We dropped our bags in our room and went for a quick walk into the centre of Luang Prabang ( about 15 minutes walk ) to get our bearings, stretch our legs and have a look at the night market which happens in the main street every night.
We instantly developed a liking for Luang Prabang; it is a lovely compact town, with a mixture of traditional and colonial architecture, and more importantly has nice feel to it. We walked through the market and then down to the river front, and watched some of the boats come and go, then headed back towards our guesthouse and had dinner at La Silapa, an Italian / Laos / Thai restaurant. We didn't opt for Italian! Another inexpensive dinner ( K160,000 / NZ$26 ).
We waked back to our guesthouse after grabbing supplies, with a quick stop to photograph a couple of Buddha, at 8pm. At around 9pm the shutters on the outside of our windows started to slam shut and a massive thunderstorm rolled through with torrential rain. This is the biggest storm we have seen so far on our trip, and even the owners of the guesthouse commented on how powerful it was. Apparently the weather in the last few days has been unusually hot and humid, and so this was hopefully needed to clear the air a bit.
We have a day without travel tomorrow ( for the first time in 3 days ) so a chance to relax a bit and look around Luang Prabang