Bring On the Wonder, Bring On the Joy… Welcome to Luang Prabang!

“Buried deep in the mountains of Northern Laos, this province embraces its rich culture and heritage through preserving its traditions and infrastructure. Travel back in time while exploring the temples, observing their practices, and lounging along the Great Mekong River. Pleasant smiles from the locals, quality service from top accommodations, scrumptuous food –discover the wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is –Luang Prabang,” –>Tsktsk, if only I can edit videos.

Okay, you know that it’s my dream to become the next Cheche Lazaro. Not in the hardcore-investagative-documentary-film-maker-kind of way, but in the way she handled Cheche Lazaro Presents in the late 90s. It’s embedded in my soul. I stayed up late just to catch her episodes and watched intently as she fluidly immersed herself in an entirely different culture. I told myself, that is what I’m going to be. So here I am, trying to save the world one country at a time with Cole Walks, reporting my backpacking life to co-backpackers believing I help in my own little way. But honestly, I also treat my blog as my training ground for bigger things, say become the real deal in travel journalism. Plus the fact that I get affected whenever I say I’m based in Laos and people are like where is it? *headthrob*

So this, my dear reader, is Laos –the country I fell in love with *cue awwwws*

Backpacking in Laos

Would you believe that I’ve gone to places that not even most locals have visited? But that one place that everyone raves about, I haven’t. Now, I can finally say, Oh yeah! I’ve been to Luang Prabang!

Remember how I said it’s so much easier to travel in the country because it’s landlocked? You can drive from the northern-most country, even to China, all the way down to Cambodia. I did mention about the crazy zig-zaggy roads, didn’t I? Yes. One reason why I haven’t gone to Luang Prabang the very first month I set my foot on Lao soil was the pricey airfares.  Since Lao Air is the only airline flying from Vientiane capital to LPB City and other provinces –high demand, low supply, hence PHAENG (expensive)! My mom is not exactly a fan of roadtrips, so even if I don’t mind the road-situation, other passengers do. But since my backpacking buddy, Pocklan, loves LPB so much that she would take the bus, it’s just the perfect opportunity! Roadtrip!

Sok Dee Pi Mai!

We decided to spend Pi Mai Lao or the Lao New Year in the streets of LPB Capital. 12 April, at 8.30PM, we were on-board the next bus to LPB. It’s going to be nine hours of sharp curves over the mountains, but what the hey, I have to be happy with what I can afford. The fare is only LAK 150,000; I pay the same amount whenever I go all out on cocktails nights…it was a good deal! It was the ordinary bus though –still airconditioned but it was packed, windows were still open, there were passengers sitting on monoblocs on the aisle (I am serious!), constant stopovers for toilet-breaks and quick bite– it was interesting.

I didn’t get off the bus for a good nine hours. I didn’t need to go to the toilet, didn’t want to eat or drink so I won’t go to the toilet, hence a numb trip. We got off at the bus station, cold winds brushed against our skin. I felt so…foreign!

LPB Day 1

Guesthouses and hotels are full. Not because it’s Pi Mai, or okay, it’s a part of it, but this place is one of the world’s most popular sites that even if you open your house for couchsurfing, you will have clients! Since our first plan was to arrive in LPB 14 Apr, our guesthouse didn’t have a room available for us when we talked to the host. We had to haul ass from every street, wishing and hoping,  there would be an available room. Alas, we found one. Pricey, yes, totally understandable. But apparently, since Pocklan is a regular customer, the owner of our former guesthouse reserved a room for us but the host that we talked to wasn’t aware of it. We went back, checked-in, dropped our bags, bought our first breaky and ate along the Mekong River –only 2 hours in and I was having an amazing time.

After a nap, we went straight to our friend’s house and met with the Vespa Boys. Ah, don’t undersestimate these guys. They travel Laos on Vespas. They arrived hours earlier before us because they left Vientiane the night of 11 April and had a stopover at Vang Vieng.  Pocklan, her cousin, and I walked around town. We ate at the shady streets but equally good food, shopped around the Night Market and went straight to Hive Bar and Restaurant. OMG I loved Hive. It was totally eccentric and of course, the people you were goofing around with just topped the night off.

LPB Day 2 aka First Day of Pi Mai Lao aka My Execution

Shorts, light-weight tops, flip-flops, waterproof purse, camera and wallet in ziplocks, and waterguns –we were out for a battle!

It’s war out there during Pi Mai. You splash/pour/shoot water to everyone walking, in the car,  on the back of trucks, on bikes, everyone! Water with dye, talc or some kind of flour, grease and I mean literally black grease, red and blue paint, lipsticks and all sorts of liquid that I don’t even want to know what’s in it. It’s euphoria!

Although I have to say the celebration is a pretty dangerous event especially if you’re not cautious enough of your stuff and your whole well-being. Some people get drunk and drive around on their bikes and end up crashing; some get hit along the lines of the drunken drivers. Stuff like that. Although the experience is beyond words, you have to be extra careful.

It was my first time to be the target of Pi Mai, by target, meaning you’re on board bikes and cruise around the city. People from the streets will stop you, lather you with grease, throw water and beer, shower you with flour –it’s icky but fun! I was praying everytime we accelerate, and pray even more when we stop. I loved the spirit of merry-making, it’s like you don’t have to worry about anything. After two rounds of battle, we finally stopped and joined the rest of the community in drinking and harassing other targets!

By the end of the day, I was dead.

LPB Day 3

I stayed back. Okay, I know I know, it wasn’t in the spirit of the new year but we were about to leave for Vientiane that evening and I didn’t want to get wet again! Plus I feel the beer rising up and down my throat! Although I missed the Pi Mai Lao Parade where the winner of Ms Pi Mai Lao or something was up on her royal throne, on a grand float…I was fast asleep.

On the way back to the bus station, I still got wet. Dudes on trucks were still pouring buckets of freezing water on those passing by. Even foreigners, who were drunk, were unforgiving. The funny thing about it was that they were screaming “falang! falang!” falang is the Lao word for French, but can be used interchangeably for anyone who’s white. It was like they were defending their actions because they were falang –totally unnecessary!

Anyway, I felt sick on the way back. We were on-board the VIP Bus, LAK 140,000. And oh, if you’re wondering how much we paid for accommodations, our guesthouse was LAK 150,000/night. It was the cheapest, especially during this time of the year. Pricey? Yes, compared to other destinations. But the experience…Oh yeah, you know what I’m going to say, priceless.

I didn’t have the strength/courage to get out and explore. But I promised myself that I will come back, not during Pi Mai, so I will have the luxury of the time, and I’m going to be dry and warm. That way, I will experience the beauty within calmness and serenity of the town.

We arrived in Vientiane the following morning. I slept the whole day. I live in downtown, so my streets were just crazy with amplified screams and music. I didn’t get out. Please, don’t make me feel bad. I got scared!

Pi Mai Lao

Oh Pi Mai. This event is a part of me because it was my very first cultural experience in a different country, the very first time I had a taste of beer, the very time I got published in a national daily. I was in Cambodia last year trekking the royal palace that is Angkor Wat, so this year I was really set in celebrating it here. I have no idea what in the world I missed in Vientiane this year, but I believe this is another reason for me to come back and spend it with the people I hold dear.

Sok Dee Pi Mai, everyone!


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