How to become a millionaire…
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (or Please Don’t Rush) uses Kip as its currency, and for the first time on our trip we are millionaires (1.000.000 Kip = $130). Unfortunately when we tried to become millionaires the local bank decided to charge us but not give us any money and now we are visiting a BCEL branch in every town, hoping they give us the money back so we can be multi-millionaires.
With our thick wallet we drove on to Luang Prabang, a colonial town on the Mekong where the old French villas are turned into restaurants, guesthouses and shops. It’s pretty much the only town where there is still any colonial architecture as the rest was all destroyed during the secret war.
As the crow flies it’s only 170km from Houaxai to Luang Prabang, but it took us 1.5 days to drive the 500km on the windy roads with stunning views. Our full day of driving was rewarded with a great campsite along the road. A tiny trail meant we were off the road and the path behind it led us to a lovely creek for a swim.
The people of Luang Prabang give alms to the monks every morning at 6AM, so we got up early to have a look. It’s a bit comical with lots of tourists chasing the perfect photograph (including us), not knowing where the monks are going to be, but interesting to watch.
The drive to the capital Vientiane is not too long (only about 6hrs) and goes up and over some dramatic mountains with amazing scenery. We saw bits of it, but part of our drive was through some seriously thick fog. Not great on a road without any guardrails and with steep drops…
We had some chores to do in Vientiane. The car needed its 10.000km service and we wanted to apply for our Mongolian visa. Now we have all our visas until we get to Kazakhstan where we will need to apply for our other Stan visas and Iran.
Even though it was about 40 degrees in the shade we decided to try the Lao herbal sauna and massage. They can traditionally be found in wats, but most have disappeared over the years. Vientiane still has one and that’s where we were heading.
Betelnut chewing old ladies, a fancy car dealer, some monks, the massage therapists and one lady who spoke English who runs the place and sells delicious smoothies is what we found. The herbal sauna is a very simple steam sauna. An oil drum with water and herbs (rosemary, eucalypt, lemongrass, basil and a few more I am sure) and a fire underneath it. One pipe from the oil drum allows the steam of the boiling water to enter a small wooden room with some benches and voila, you have a steam sauna.
At first it felt really hot, but you slowly get used to it and we spent a very pleasant afternoon there, even thinking the outside heat felt cool after a few rounds in the sauna. At the end we had a buckets shower (throwing cups of water over yourself from a big bucket) and a Lao massage. Very similar to the Thai massage – great!