An American Abroad

Laos: Luang Prabang, Part 2

I spent the day exploring Luang Prabang.

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Where the Mekong joins the Nam Khan River, I saw a bamboo bridge across the latter waterway and just knew I had to cross it. It was one of those crazy-rickety bamboo structures you’ve seen in every movie from Sorcerer to Apocalypse Now. I sat and studied it a while. A dog came safely across, but it was a very small dog. Then a Lao woman went across, but she was a very small woman. Finally two monks came across together, their saffron robes flapping in the morning breeze.

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I figured I weighed 1.75 monks and since two monks had just crossed, that gave me a safety margin of at least 0.25 monks.

But the bridge was guarded by a troll. As I approached it, a woman began shrieking at me, demanding that I pay 5,000 kip (about $0.63) to cross. I told her I had just seen two monks pass without paying, so why should I? “Monks no pay,” she insisted. “YOU pay.” I tried to convince her that I, too, was a monk, and that I’d even done time at a monastery in Kentucky. She was unpersuaded. Finally, with bemused irritation I forked over the kip — and the troll let me pass. It was a profoundly capitalist transaction conducted under a communist flag.

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The bridge swayed a little and the bamboo slats were awfully thin. Its surface was lashed to bamboo piers with thin twine. The slats felt squishy but held. And so I crossed. There wasn’t much to see on the other side — a decaying shrine and an ox skull were the highlights.

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After crossing and recrossing the bridge, I rented a little motorscooter and drove around to see what could be seen.

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I came across these cars, both of which had been restored by a Lao man who was justifiably proud of his work and asked if I wanted to buy them. I wish.

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There were other transportation options available.

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I walked through a food market and wondered what on earth is in the bowl in the center.

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I also found that in Luang Prabang you are never far from a Buddhist temple, by day and by night.

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