Luang Prabang was a pleasant relief. The French colonial influence was apparent, and the downtown area was very European. Away from town, though, the area quickly turned into bamboo shacks, making me even more aware that this is a country of haves and have-nots on an extreme scale.
As everywhere here, the tuk-tuk drivers are hawking their services to every farang that passes. In the morning it’s for rides, but at night you might also hear a whispered “smokey?” or “opium?” as you pass. All in all it’s a pretty quiet sleepy town, though, and most places close at 10:00 pm.
I was walking down the street my second day in town, and I saw one of my Irish travel companions. I was enjoying to atmosphere, just chilling after Pak Beng. “What do you think?” I asked, smiling into the sunshine.
He looked around. “This town’s bollocks.” He shrugged. “There isn’t fuck-all to do here, is there?”
It was my turn to shrug. Different worlds.
I saw him again the next day, though, and he looked happy. He’d found a bar that stayed open until midnight and an all-night bowling alley for after closing. One of our group was having a birthday, and I hadn’t gone to any late-night bars on the entire trip, so I joined them and drank and bowled until 4:00 in the morning. Around quitting time, we were sitting at a table, finishing another round.
“What do you think now?” I asked my companion over the music.
“It got better.”
“I guess you found something to do.” I looked up and saw our tuk-tuk driver standing at our table.
“Yeah, I did,” my friend said, and he looked around furtively and handed our driver a wadded up ball of cash.
posted Monday February 2008