Sunday, June 26, 2016
Four days in Luang Prabang Laos - Days 19, 20, 21, & 22
It was around 8pm by the time we got off the Mekhong river boat and got settled into our room. We got a room at Noknoy hotel in Luang Prabang on a street next to the Dara Market. We went to the Dara market to eat. There was a little side street with all the food. We turned down and were overwhelmed by the options, but we ultimately settled on a vegetarian buffet where you pay extra for the meat (see photos) less than $2.00. We did some browsing at the market bought two small knives then headed back and reserved a motorcycle for the next day. So the next day we ate our complimentary breakfast and the motorcycles arrived. Unfortunately the one we were offered was substandard and too small. So I refused to rent it and walked down the street and got a nearly new one for the same price ($7.00 a day) that was not all beat up and old with high mileage. So we headed off to the Kuang Si waterfalls an hour away. Spent half the day there. Went all the way to the top of the mountain on a make shift path of roots, stones, and bricks all covered by slippery algae in my Chacos (gotta love Chacos, best $100 I've spent). Drenched in sweat but well worth the effort. On the way back went to the elephant sanctuary and fed a baby elephant for an hour. Then I headed back had dinner and read a book. The next day I went to the Airport and got our tickets reserved for Hanoi. We had to buy a visa a day in advance, but my passport was being held by the motorcycle rental company. So I had to ask the lady to refund me but instead she agreed to go with us to the Vietnam Consulate because she had a friend there who would make it easier so that I wouldn't have to return the motorbike. We paid the $50 each fee for the expedited visas and were told to return the next day at 10am for the passports and visas. Next we went to Lao Airlines and paid for our tickets, they said they accepted cash or VISA but when we tried to pay with a VISA they said the machine was down. So we paid cash. They accept dollars, kip, or Thai Baht here in Laos.... 8100 kip = $1.00 and 35 Thai baht is $1.00 and it gets more and more confusing. By the time our stuff was done it was late so we went to Tamarind restaurant for dinner. The best food in town. So you get sticky rice, form a ball in your palm, then there are four pastes to choose from to dip it in. Water buffalo paste, smoked chile peppers, another pickled vegetable spicy, and lettuce wraps with a peanut sauce and dried water buffalo kinda like teriyaki jerky and a dried seaweed paper. This restaurant is owned by an American who is married to a Lao man and they have kids. She used to be a food critic all over Asia. The food is very well known, it's on the river, and the place is always busy so you need reservations $20.00 cost for two including drinks. That evening I took a walk along the Mekhong river to check out some table tennis game I had passed on the scooter. As I passed by the gentleman kindly asked me if I would like to play and handed me the ball and paddle. Of course I accepted! I played his 14 year old son three consecutive games...two of which went into overtime and we had an audience of locals watching as some of the volleys were lengthy. They were laughing and oohing and ahing as we played and talking in Vietnamese...one guy offered me a shot of something in a shot glass which in his other hand he was holding a waterbottle with what appeared to be moonshine, which I kindly declined several times...trying not to disrespect him. We had fun and I was drenched in sweat and I had lost all three close games. Come to find out the kid was a tennis champ and had traveled throughout Asia in tournaments. So the next day we pretty much tied up loose ends on souvenirs and revisiting places we liked, then headed to the airport for Hanoi. This is where the fun began. We got on the twin prop plane as scheduled at 5:10pm. We taxied out to the runway and the pilot goes full throttle as normal and as I thought we would be lifting off, instead the pilot hits the brakes hard! I didn't think we had enough runway left to stop. Luckily we did! We taxied back to the terminal and were told to exit the plane while the engineers checked the speed gauge. We waited an hour, and re- boarded the plane. We taxied back out and increased to half normal speed then we went back to the terminal with a different problem. At this point I didn't want to get back on and neither did any of the other passengers. I could tell it was an old plane by the ashtrays in the arm rests. So we exited the plane and waited another hour and a half, this time we were told to board a different newer plane. Finally we took off. An hour later we landed in Hanoi. So we met another traveler from Korea who spoke good English and lived in Virginia who was also trying to get to the old quarter by Hoa Kiem Lake and wanted to split a taxi with us. So we agreed to pay 25 or 30 usd not sure for the 35 minute drive over. The drive was shocking to say the least...you wanted to just close your eyes...lanes do not exist and blinkers do not exist, but horns reign supreme! No one makes an abrupt move or someone wrecks. They drive on the right like in the US and don't drive too fast but they come in every direction including the wrong way on the highway...lol. More on that later. We somehow arrived at our hotel ....The Elegance Diamond hotel and spa. We got our bags and I handed our friend $40 usd and told him to pay the driver and keep the change that was all we had. We were formally greeted by 5 very friendly staff of the hotel who immediately took care of all our needs even gave us cold water and fresh fruit, juice and cold towels as soon as we arrived, and we didn't even have reservations. This was the beginning of a great stay in Hanoi!