You know, when I planned this trip, I thought 5 weeks in SE Asia would be plenty. Actually, it seemed intimidatingly long. Now I feel rushed!
Chaing Mai was beautiful, cheap, and fun, and I met some cool travelers (Stephan, Jess, Karine, Gary, Emma, Matthieu, and James) and some cool locals (Pan, Bond, and Ton). So if a voice boomed from the Heavens and said, "Jake, you have to stay in Chaing Mai another week," I'd be happy as a clam. But 5 weeks is 5 weeks, so I'm gonna keep on keeping on.
You know, it's the same conundrum you have when you're diving. In the Perhentians, on a dive off Palau Redang, we found a turtle that just didn't care we were there. I mean like 2 feet away, and it'd just look at you and keep munching its grasses. How cool! You have one hour of air. How long do you stay looking at the turtle? When do you decide to continue exploring?
You know, it's the same conundrum you have all your life.
Of course, feeling like you want to spend more time in a place is the best way to feel, n'est-ce pas? So no complaints here.
I stayed in Chaing Mai for Pan's birthday (how old is she? 12? 24? 40? I can never tell with Thais), and then caught an overnight bus to Chaing Khong, a tiny crossing point on the Thai/Laos border. I took a bunch of photos of this gate. It's just super cool:
Through the gate, you cross the Mekong on a little skiff and voila, you're in Laos. The Laos border is guarded by a military guy sitting under a parasol armed with a whistle. The whistle was, I admit, a big, official-looking thing. I didn't try any funny stuff. (In England, I remember a copy of the Magna Carta that was guarded by an old lady with a whistle. Can whistles do something I don't know about?) From Huay Xai, the Lao version of Chaing Khong, there's a dock lined with long wooden beautiful boats:
The boats were so beautiful I opted to take a 2-day ride down the Mekong. You know what else is beautiful? Laos:
And this next photo is half to show you the boat, and half because the girl taking a photo here is unbelievably beautiful. I don't mean that in an obnoxious barstool way, I mean really beautiful. Jet black hair with sapphire blue eyes. Her boyfriend is stocky and wears a fanny pack. They're both really nice.
As you can likely tell, the boat carries mostly tourists. Some locals used it to get from village to village, and the boat must've been carrying a few dozen bags of rice in the hold, since we'd periodically stop and deliver rice to a village here or there. The rice bags were white and labeled WFP. When we'd stop, the villagers would come out to the sand and stare at us just like we were staring at them:
Outside of the villages, you just had uninterrupted views right out of National Geographic. Unbelievable green. Trees like you wouldn't believe. And every now and again, you'd see fishermen (or fisherkids) out on their longboats or casting their nets:
We get to Pak Beng where we'll stop for the night, and Pak Beng is, again, this sleepy little fishing village on the lushest mountainside. Here's the view of the Mekong from the veranda where I ate:
The next morning, back on the boat for another 7 hour steam. Destination: Luang Prabang.
If the seats weren't so darn wooden, I could've stayed on that boat forever. But after another 7 picturesque hours, we arrived at Luang Prabang. It's quiet here, and despite being a well-known attraction and a Unesco world heritage site, the whole place seems empty and sleepy. I felt like I went back in time as I was wandered around looking for a place to stay. I'll write more on Luang Prabang in the next entry -- I've only been here one day so far -- but let me just say it's unbelievable. Wat's everywhere, you can't turn your head without seeing monks, and the architecture is enough to make me, an architectural ignoramus, enchanted. Those Unesco people got this place right.
(Usually Unesco says something like "The Red Square, Moscow" or "The Pyramids of Giza, Cairo," but for here, it's simply "The Town of Luang Prabang." Every street corner is a treat. It really is.)
After that extended parenthetical, I oughta give you a one photo teaser, just to show a little of the anachronism that is Luang Prabang:
The guesthouse I'm staying at isn't that wildly different from most. The prices are pretty standard ($8 a night for shared bathroom), and the places are all sorta roughly the same. But this one had SUCH A CUTE PUPPY!
AWWwwww, I wuv you!
You know how I said there are monks everywhere here? One of three in this internet cafe right now:
Okay, I'm off to lunch! Bye bye from Laos!