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Days 12 and 13: To Death and Back

Luang Prabang, Laos


If Pai was Purgatory, Roxanne and I must have done something right. As of May 31, we have landed in heaven.

However, contrary to common thought, Roxanne and I weren’t always the perfect angels in utopia. As of one day prior, we were still on the ground in Luang Prabang, Laos.

We began the day as explorers in the new country, wandering around the streets until nightfall. We bought the first western-esque food of the trip, celebrating our almost-two week sobriety from all meals American with a feast of sandwiches. Laos is actually known for its sandwiches on super fluffy baguettes, so we still felt cultured as we ate something acceptable by our weak stomachs.

The two of us wandered past temples and shopped at the endless night market, cringing as we splurged for presents and souvenirs. After months of saving, it was hard to hand over the 55,000 LAK for a necklace. I’m not going to lie, it was harder to figure out the conversion rate, and I cringed even more because my lazy summer brain couldn’t account for the 8,200 : 1 LAK : USD conversion rate. 55,000 anything sounds like way too much, even when it’s really only a little over $6.

We also walked to the top of Mount Phousi in between night market ventures, climbing to the topmost point of Luang Prabang. I’d like to think this was some metaphorical journey, bringing us closer to the heavenly experience of tomorrow. Probably not, but it was a very high trek.

Past temples and viewpoints, we made it to the top to watch the sunset, listening as a dozen other languages were spoken around us.

After descending from the clouds and purchasing a few more materialistic goods, we went home and just crashed in our beds at DownTown Backpackers hostel, which luckily had air conditioning, clean sheets, and zero visible bugs. Forget the waterfalls of the next day; maybe this was my personal heaven.


Okay, okay. Imagine the clearest, most turquoise water pooling beneath stacks of rushing waterfalls. The green jungle surrounds the water, the sun streams down, and just to add an unnecessary level of magic, butterflies constantly fly around you. This was our view at Kuang Si Waterfall.

For the better part of the day, Roxanne and I swam in some of the most gorgeous water I have ever seen with girls from England and Norway. Fish nibbled at our feet (in this scenario it was pleasant, but in any other, I admit it would be absolutely horrifying) and I swear this was/is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It was heaven; an oasis; I would say utopia, but we went there later.

At 8:30 p.m. I went to the cafe/restaurant/bar called Utopia with Roxanne and our sudden London pal, Elisha. We just talked and hung out until we were too hungry and too poor to afford more of the outdoor, hut-filled, riverside meals. We left in search of sandwiches (remember, still being cultured simultaneously), and then went in search of a tuk tuk to go bowling.

Yes, bowling. As odd as it is, the thing to do for backpackers in Laos is night bowling after Utopia closes at 11:30. However, timing isn’t exactly Roxanne’s and my strong suit, and by the time we retraced our steps, all tuk tuks were gone.

This in itself is even odder than bowling with 100 other 20-year-olds in a foreign country until 2 a.m. Tuk tuk drivers are more common than flies, constantly shouting, “Tuk tuk,” “Ride to the waterfall,” and the occasional “You smoke weed?” as we pass by. However, the one time we actually needed them, they were nowhere to be seen. We figured it’s karma after how much we ignored the drivers.

Elisha got tired and went to bed, and Roxanne and I went on a hunt for The Last Tuk Tuk Driver. We found him after 20 minutes of walking, eyeing him down from a block away.

I actually feel really bad for this tuk tuk driver. It’s only right to say something, as he deserved better passengers than us. Maybe I feel more emotions because my dad has a similar job, but Roxanne and I still regret how we jipped him of money.

Originally asking for 50,000 LAK for a ride to the bowling alley, we bartered down to 20,00 LAK total (or under $3. This is not the part I regret; I’m actually kind of impressed we could bring it so low. Usually we take one of the first few offers, being the Midwestern, admittedly kind of passive girls we are). However, he asked us to make sure he would be the one to drive us home with more people so he could actually make a profit, and we left with a big group in a scammier tuk tuk driver’s vehicle. A very little event in the scheme of things, but it wouldn’t feel right to leave it out.

Before our departure, we were naive to our soon-to-come betrayal and ignorantly had a great time at the bowling alley (there’s a little sarcasm here, don’t worry). Roxanne and I somehow ran into every single person we had met in Luang Prabang. We met them all at separate occasions, including on the bus, walking to our hostel, and after dinner; yet somehow, they all ended up knowing each other and were bowling together. Really, what are the chances?

We took some celebrity shots and enjoyed company with this odd group of friends, meeting a few more -- extremely drunk -- guys. One showed us a tattoo he -- again drunkenly -- received in Cambodia for $20. The shop was reportedly filled with discarded opium wrappers, and the tattoo artist’s hand was shaking during application. His tattoo was a hardly-decipherable stick figure skier. Two squiggly lines in random locations on his forearm represented the mountain.

With this English drunky and several other Australians, we soon walked 30 feet out the door of the bowling alley to its connected archery field. I watched the boozy friends shoot arrows every which way. Whoever thought giving a bow and arrows to drunk people would be a good idea probably had a death wish.

We left this archery field, not wanting to actually experience death ourselves. From the pits of hell (AKA Spicy in Chiang Mai), to Pai’s limbo, to Laung Prabang’s heavenly oasis, I have definitely already come close enough to the afterlife.

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