We spent a whole 4 nights in Oudom Xay, a town that people usually pass through on their way somewhere else. I can't say that our television didn't play a part in this. But the fresh baguettes with "Vache Qui Rit" cheese and the deep fried pancakes drenched in butter and condensed milk were also contributing factors. Oh yeah, we did our laundry too.
Oudom Xay is the major trading hub with the Chinese, apparently 80% of people here have Chinese origins. After being in China for so long it was a relief to be able to negotiate in Chinese again, we felt quite at home. We did a one day trek with the local tourist office that is trying enthousiastically to keep people in Oudom Xay for more than a few hours. It was cheap and it was pleasant our guide liked to continuously make the joke that he was Tarzan, hanging from vines making quasi Tarzan-like sounds. He would say "I'm Tarzan" which sounded to me like "I'm faza" and everytime I would respond "who's faza?". The tours only started operating this year, and the Hmong village that we passed through had only had visits from tourists twice before. The village chief welcomed us into his home where we shared the family lunch of boiled banana flours and sticky rice. Other than making the children cry hysterically and pee their pants I think it went very well.
After three nights in Oudom Xay, we reluctantly boarded a bus to Mouang Kwa, another small village. Our plan was to take a slow boat down the apparently beautiful Nam Ou river, starting from Mouang Kwa. When we arrived, fairly early in the day, we were informed that there were no boats leaving unless we wanted to pay 70$ US to charter one. We would have to wait and see if more tourists would show up to share the cost with us. No one did. So we had a relaxing evening in a beautiful guest house overlooking the river. The next morning we arrived at the boat landing hoping for more tourists, we waited all morning and no one showed up. We attempted to negotiate the price, which was impossible. Considering the average annual salary in Laos is 1600$ we felt that 70$ for a 3 hour boat ride was a little much. We had to turn back. Where did we end up? Back in Oudom Xay for another night of HBO!
What we noticed on arrival is that I had left my raincoat in Mouang Kwa. By this point we were pretty discouraged about having to forego our boat trip and this was very hard to deal with in a calm manner. After discussing the possibility of taking the 4 hour bus ride back to Mouang Kwa and hoping that my jacket was still lying on the bench outside the bus station, we decided to ask the Oudom Xay bus station if they could contact the Mouang Kwa bus station and get them to put my jacket on the next bus. Sound simple? Mouang Kwa bus station has no telephone, in fact Mouang Kwa gets electricity for three and half hours every evening. Despite these setbacks, the English speaking woman at the Oudom Xay bus station managed to contact someone in Mouang Kwa on her mobile phone, who then walked to the bus station, found my coat and put it on the next morning's bus.
Waiting for my raincoat to arrive meant that we caught the last bus to Louang Prabang (biggest tourist destination in Laos) and arrived there at 8:30 PM in the busiest season of the year. We walked for 2 hours trying to find a guest house that wasn't full. We ended up on the outskirts of the tourist area, in a bedroom over a small shop selling baby clothes. There was no sign indicating it was a guesthouse but the owner flagged us down as we walked down the street (probably looking pretty discouraged). We got a room with two single beds and a private bathroom with hot shower for a mere 4$ US. The going rate for budget accomodation in the central area is about 20$ US. We have now been in Louang Prabang for three days taking advantage of our extremely cheap accomodations. This means more to spend on the touristy stuff. Louang Prabang is absolutely overrun with tourists, more than we have seen in the entire two months in China. It has so many fancy restaurants, western food (including lovely wine lists). Of course, none of this is within our budget, but we can still live it up on the cheap. For lunch we've been getting baguette sandwiches with sliced roasted chicken breast, tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, onions and cucumbers for 5000K each (50 cents US). The Lao have mastered western food considerably better than the Chinese. Its funny to see the Lao line up for their sandwiches, they fill it with dried shredded pork, spicy chili sauce and maybe a squirt of fish sauce. The baguette however, is universally appreciated.
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