Saturday, December 6, 2008
A poor but relatively sparsely populated country, Lao is an eruption of sensory stimuli. Like an onion, each layer you peel off has a stronger impact -- and might even make you cry a little. We arrived at the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge border crossing after our night train from Bangkok pulled into the station roughly 6 hours late. Considerably spry after crossing the border on foot, we watched the other tourists pay exorbitant prices to hop in personal jumbo tuk-tuks while we nestled in the back of a 50 cent bus with the locals. After a few stops to let out the older women and their live chickens, we arrived in capital city Vientiane.
There are a surprising number of NGOs working in Lao, and Vientiane is crawling with United Nations Land Rovers and do-gooders with fair trade tshirts walking hurriedly around. As a side effect of this, there is *the most incredible food* we have found on our trip thus far. For under ten dollars you can have a huge french steak with pommes frites and a 40 oz beerlao and a large pizza with the works and a crepe suzette for dessert. Bummed about missing Thanksgiving, I was yearning for something vaguely reminiscent of home. Lucky me, I found a place serving a turkey sandwich with cranberries and stuffing; to top it off, they were playing Christmas music amid dangling shiny ornaments. Satiated and nostalgic, we moved on to the old French colonial town of Luang Prabang.
Palm trees loiter around whitewashed french mansions with opened shutters, saffron-robed monks collect alms beneath blooming azaleas, little kittens purr for attention at my feet and I enjoy my lusciously thick spaghetti carbonara amid broad-leafed houseplants twisted with white christmas lights. Oh, but I am sure your Thursday evening was nice too. Enjoying perfect (mid 70s and sunny) weather, we ambled through the streets, discovering historical Wats that house different sects of buddhist monks. We returned in the evening to listen to the monks' nightly chanting, their solemn repetitions bouncing off of the large gold buddha in the temple and into the evening sky.