I love Luang Prabang. The pace of life isn't so much sedentary as almost completely stopped. Things trundle on as they like, everyone is very relaxed, and wandering around in the sunshine up and down French-styled streets doing a fat lot of nothing is a joy unto itself.
Having said that, Big Brother Mouse was very rewarding. We got to speak to two young students: Longneeher who is a 19 year old wanting to become a doctor, and Year who is 17 and wants to be either an English guide or teacher. Both of them were genuinely nice guys and very keen to learn. I helped Longneeher with the entire set of English irregular verbs, including some I hadn't seen outside of the world of fantasy ("smite", anyone? For those who are interested, the past tense and past participle are both "smote"). We spent a good two hours with them, and were very impressed with their grasp of English. I've had some comments when I speak a bit of Laotian to the locals; it goes down well with them. Some people seem to think that saying things slowly and loudly in English will help get the message across. I don't understand why people can't make a bit of effort to learn "hello", "please" and "thank you" - it'll take 5 minutes, and endear you a lot more.
We went to Wat Phousi in the evening which is a temple on a hill up about 300 steps. Very picturesque, but I'm beginning to get a little bit templed out. There's only so many times you can make a joke out of the word "Wat", and only so many identikit wats you can visit before you get wat fatigue.
Having eaten the night before at Dyen Sabai - an excellent and atmospheric restaurant on the other side of the Nam Khon where the staff operate a row boat across the river to get you in there - we had high hopes for Tamarind. However, we were a little disappointed. We were given fried seaweed and dips and sticky rice to start with, then two whole fish stuffed with lemongrass which you ate by making a wrap with lettuce leaves, various other fillings such as peanut, mint, coriander, and other veggies and herbs. This was covered in a rather nice sauce and ate with your fingers. This was followed by a dessert of fruits and some tamarind-soaked sticky rice. It was called their Pun Paa menu, but we paid 90,000 kip per person and we shared it with 4 other people; we came away feeling still slightly hungry and a little miffed - it wasn't a patch on Dyen Sabai. On the plus side, we made good friends with two Australian couples: Richard and Jenny, and Dave and Trish. Both couples were a delight, incredibly friendly, and both of them offered us a place to stay in Coffs Harbour when we get to Australia. We will certainly be taking them up on that! We also learned that you can get bottles of wine for $4 (about 2.50 GBP) in Oz, whilst beer goes for about 4 quid a pint. I think I know what we'll be choosing as our tipple of choice. The wine in Laos isn't completely sour, but let's just say that it's not something you'd choose to drink if you didn't have a meal to take away the taste...
The following day we decided to head indoors and visited the Royal Palace Museum in the morning, and the Ethnology Centre in the afternoon. The former also hosted a very interesting exhibition called Stories of the Mekong which described the life of the local rural Lao, Vietnam and Cambodian people. The latter was an introduction to various hilltribes in Lao (many of which are present in Thailand) and in particular the way they court and marry. Again, very interesting and highly recommended. In the evening we joined Lev and Julie for some food and drinks at Lao Lao Garden, which was very good. Well, food-wise anyway - I'm not convinced by the European travelling band and singer who managed to kill a good number of songs during the night. As a comparison, some of the night-time cover singers in Tunisia were better than this bunch.
Yesterday we decided to head out to Kouang Si waterfall with Julie and Lev. It was breathtakingly beautiful, the nicest waterfall of the 3 we've visited since leaving the UK. It had a bonus of also having an endangered animals rescue centre attached which contained a number of bears who had been saved from appalling conditions and who were chilling out in hammocks (seriously!) and a pool in the lower level along with a Tarzan swing which was cracking fun. 3.5 hours probably wasn't long enough.
In late afternoon we went to a wat in which a monk had approached me a couple of days previous and invited us to come and listen to their chanting at 5:30pm. We couldn't the previous days but were free then, so went along. It was interesting and seemed to be a couple of huge verses which some of the monks knew by rote, whilst others had books to refer to. A few other tourists also stopped by and we all sat at the back of the main temple (sin). I can't say it was particularly moving - perhaps I'm spiritually bankrupt - but it was a worthwhile experience nonetheless. Monks also walk the main street each morning at about 6am collecting alms from the locals but we've decided not to go and see that. It sounds like it had turned into a tourist "event" and we didn't want to intrude uninvited into what is effectively a religious ceremony just to take a few photos.
At night we decided to try an Indian restaurant. The food looked really nice but unfortunately only Gilly got to eat it. I had a samosa and then my fundoplication wrap from March decided it wasn't going to let me get any more food down. A fun hour and a half to and from the bathroom ensued. This morning I had the same issue at breakfast, and that was mainly just fruit. I've had to make do with eating ice cream and fruit shakes today. I've got no idea if this is going to continue but it really isn't enjoyable, and I am perpetually hungry, for obvious reasons!
Tonight we decided to get a couple of tickets to the Royal Luang Prabang Theatre to watch an excerpt from the Laos version of the Ramayana along with some custom dancing and other bits. The whole thing lasts an hour so shouldn't outstay its welcome if it really isn't our thing. We're fairly hopeful, though.
Tomorrow we're leaving Luang Prabang behind, and getting a minibus to Vang Vieng. This is the home of "tubing": sitting in a rubber ring, floating down the river and getting pulled into various bars en route and given free shots, playing bar games and generally joining other rowdy backpackers. Could either be a lot of fun, or a big mess. I guess we will see.