Today I am in Luang Prabang. I got in last night at about 6 p.m. from Luang Nam Tha. The journey took about 8 ½ hours. When I arrived at the bus station, there were a few nice buses, but I was put on an older bus with no air con and standard school bus seats. Since there weren’t that many people traveling (12 including a baby and the driver), they moved us to a van. The van was from the 80s, VERY tightly packed with no leg room, and barely fit us. All the falangs (me and 2 Japanese girls) were put in the back. I had heard stories of chickens riding on buses in SE Asia, but I kind of thought I would never be on one of these buses. However, riding on the top, strapped on with all our luggage, was a poor chicken in a potato sack with a cage-ish door at the top.
The ride was VERY long and VERY bumpy. The majority of the road had really bad spots, so it was impossible to sleep, or even read. At the beginning of the ride we passed over a huge bump and me and the girls in the back practically hit their heads on the ceiling. The Japanese girls screamed at the top of their lungs, which I thought was hilarious, and the Laotians sitting in front turned around to stare at them.
At some point during our journey, we stopped to pick up a young couple and their baby. The Japanese girls and I looked at each other like wtf? Where will they fit? Their were 3 rows in the van, plus a row up front with the driver. The rows consisted of 1 seat, then a tiny aisle, and then 2 seats connected to each other. Well our new passengers were made seats by putting a pillow over the space between the single seat and the double seat to connect them. We had 16 people in a van that intends to seat 11. And chickens on the roof.
I must say the drive was beautiful, even though it was extremely uncomfortable. Northern Laos is so beautiful and green, with mountains, rivers, valleys, etc. All along the road were little huts made of straw, wood, and occasionally cement, comprising a village. We probably passed about 50 of these small settlements. I wondered what the people did for work and what they ate, if they went to school, if they spoke their own dialects.
Today was my first day wandering around Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO protected World Heritage city. While I was eating breakfast, a young girl approached me trying to sell me jewelry. I’m a pretty hard sell, especially when it comes to souvenirs (I have no where to put them), so I told her no thanks. She started asking me all kinds of questions about myself and I was impressed with her English speaking ability. She also let me ask her heaps of questions and so I ended up buying one of her bracelets. Then she asked me to buy her a fruit shake, which I obliged, because I wanted to find out more about her life. 3 of her friends stopped by within minutes of each other and asked me if I would buy them a fruit shake too. I laughed to myself and wondered how many tourists bought each of them a fruit shake every day? She told me she was 12-years old and was on holiday from school. Her mom apparently makes the bracelets that she was selling. She had 3 years left of high school, then she wanted to go t Vientiane (the capital) and study to be a doctor. Her parents were out of town so she was staying with another friend of hers who was also 12. She learned how to drive a motorbike when she was 10.