Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Wednesday 8th September 2004

Monday saw me take a boat trip upriver, to the Pak Ou caves. It was a two hour sidle up the Mekong, but the scenery was riveting and time melted away. In addition, the boat made a stop at a village called Xang Hai, but known locally as "Whisky Village", and indeed, most of the trackside stalls the villagers had set up were designed to sell various different types of local brew to rich tourists. I left with a small bottle containing an undetermined red spirit, which I shall crack open on my return to London - if it doesn't smash in my rucksack first, like the bottle of rice wine I bought in Borneo (where the villagers use the old ruse of getting the tourists legless before flogging everything they can - I still wonder, 7 years later, how Tom ever got through customs with that Iban machete).

Sheer cliffs rise out of the river, topped with primary forest. The Pak Ou Caves can be found in one of of these cliffs, and consist of a lower and an upper cave, both littered with small discarded wooden Buddhas (about 4,000 in all), as well as some larger more permament shrines. I reached the upper cave by climbing over a hundred sweaty steps through a forest chiming so loudly with insect noise, that at times I suspected oversized and malevolent mosquitos were hiding in the bushes, the piercing noise being their laughs as they ridiculed my over-expensive malaria tablets, before they pounced and sucked the life out of me.

Such paranoid fantasies were forgotton as I reached the top, partly from the sight of the gate to the upper cave, ornate gold painted wood embedded into the rock, next to a 12 foot tall corpulent buddha, but mainly because I was exhausted and unfit. I rented a torch, as there are no lights inside, and as I wandered into the gloom, my torch sweeping over various niches in the wall illuminating countless Buddhas in varying states of decay, I couldn't help but allow myself a slight Indiana Jones fantasy, despite the thousands of tourists who have come before.

Once back in town, I decided to climb Phou Si, the big chunk of rock in the middle of Luang Prabang. I struggled to the Wat at the top, congratulating myself on all the exercise I was taking. There, with a dozen other backpackers and a monk, I enjoyed views of the town, which appears to swarm with palm trees when viewed from above, and watched the sun set behind the mountains. I also, when no one was looking, played around a bit with the Sovet anti-aircaft gun casement that still sits next to the Wat.

Having descended, I made my way down the narrow and busy food market, enjoying the smell and sight of the various matter cooking. I had intended to eat there anyway, but was impressed by the efficiency and salesmanship of the little girl (who can't have been more than 10) at whose stall I ate. One minute I caught her eye, the next I was seated on a bench at a table, with an appetising(ish) plate of food before me. She pulled in the customers and took the money, while her mother silently tended to the cooking in the background.

I found a quiet restaurant at which to enjoy a Beer-Lao before bed, where I made aggressive friends with a tiny black and white kitten, who attacked my bag with such energy that I was afraid it was going to throttle itself with the strap. Ah, the loneliness of the long-distance traveller.

58 - posted at 15:53:31

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