Laos proved to be a country with two very different sides to it - the drunken, touristy side you may have already heard about where we aren't exactly welcomed with open arms by the locals. And the pure beauty of this mostly untouched landscape combined with the genuine kindness of the Lao people. It's such a strange dichotomy and caused me to have mixed feelings about the country at first - I couldn't decide whether I felt I actually ever knew what Laos was really about. But I suppose travelling through in just two weeks after spending three months in Thailand - I never really would know the country beyond the immediate impression - it takes time to peel back the layers and get to know a place. But I certainly gave it my best shot. We arrived in Luang Prabang and headed straight for our guest house that I had pre-booked just to ensure we could find a place straight away - we had expected to arrive in Laos a lot later than we did and didn't fancy finding a place in the dark. We stayed at Matata Guest House and when we arrived we were given a warm welcome by the staff - all a really lovely, friendly bunch who were eager to get us settled in to the four bed dorm. We chilled out for a bit with a coffee and some play time with their gorgeous dog, who, of course, was called Hakuna.
Later that evening we headed out for food and where better to eat than the local night market? We were advised to aim for a selection of stalls that offered an all-you-can-eat deal for a few thousand kip and we went and filled our boots after a long day on the boat. The food was okay, a mixture of noodles, rice dishes, vegetables and meat - but it definitely didn't have the flavour and spice of Thai food so I was a little disappointed. A lot of the vegetables were really overcooked and many of the dishes tasted the same, but still, it was cheap and quick. Afterwards, we headed to the main bar that everyone always goes to - Utopia is hidden down a couple of backstreets near the river and is a lovely little bar with okay music, relatively cheap drinks and a great atmosphere. It was buzzing when we arrived and we spotted some friends straight away, plus a load of others we had met previously at different points on our travels through Thailand - everyone who was anyone was in Laos that week! After a few drinks, a lot of laughs and a cheeky dance, the bar was closing (don't forget those annoying curfews in Laos) and everyone was heading off to the infamous Luang Prabang bowling alley which sits in the middle of nowhere. Trust me, as you get loaded into the tuk tuks like cattle and drive off into the dark, pulling up to this ugly and neglected building - you definitely feel like you might be on the way to an execution. But as soon as you walk through the doors into the horrible fluorescent lighting and hear the rubbish speakers attempting to blast out cheesy tunes, you know you're in for a pretty strange night.Bowling is a bit expensive but it's something you only do once, a bit of a rite of passage for the backpacker in Laos. It's absolute rubbish and you have to be drunk, but if you have a good gang of people you can turn it into a really random but fun night. We had a great gang and had so much fun bowling barefoot while one of us played barmaid and doled out the bottle of whiskey. It was pretty funny, especially when one of the girls kept getting strike after strike and totally destroyed the boys' scores! One of the lads was so sure he was going to win, and he couldn't hide his disappointment when he realised he had lost so superbly. Finally we were finished and ready to leave, many of the other bowlers were still going strong but we were done for the night and headed back to town. The one great thing about Laos' curfew is that even after a big night out, you can still get a full night's sleep because everything is shut by around 2am - this was welcomed after all the partying in Pai.
Other highlights of the stay in Luang Prabang include getting my hair cut by a Laos woman who spoke not a single word of English - this was interesting and she definitely didn't do what I asked. But hey, my hair looked a damn sight healthier after all the dry bits were cut off! I also went for a fabulous massage (aiming to have one in every country I visit in Asia) which was specifically a Laos massage - which was very different to those I have had in Thailand. It was far more gentle and more relaxing than invigorating, plus the oils they used smelt amazing! I also loved walking around the markets and the town - Luang Prabang is a lovely little town, but if you have already done all the trekking and trips like that elsewhere, it leaves you with little to do. The shopping appeared good there, although I didn't buy anything. I would definitely recommend a visit to the town because it is lovely and the people are very friendly - if you do pop by, also go to the bar that holds nightly fashion and breakdancing shows out on by local children - it's very different and good fun.
Have you been to Laos - what did you think of the country? Would you consider going there in the future to test out your bowling skills?