Just off the main road in Laos where the famous night market takes place every evening is Phou Si hill which has beautiful views at sunset. I take a stroll up -at about 100m its a breeze compared to the trekking i've done so far. The temple at the top is set amongst the trees and costs around 30,000 to enter. Gold Buddhas sit amongst the leaves with their blank eyes staring out, their Buddha hands stretched out front -fingers delicately curled. The sun is just setting like caramel into a peachy haze of a sky – the Mekong river is a milk chocolate ribbon spinning out below. Its a view good enough to eat – unfortunatley every other tourist in Luang Prabang thinks so too and is up here with me. Pah! Never mind. As I head down the hill the other popular tourist attraction – the colourful night market stalls are just setting up and the view down on the road is laced with bright pink and red canopies of the traders tents.
I have a chicken and avocado baguette sandwich and look at the wares. They have beautiful Lao silk sarongs, scarves, purses and bags. I buy a bright red shoulder bag with woven white and green pattern for 23000kip (One pound fifty after bartering of course.) I then snack on my favourite street food – little fried patties of coconut milk stuck together and served in a banana leaf basket – it costs about 30p.
There are a variety of excursions you can do in Luang Prabang including visits to the local villages, elephant trekking and bathing and caves to visit. I'm planning to visit the elephants in Cambodia and have had enough of jungle trekking for a while – so I just take a local tuk tuk to the big waterfall in the area which costs 30,000.
The waterfalls are lovely, a series of milky green pools leading up to a froth of cascading water – but its filled with those damn tourists again. I realise as much as I like Luang Prabang I am now a traveller proper – and the presence of people on holiday for a few days with money to burn and accents to grate is wearisome. Oh dear - I was sure that travelling would make me more open, warm and accepting of people - but every now and again it does just help enforce national stereotypes. I join a German couple to trek to the top of the waterfall – which as its a very steep and muddy slope is somewhat of a mistake in flipflops but the view is pretty and we have told the tuk tuk driver 3 hours so what else will I do!
Then when I get down I go for a swim in the bathing area. The water is cool but refreshing. There is a rope that you can swing off and jump in but i'm not feeling brave enough for that today and am quite happy just to submerge myself like a little hippo in the shallow end. I spend the rest of my time there sipping a green tea in the cafe near huge peach coloured trumpets of the tropical blooms and the enormous armchair sized palm leaves. When I get back I buy a latte and slice of pumpkin pie as a snack and then later go for dinner and another speciality – fried bamboo and pork with sticky rice which is delicous.
The next day and the patient is out! And Maaike and Dominik the other half of our Gibbon experience team are back so we reunite and hobble slowly to a bar and restaurant for dinner. Ben is in good spirits and like any 19 year old boy quite excited I think by all the attention. We go to Lao Lao garden – a touristy but cool western bar that has outdoor tables and is strung with fairy lights. Its playing good music and has cheap cocktails. Dominik orders another Luang Prabang speciality – a BBQ – and the waiters pull back a slat on the table to create the space for the fire and then brings a ceramic urn with a trough around the side for the broth and noodles and vegetables to cook that is placed over the heat. A separate platter contains the slivers of diferent meat along with a large chunk of white greasy fat that is placed on the top of the BBQ to provide the grease to cook the meal. After a while I say:
Your broth is running out you need to top it up”
“I know!” exclaims Dominik – “ This is very stressful!”
I have decided to take the Australian couple's advice who I met in Luang Namtha and go on a little road (or river trip) up North a bit to a village called Nong Kiaw. Its out of my way but I just have a good feeling about it.