Well, it didn’t take long for the Laotian feel-good vibes to fade. Actually, that had already started in Luang Prabang.
You see, what I only slightly touched on in my last post was that while we loved the festival and the people we met, Luang Prabang was damn expensive. Like, not slightly more costly, colossally more.
The room at our guesthouse was barely lit, we shared a bathroom with seven others, the walls were paper thin, and it was still one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed during this trip. The owners were quite lovely though, so we didn’t feel too grieved about all that.
Let’s move on to the food. Nowhere is as cheap as Bangkok, we learned that the hard way, the day we left, but food had steadily been costing more, the less developed the areas we went to. The all-you-could-fit-on-your-plate in Luang Prabang was a good deal, if you prefer your food cold, but restaurants were pricier than we were used to.
And then the souvenirs/knick-knacks…you don’t even want me to get started on those. The Handicraft Night Market had good prices, but the shops themselves were atrocious! We watched a woman pay $130 for two small figurines (and that was after bargaining!). We’ve long since learned that if we’re being quoted in dollars, they’re trying to rip us off.
Anyway, we’d heard Luang Prabang might be a little more upscale, so we were looking forward to chilling in Vang Vieng for a few days before moving on to the capital. Only, I woke up around 3 am on the morning our bus was to leave with pain in my eye that felt like a rock was in it. And not a little pebble either – I almost shouted at Chandler (after I had woken him up – I know, I’m a terrible girlfriend), when he couldn’t find anything in my eye.
About an hour later I fell into a fitful sleep. When our alarm went off a short while later, I awoke to the same pain. After Chandler did some more digging around in my eye (stupid on our part, in retrospect), he voiced his fears: pink eye. I immediately thought of the snot-nosed kid downstairs and started cursing.
Unfairly, of course, because when we went downstairs her eyes were bright and clear. We thought about extending our stay to get my eyes checked just in case, but we had already booked our hotel in Vang Vieng and figured I’d be fine. Let me tell you, it was not a pleasant seven-hour bus ride.
But we arrived late that afternoon and sat down to research – what was wrong with my eye? We were fairly certain I had conjunctivitis, but we needed to know which to figure out the next step…doctor, pharmacy, or worst week of my life? Luckily, all my symptoms (and our location) pointed to only one thing: bacterial conjunctivitis. Probably contracted the night before when we put our bamboo “good-luck” boat into the Mekong River.
We decided to look for a pharmacist online (struck out), but did stumble upon some hilarious information. What’s the number one medical issue tourists leave Vang Vieng with? Bacterial conjunctivitis. How do they get it? Tubing in the Mekong. Something we had initially planned on doing that was absolutely crossed off our list now. The good news, however, was that every pharmacist in town carried the meds and would sell them to me without a prescription. With the help of our hotel, we high-tailed it over before they closed.
I woke up the next morning feeling so much better. I mean, I still looked like shit, but I was already on the mend. To give you a better idea of how rough the day before had been (pre-medication), I’ll share a lovely thing my boyfriend told me…you know how some guys are sweet when you’re sick? Saying how lovely you look, even when you know you look like hell? Well, not Chandler. My man tells it just like it is (unless he’s telling one of his tall tales!). And what did he tell me? You look like 28 Days Later.
So basically, I hid out in our hotel room for the next few days. Leaving only for the absolutely necessary meals. This was made possible by the fact that our hotel was absolutely incredible! Laos Havel Hotel and Spa was indeed the haven it claimed to be.
In the few times we ventured out into the city itself, we were shocked by the terrible service – only to be vindicated on the final day when the owner of our hotel complained about how hard it had been for him to get his own staff. He was born in Singapore, but spent 35 years in Phuket, Thailand studying and then teaching hospitality. He had opened Laos Havel 3 years back and said he eventually gave up and imported Thais to work in his hotel.
On our final day, I was feeling much better (and looking half-way normal as well), so we decided to have a meander around. We didn’t get far. We made it down the road to the large bridge that crosses the Mekong, but about 100 m before it, we were told to go any farther, even just to look, would cost us. As we were told this, we saw locals crossing the bridge on their motorbikes – clearly for free. It’s not in our nature to agree to something like that, so we walked away. Meaning in the 3 days we were in Vang Vieng we didn’t see anything – not even the river.
The karst scenery around the town was definitely stunning, but also, nothing we hadn’t seen in Vietnam, both on Cat Ba Island and in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Plus, people were much friendlier in those places – they didn’t act like we were an inconvenience.
But, like I said, Vang Vieng wasn’t a total bust, we did have Laos Haven. Not only was the room incredibly cheap (and still really nice!), they served some mean eggs for breakfast (or pancakes, definitely made from an imported mix – yum!). They also made GREAT Thai food. Makes sense, given the 35 years spent in Thailand.
Another highlight of the city – Pizza Luka. Fantastic pizza. Not what you come to Laos for, but when your trip takes the turn that ours did, you hold on to whatever bright spots come your way.
Our final bright spot – despite sharing a room, and a bed…and having Chandler literally dig around in my eye – I didn’t pass the conjunctivitis on to him. But let me tell you, for that week, I had the cleanest hands in the world.