The sky parted in two, one side overcast, the other a stirring mess of charcoal ominously getting closer. The winds picked up, and right away we knew we had to return our bikes or be stuck walking in what looked like a serious shower. We raced, I returned mine, and it turns out Erika had forgotten her bike lock key. She heads back and I started to jog a three block French colonial stretch of Luang Prabang. I get to the corner of our street, only 100 meters from our place, when I hear a commotion and see people running in all directions. Just half a street down you could see the rain pummeling people racing towards cover. Anyone caught for just five seconds in the open would be soaked.
I was under a street vendor’s umbrella while holding another umbrella and was still getting wet, so I made a run for it. 30 seconds later, I was back at our guesthouse soaking wet. I went up a set of stairs overlooking the courtyard to see if some friends of ours were home. I could see into their window opposite me and they waved hello. We chatted, shared a funny story, and Erika waved goodbye from below wearing a poncho and rain jacket about to return the bike. I took one step to head down the stairs and then PAIN. I’m groaning at the bottom of a flight of stairs trying to sense which part hurts most. Two small Laotian men come to me and say, “Sir, help up help up.” I ask for a minute and let the agony swell within me. Steen (whose name means stone), one of our Danish friends, who looks like Magnus ver Magnussen from the old ESPN, ‘Worlds Strongest Man Competition,’ shows up and helps me to my feet and back to my room. The way Steen and his girlfriend Julie saw it, I waved, took one step, and literally disappeared. One week later, I’m still limping, body parts still hurt, and Erika still finds it funny.
From Erika: All I heard was a thud and a commotion as I was heading out of our room with my bike key. I rush over to Amando (somehow he always manages to hurt himself when I’m not around) to see if he’s alright. The rain had turned the hardwood stairs into a slip and slide and my honey into the human slide. Since Steen is there helping him, and I only have 5 minutes to get the bike back on time, I ask if he’s alright, see if he needs anything and ask Steen to help….I’ll be right back. I find it funny, in a not so funny way, because when I come home all I see is Amando lying on the bed with a pillow underneath each one of his appendages and he spread-out like a starfish moaning in pain. Again, funny but not funny, nervous laughter comes out of my mouth and we continue to go about seeing what kind of pain management he needs. A pillow accompanies us to dinner.
A couple days later, after a 4-5 hour local bus ride, we’re in Vang Vieng. The local bus was 20,000 kip cheaper ($2.50) per person than the VIP bus (which has reclining seats and air con, we didn’t know seats didn’t recline in ours). The local bus also stops every time someone on the side of the road flags it down. They and any possessions get on board. Sacks of rice, huge bags of produce, crates, you name it. The bus also stops for the driver to smoke, talk on his phone, let people pee on the side of the road, and sometimes for no reason. They keep selling seats until the sacks of rice become seats filling every bit of space in the aisles. Except for Thailand and Malaysia, you get what you get in terms of buses, but we think we’ll be investing $2.50 the next go around. There is some romance left in long, local train travel, but as far as buses go, the extra money gets you a much more comfortable ride.
Vang Vieng is an infamous place where nineteen year olds come to get crazy, tube in a river, and sit in open restaurants all day watching re-runs of Friends and Family Guy. The two days we were there, it poured rain, so tubing didn’t seem to be a good option. We had time and not a whole lot to do, so I got a massage during one such storm to ease some of the lingering pain my foot and butt from the slip. A small woman was putting me through the ringer and I was relaxing to the sounds raindrops on the tin roof. Then, it sounded like a .44 magnum was shot next to my head and I bolted up. The masseuse had fallen over, and now she was looking at me with a frightened look in her eyes. I point up and say, “Wow.” She looks at me like she just saw her life flash before her eyes and bursts into tears. The lightning hit really close, the power went out, my massage was completed hastily by another person, and my body still hurt from rolling down a set of stairs. The constant rain, disabled internet from the storm, and muddy streets, left us with only one option, which worked out pretty well, join 19 year olds drinking BeerLao and watching reruns of Friends until we could catch the bus outta there.
** Traveler’s Tip – Stairs in the rain are a hazard! Do not try running down wet, slippery wooden stairs at home! Luang Prabang: We stayed at Phousi Guesthouse and loved it, great rooms, clean, and helpful staff. 3 Nagas in Luang Prabang is worth every penny, delicious meal. Tamnak Lao (where the cooking school is) is good but iffy on service. Make sure you stay up late at least one night and head to the bowling alley, it was really fun. Utopia has a beautiful setting right on the river. The Scandinavian Bakery is way overrated. Joma’s is fantastic, eat there and be happy. Our favorite breakfast was a cheddar pepper bagel, toasted, with a semi soft egg, bacon, and cheddar cheese (real stuff) with Tabasco – epic. They also are great for lunch and have locations in Vientiene. Rent a motorbike and go to the Kwang Si waterfall. Every tuk tuk driver wants to take you there, but the scenery while on a motorbike is amazing. The ride is about 45 minutes and easy for a beginner. VangVieng: There is a new restaurant in VV called Arena that is nice, has free wifi, and even when raining, air conditioning. Fantastic mocha shake/freeze and decent food. The local bus station in VV had a local bus we took to Vientiene for 40,000 kip each. We did local again and saved 20,000 because the ride was shorter.