Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sometimes serenity...

After Chiang Mai, there are no more trains; it is the end of the line. My choices were bus or bus and boat: since I envisage quite a lot of bus travel coming up and the boat trip down the Mekong is made to sound less than appealing, thanks to the hard seats and the overcrowding for two days at a stretch, I took the easy way out. I flew in to Luang Prabang, on Lao Airlines, an airline which apparently has a Government Health warning in the USA. It was absolutely fine, the same model plane is has been used until recently by Air New Zealand on its domestic routes. They even provided a meal (typical Laotian fare of crabsticks and croissant) along with a beer to wash it down.

Sometimes, when places have been talked about a lot, it becomes hard for the reality to match the anticipation. The Taj Mahal was a great example: when I saw it for real, my reaction was one of "is that all"? So, when people rave about the quiet and peace of Luang Prabang, you have to wonder. But it lived up to its reputation and then some. Just contrast my walk out to the Chiang Mai airport with my walk in from Luang Prabang. The first featured a four lane highway, a flyover, a shopping mall, countless traffic, noise, air pollution - the works. The second was like a walk along a country lane - such traffic as there was was mainly kids on bikes. Of course, once in town my sense of direction failed me completly: Luang Prabang is set on a finger of land three streets wide, between the Mekong and one of its tributories. After dumping my bags at the first Guest House I found, I set off to find the river. What I found instead was a dwindling gravel path in near complete darkness. Starting afresh, with a good look at the map, I found the river and dined in one of the many restaurants set into its banks.

By the end of my first full day, I was thinking that, yes, its very quiet, very serene, but just a bit, um, dull. I'd done the night market, walked the length of the main street several times, had my dinner and a drink, and was back in my new riverside guesthouse by 8:20. I even went out and watched some football, just to get out of the room, because town was very quiet, very quickly.

By the time for me to go, on the morning of my fourth day, I was thinking "can't I just stay here, it is so nice in this soft bed" and I could feel a full on lax mode taking over. I was getting used to the fact that there was hardly any traffic, not really a lot of people, and all restaurants except for the pizza one were pretty much empty of an evening. I'd found a good breakfast place, which served nice warm crusty slightly sweet baguettes (which probably explained why I'd had a dream about them). I had some books and lots of music - why move? The serenity had got to me.

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