So this morning, I walked over to the nicer 70,000 kip/night guesthouse (the price I was quoted yesterday) and asked if the fan room was available. They only had an air-con room available for 80,000, but as I was going to walk away (because there's another 70,000/night place about 30 seconds away), they said I could take it for tonight. When I went to check out the room, I noticed that there was only air-con and no fan. (Usually rooms have both, and you just pay for what you use.) I asked him if it was ok if I used the air-con and he said yes.
The first thing I did was brush my teeth and take a shower, which I was quite frankly too afraid to do in the other guesthouse. As I was getting out of the shower, there was a knock on my door. They came to drop off a fan, which clearly means that I should stop using the A/C. Ok then.
After feeling clean for the first time since I walked into the previous guesthouse, I headed off for lunch before my trip to the waterfall. I had lunch at the same place where I had eaten the day before, because it's close by, and cheaper than places in town. There are only like, nine things on the menu though, and half of them are Western, so I had spaghetti bolognese. (Later, when I burped it tasted like pizza, and every time it happened, I thought to myself, "When did I have pizza?" "Oh right, it's the spaghetti." EVERY TIME.)
I headed over to the travel agency to ask about prices for transport to Bangkok (380,000 for two overnight buses - the first to Vientiane, the second to Bangkok) and wait for the ride to the waterfall, which came about a half hour late at 2:00. This is Laos though, so I pretty much assume everything is going to be a half hour late. There is not that much to do here other than sleep. Incidentally, that's perfect for me right now.
I met two girls from Bangkok who are here on holiday and are going to Vang Vieng before going back to Bangkok on Wedesnday. Naturally, they still have to go through Vientiane. (Vientiane is the Brussels of Southeast Asia. Every single person says there is nothing to do there, and no one has ever made so much as a gesture of disagreement.) That actually sounded kind of perfect and the timing works out perfectly, so I spontaneously said I might join them, and they didn't look creeped out, so that's good.
We got to the waterfall around 3:00, not because it takes an hour to get there, but because for some reason, our driver decided to drive back and forth through town three times before actually leaving. I think he went to wait for the last four people in our group (on the other side of town from where we were picked up), then realized he might as well get a phone card from a store back on the original side of town while we were waiting, and then went back to wait for them. That's the only way our route made any sense.
The waterfall is nice, and those of you who enjoy swimming or swinging into water from a rope like Calvin (as in "and Hobbes") should bring a swimsuit or a change of clothes.
The "hike" to the waterfall, if it can be called that, is very easy and takes about 20 minutes, if that. I do not enjoy physical activity, so this was perfect for me. (Seriously, have you heard me talk about doing a trek? No. No, you have not.) We had an hour and forty-five minutes to explore, which was way more than enough time, especially since I didn't go in the water.
There seem to be a lot of locals who like to come up here for a picnic, and for them the entrance fee is only 10,000 kip (about $1.25) as opposed to 20,000 kip. (If you can't do that math, we are no longer friends.)
Since I had a lot of time to kill, I went to a cafe that was by the water, which was no doubt more expensive than it should have been, but a cup of coffee was 10,000, which again, is about $1.25, so that's ok I guess, although it's really not a good habit to think in dollars, because then you think everything is cheap, even when it's way more expensive than it should be. By the way, if I ever say to you, "You know, I haven't tried adding cream and sugar into my coffee in a while. I think I'll try it out," just say, "Remember that time you thought that in Laos and how much worse the coffee was afterward? There is a reason you prefer your coffee black, and it has nothing to do with men like or unlike Taye Diggs."
There is a random bear sanctuary before the "hike" starts. There were two bears that were either making out or trying to bite each other's faces in a playful way. It's hard to tell.
On the drive back, we were taken to this village that is part of some development through tourism project that was not part of the agenda and is clearly just a ploy for tourists to buy really cheap bracelets or other stuff made by these villagers. There are a whole bunch of really cute kids who literally say the same sentence in Lao over and over again. There was an American guy who works in Vientiane who was in our group, and he asked the little girl who was trying to sell stuff to him if she knew what 2,000 plus 7,000 was (in Lao). She just kept repeating her sales line. So basically, instead of going to school to learn how to add, these kids are trained from really young to sell stuff to tourists at inflated prices. (One would think they should at least learn to add to calculate prices...) Yay development through tourism!
Once you finish walking through, you wait for the driver for about 15-20 minutes. During this time the kids will realize you're not going to buy anything, so they just start playing with each other, and then it's really cute. But first, this kid asked me for my water bottle, which had perhaps two sips left in it, so I gave it to him. The American guy had a full water bottle though, and it was in a plastic bag that had other stuff too, so when he took it out in response to a kid asking him for stuff, all the kids swarmed over and had a mini brawl over the bottle of water and were asking for other stuff. It was like a lot of little Gollums fighting for the Ring. Only with hair. And clothing. And otherwise not creepy.
While we were waiting, this party pick-up truck with about twenty people in the back and music blaring passed us. I should do that some time.
After we got back, the night market was already in full swing, and there were a ton of vendors with typical night market stuff for sale - lanterns, T-shirts, dresses, traditional-looking clothing, the weird purses that everyone everywhere sells, etc. Lonely Planet says the night market is candle-lit. Maybe the electricity was out when they visited, unless by candles they mean "a single electric light bulb dangling in each shop." Or the writing is bad and "the candlelit necklace of the Hmong night market" is a really weird metaphor for something.
The Thai girls were going to Phu Si (admission 20,000 kip) for the sunset, which is the only thing I really wanted to do here (you can really only be amazed by so many wats), so that was perfect. Unfortunately, the sunset was much like the one at Angkor Wat (i.e. non-existent), but the view of Luang Prabang from the top is still excellent.
We came back to the guesthouse (which happens to be the same one) so the girls could take showers before dinner (I shower before I go to bed and usually not earlier), which was lucky, since it started pouring. I guess it really is getting to the rainy season. By the time it settled down to a drizzle, most of the vendors had packed up and gone, and it appeared that the side of town on the other side of the market had lost electricity, because it was really quite dark. The lights were flickering at the place where we ended up having dinner, so I think that really was the case.
During this time, it occurred to me, that 80 was a good price for an air-con room, and if that's the case, a fan room should really be cheaper, so between paying too much for a fan room and paying the correct amount for an A/C room (and the difference betwen only $1.25), I'd rather have air conditioning. So I went down to the desk to ask the price again, only this time he said 90 for air-con. I said, "But you said 80 this morning. So can I have the fan for 60?" And he said no. So I went back up to my room, but a minute later, he knocked on my door and agreed to A/C for 80, so now I can actually sleep through the night without waking up and feeling the hair at the nape of neck be all damp from sweat. Yay!
I also looked up the travel time from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, and it takes 6-8 hours. The girls were planning to leave tomorrow morning, spend the rest of the day and one night in Vang Vieng, and leave for Vientiane the following morning. I wasn't sure that this was really worth it for only a few good hours in Vang Vieng, so I told them I might just go straight to Vientiane. Upon hearing the travel time, they said they would stay in Vang Vieng an extra day so they could actually do stuff as well. So I'm leaving with them tomorrow morning, although it is kind of sad now that I've actually found a guesthouse I like.
Spinach Lasagna, which in hindsight, must look totally disgusting to Asians. It's green stringy stuff with yellow-white stringy stuff. And yeah, I'm eating Western because the "Lao" stuff on the menu is fried rice. Look, I live in China. I'm not paying more than $2 for fried rice.
There was "ancient apple crumble" on the menu, which I thought was strange until I realized the restaurant was called "ancient bon cafe." We met a couple who also live in Bangkok, although she's originally from the States, and he's from Algeria. Also, they lived in Paris for 8 years. How cool is that?
Laos, in general, is way more expensive than I expected. It's much more expensive than Vietnam or Thailand, and they are way more developed. My guess is that Laos and Cambodia gouge tourists because they have little other industry to support themselves. Is that offensive? Regardless, I believe it to be true. For example, I asked how much a dress was at the night market, and was told 60,000 kip. I never know how close the first offer is to the actual price, so I said 20, because I bought one in Cambodia (which is also expensive for tourists) for $3, which is about 24,000 kip. The vendor's counter offer was a smiling shake of her head and 50,000, so she wasn't going to much lower. In fact, a lot of things here cost the same amount of kip as they would cost in dong in Vietnam, except the exchange rate of dollars to dong is 1:20,000 and that of dollars to kip is 1:8,000. So basically it's 2.5 times more expensive. (If you couldn't do that math, we can still be friends, but you're obviously white and American. If you're Asian, you're out. Not of being my friend, but of being Asian. Seriously. Please pack your chopsticks and go. Bonus points for getting that reference. Bonus bonus points if you got this one and the one from last time.)
I've had a sore throat all day, and when I think about avoiding swallowing, I become very aware of just how much saliva is in my mouth. It's awkward.