Cloudy Krabi couldn’t keep us down… indeed a few down days were just what we needed. One advantage of taking a sabbatical is that you get to set your travel timing free from the confines of school schedules and the protestant American work ethic… go where/when the weather’s good… clear of clouds and crowds. We’ve had blue skies all the way so far, and better to have a soggy gray today than during our treks and travails in backpacker hovels.
Even better – for these few gray days we luxuriate languidly in the glamorous Andaman Sea-side home of our former neighbors Shelly and Matt. If we can’t get sun with sand, at least we can relax, catch up on emails and blogs, homeschool, do laundry, ship home trekking gear, and raid their impressive DVD collection. The staff here is helpful and feeds us well… and soon enough we’ll return to adventures in Buddhaland.
(…the sound of endless rain…)
OK, Sunday’s soon enough and we are happy to leave. After a Bangkok layover, our afternoon arrival in mild Luang Prabang delivers us from the rain and heat. Obama put this place on my mental map a few months ago; turns out it’s a bite-sized peninsula of paradise on the Mekong. We’re just below the Tropic of Cancer at 1,000’ elevation, so we have cool nights of ~60 degrees and comfortable, lightly humid days 75-85. Our modest guest house picks up a cool breeze from the Mekong’s Nam Kahn tributary; there are a few mosquitos so we’re careful to manage doors, lights, clothing and repellent when the sun’s down.
After unpacking and unwinding, we walk about a mile into Luang Prabang’s old town peninsula to scout tour packages and restaurants. It’s a mellow, friendly vibe here, with a mature mix of less hedonistic travelers enjoying the high quality, slow pace and Indochine cuisines. To my inexperienced eye the buildings mix French-colonial and Thai influences, with worn pastel walls supporting steeply gabled roofs of diamond tile above louvered windows and wrought-iron balconies. The sidewalks here are functional… the first time we’ve seen that since Singapore. At dusk the quiet, crowded and colorful night market gets going. There are the usual silk scarves, carvings, cheap clothing and jewelry, but we also see some new crafts – LED-light paper lanterns, and colorful lacquered coconut bowls… we’ll return to shop here on our last night.
For dinner we slip behind a chic teak tapas table; our suave host sports a jet-black handlebar moustache and beard, a French accent and confident swagger. He welcomes us with a pirate smile. Max and I dare to eat meat, but Ben can’t do the menu so we sneak in a street crepe and real fruit smoothie. Our swashbuckling owner turns a blind eye… perhaps he was once a smuggler. In the end his chocolate lava cake desert makes it all worthwhile.
This week is the Luang Prabang Film Festival is in town, and on our walk home we stumble on an outdoor showing of a new movie – a comedy with Asian gang-bangers posing as monks and girl students. The show’s drawn quite a crowd, and it’s both comforting and disturbing to see that pop culture corrupts here too.