Our first impression of Luang Prabang is that life is slow here. The city is small, cozy, comfortable. It’s sleepy. We walk the streets with no particular destination in mind and I notice that our pace automatically slows. The four of us mosey along, taking in the sights. There is always at least one of us that is humming a tune. Contentment hangs in the air.
Out here with my friends, life feels like one long exhale.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the center of Luang Prabang is a fascinating mixture of traditional Lao architecture and that of it’s colonial French era. The city is located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, and as we saunter through the streets, water is never far away. Over the river, a bamboo bridge stretches to the other side.
We spend our first full day in Luang Prabang lazily, enjoying our newly formed group. We joke and laugh; we sing songs. We wander aimlessly; we climb Mount Phousi to catch the sunset. That evening we go out with friends. First for dinner at Tamarind, where we indulge in an extraordinary meal of traditional Lao food. We opt for a mixed platter of all sorts of specialties. With no idea what anything is, we dig in, scooping our goodies up with sticky rice. The flavors are rich and the wine we have splurged on pours freely. Contentment.
After dinner we go to Utopia for drinks. Everyone has said it’s one of Luang Prabang’s top spots, so we listen. We sit and chat beside a fire pit. As the night progresses, all our slow boat friends join us.
This is where things get interesting.
We had heard stories from other backpackers about some of the oddities of Luang Prabang’s night life. Tonight we would experience it firsthand. You see, Luang Prabang has a nightly curfew. When the clock strikes midnight, bars close and you are expected to go back to your hostel. But there’s a catch.
The minute you walk out of the bar, you will be approached by tuk tuk drivers who ask you if you want to go bowling. That’s right. In Luang Prabang the bowling alley is the place to be in the dark hours of the night.
We walk out of Utopia’s doors and buy a bottle of whisky and some wine at a convenience store. We follow a tuk tuk driver down the alleyway and pile in. We are going drunk bowling and the hilarity of it is not lost on us.
The rest of the night flies by – you did read the part about us buying a lot of alcohol, right? – and as we nurse our hangovers the next day we laugh at this alternative side to sleepy Luang Prabang.
I decide that so far I really like Laos; it strikes me as a country of fascinating loopholes. Now it’s time to rent some scooters we are not licensed to drive (again) and do some more exploring. Kuang Si Waterfall, here we come.
Yes, yes, yes.