I first went to Luang Prabang in 2007 on a whim. I had spent way too much time on Thai beaches, so I bought a plane ticket to Laos without knowing a thing. I ended up in Luang Prabang and loved it because of its laid-back charm and friendly people. I remember kids running and trying to say hello to me as I left the airport.
Oh, how times have changed! But we’ll get back to that later. First, the journey to LP.
The original plan was to get a local bus from Chiang Rai to the Thai-Laos boarder, cross over, go to the bus station on the Laos side, then catch a bus to LP the same day. That didn’t happen. I ended up getting stuck at some small, boarder station in Laos for almost a day. Since I didn’t want to pay for a ride into the city and I wanted to guarantee a seat on the LP bus the next morning, I booked a room in a very sad bus motel. And it was freezing as heck.
The next day, I secured a good seat next to a window and with room for my legs to dangle. The bus driver estimated eight hours. It took almost 12 hours. The nightmare bus ride started well. The driver even bought all the passengers some roadside corn. A lanky Dutchman kept whining to the bus driver that he should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus instead of the back because he was so tall. That went on for six hours until someone left the bus early.
After lunch time, we continued on. The bus driver picked up a local guy along the way and gave him a little stool for him to sit on the aisle next to me. Then this man proceeded to vomit for the rest of the ride, probably another six hours. Thank you motion sickness pills! Also included in the bus ride from hell, a momentary stop because the bus driver felt the need to help a very big tour bus which got stuck in the mud and a momentary stop when the only road leading to LP was blocked by construction at 16:00.
We finally arrived in LP in what felt like forever. I had planned to meet my French friend, Perrine, that night, but because of all the delays, I told her to meet the next day. But on the tuk-tuk from the bus station to my hostel, I saw Perrine walking.
When I got to my hostel, I entered the lobby and saw a girl in a Lao hoodie. I said to her, “Excuse me, I have a reservation for tonight.” The girl turned around and just stared at me, mouth opened. And then it clicked. The girl is Eun-hye, my former student at Kaplan in 2008. “Elaine?” she said. “Eun-hye?” I said. Then she proceeded to hit me (playful hitting).
After a lot of shock, a short chit-chat and actually checking in with someone who works at the hostel, I dropped off my stuff in my dorm room where I saw Elaine, a friend I met in Mandalay, Myanmar. We were trying to catch up at the same time, but I was still trying to meet Perrine. Indeed, it was a very strange day.
Today, LP is a mecca for backpackers. Everywhere I went, there were hostels, hotels, souvenir shops, travel agencies and spas. It definitely wasn’t as quiet as it used to be. But the vibe was still there.
Perrine and I scoped out the LP eating scene and fell in love with Khao nom kok (Lao-style coconut pancakes). These little things were to die for! And with a ridiculously large cup of coffee, I was in heaven.
Perrine and I did some pretty heavy eating. (We had two dinners in a span of three hours.) It was sad to see my eating buddy go, but my clothes were thankful not a lot of damage was done.
Eun-hye and I didn’t spend a lot of time together. She went back to Korea a day after I arrived. But it was still pretty amazing that we met at all. It is indeed a small world!
Other Elaine and I met for coffee and cake. She had very limited time in LP. And we got to chat some more as my dorm-mate.
And I had a fish pedicure with Skotta and Aldis, my Icelandic pizza buddies. We also ate cake, had buffet and ate plenty of sandwiches in Luang Prabang.
As for sites in LP, I really didn’t do too much except socialize with old acquaintances. I treated myself to more cakes and coffee that sights. Also, I had been to the main sights already. Luang Prabang has changed a lot. For the better? I’m not sure. In 2007, it was a very sleepy town next to a river. Now, backpackers left and right have invaded its quietness. But the place still has its quirks. Somehow, if you find a place next to the river, it’s easy to get back to that sleepiness… unless you down an extra large cup of Laotian coffee. Then, you’ll just be buzzing.