19 August 2002

12. - 19 AUG: Vientiane to Luang Prabang

Wake up early for a walk around the capital town, nothing much really to write home about. Amazing to see rich Thailand across the river from Vientiane. Breakfast at Scandinavian Bakery near the waterfront. Sweden has been a long time friend and donor to Laos, maybe this is why? Or perhaps there are enough Swedish NGOs here that some entrepreneurial local decided to make money catering for them? After cappuccino and croissant we are off to the airport...

A short hop and we land at the airport of Luang Prabang (the City of the Golden Buddha), which is small, clean and pleasant. The moment we stepped out of the terminal building to look for transportation to town we realized that a young snooty boy in jeans was directing all the tuk-tuk traffic, and we would not get a ride unless we dealt with him. He controlled a sort of cartel, so that the fixed price – for foreigners! – was set at 10,000 kip (1 US dollar) per person, whether the tuk-tuk would depart with just one passenger or fill up with six. It was annoying to feel again impotent in the face of the boy’s overbearing behaviour, but we had no choice, and anyway the amount of money involved did not justify wasting any more time arguing with him. Not that this ie news to me: I have taxis in Rome charging Japanese tourists as much as they pay in Tokyo for a taxi ride from Narita (which is about 200 dollars last I heard).

We start looking for a place to stay and land at the most inappropriately named Heritage Guesthouse, which has very little heritage indeed, mouldy and damp. We keep looking until we find the Say Nam guesthouse, not far from the river, run by a frendly lady who speaks good French. It’s a deal... We check in and off we go to rent bicycles, 1 dollar a day, no deposit, no identification papers, it’s all done on trust. Bikes are great here: very little traffic, the city is rather flat, and easy to park ;-)

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