When Friday Rested
The best water pressure in Asia is found after a 30-minute walk up Kuang Si falls. When you find that certain spot, almost hidden along the badly marked trail, the water comes rushing down so hard you have to brace your neck against it’s force. Then you jump into the pool below and talk to a British girl about Asia while your friend talks to her friend. You’re on the edge of a pool, right where the water slides down another 30 feet; it’s trying to push you over the edge too. You can see all the way down to where you started walking up, which must be a couple hundred feet below.
When you spend your Thursday at Kuang Si falls, it will be hard for your Friday to measure up so it might be best for Friday not to compete. That’s what our Friday did—mine and Kym’s, that is. My Aussie roommate Kym and I are both men with women’s names which can be convenient for girls you hang out with who mention you on their blog and have boyfriends back home.
Kym and my Friday consisted of waking up at 11, getting breakfast and confiding in each other that neither of us minded if we didn’t do much. In the afternoon Kym bought a boat ticket and I did computer work.
Around 5pm, our Friday having successfully conserved its energy, we set out on adventure. Kym had rented a bike and I got one too. The bikes only cost $1 for 24 hours so it didn’t matter that we weren’t really going anywhere. We cruised through town along the Mekong River and Kym spotted a shop along the way selling Lao whiskey. The whiskey was called Tiger, and since Kym had been swiped at by a playful, somewhat-caged tiger the previous day at the falls, he felt compelled to buy the bottle. It also helped that it was $.80.
I suggested we get some coke for the whiskey but Kym was afraid it would get warm. “Warm?” I asked. “Aren’t we drinking it now?” And so we were.
There weren’t any plastic cups to be had so Kym called on some Asian ingenuity. Soda is often sold in re-used glass bottles and if you want to take it away they pour it into a plastic bag, put a straw in it and tie off the top of the bag. All through Asia there are people drinking out of plastic bags, which is quite odd at first. We got a couple bags of Pepsi and found a spot along the Mekong. We added too much Tiger whiskey and a bottle each of M-150 (a Red Bull knockoff).
An Australian girl came by and said hello. She was drinking a papaya shake out of a plastic bag. It was quite good, and even better with a ton of whiskey in it.
As the sun went down on the Mekong and Kym and I got drunk, we considered feeling sympathy for Johanna and Maya, the American sisters who would have to deal with us at dinner in our Tiger-induced state. It was a brief consideration.
We had two hours before we had to meet them and we scheduled our evening with great care. After downing half the bottle of whiskey we biked through town in pursuit of a massage. In addition to buying a boat ticket, Kym had spent his day surveying the massage options of Luang Prabang. (These are the types of concerns that face backpackers when they aren’t visiting waterfalls). We settled on a place and had our massages. I was awake for several stretches of mine, getting my $3 worth.
At 8pm we met the girls at the shop in the night market with all the round lanterns. We were still a bit groggy from our whiskey/massage evening and Maya clearly had reservations about getting on the back seat of Kym’s bike. But when Johanna got on mine, her sister followed suit and then we were dodging shoppers in the narrow space between stalls. The bikes could have been a bit steadier and the path a bit more designed for bike traffic but we made it through the market and down an ally back to the massage place. It was also a soup place. The bowls of traditional soup—noodles, beef, greens, mint, lime, chilies—were $.50 each.
After soup we climbed back on the bikes, picked up some fresh spring rolls at a stand along the way, and cruised through town. Luang Prabang is a great town to bike through and it’s my hope to find more towns so pleasant and accessible by bike. After a while we found Hive, a classy, touristy bar where the 20oz beers are $1.20 instead of $.80. We shared many Beer Laos (or is it Beers Lao, like Attorneys General?).
Everything in Laung Prabang shuts down early—smart of us to start early then, wasn’t it?—so around 11:30pm they kicked us out. The girls hopped on our backseats and we drove them home. There's something really cool about peddling a girl back to her guesthouse at the end of the night.
After we dropped them off, Kym and I heading back along the Mekong towards our place and I shouted across to him that I was hungry. We passed a place that still had a couple lights on and saw that the workers were sitting down to eat. We asked if they had any more of the soup they were eating but they didn’t. They could make us some barbeque soup though, for 35,000 kip ($3.50). “Thirty-five thousand, oh no, so much!” Kym shouted with a smile and a quasi-Lao accent. “I’m a poor backpacker, I have no money. Thirty-five is too much.”
I knew he was enjoying this so I went to the bathroom and when I returned we had procured soup and two drinks for 30,000 ($3.00). The table had a ceramic pit in the middle of it and they came by and filled it with hot coals. Then they put a big metal plate over it. It wasn’t really a plate though—it had a trough around the edges which they filled with water and a raised area in the middle that functioned as a grill. Meat went on the grill part and vegetables and noodles went into the broth. “It’s the Asian Benihana,” Johanna observed, when I brought her and Maya there the next day. The soup cooked there in front of us and Kym explained that Aussie should be pronounced as if the “s”s are “z”s and that the first syllable in “Australia” should sound like “us.” Our soup attendant ladled the broth into our bowls.
Kym and I had our soup and got on our bikes. It was pouring and we took off our shirts and tucked them into our shorts and peddled hard through the thick rain. The streets were empty and silent except for the rain. The receptionist at our guesthouse heard us parking our bikes and opened the door even before we knocked. He had long before gone to sleep on the floor between the reception desk and the entry door but he knew the guys from room two were still out.
We came in soaked and topless, trying not to get things too wet on the way. We changed into dry clothes and Kym packed up because the slow-boat was leaving in six hours. In the morning, with his pack already slung onto his back, he shook me awake and said goodbye and wished me safe travels and left to go north.