Bears, Buffaloes and Butterflies

The Tang of Luang Prabang

After 12 hours in a bus on a death-defying mountain road sustained only by our collective suspension of disbelief in the laws of gravity, and by many, many novenas, confessions of guilt and beggings for forgiveness, remembrance of sins of omission and commission, Ave Maria’s, Stations of the Cross and (only very slightly precipitate) prayers for the dead we two mountain goats, fetid with sweat and the stink of fear, reached the bottom and dragged our grateful (if slightly soggy) bottoms to the Luang Prabang Legend Hotel where the miracles continued.

Firstly, we were alive, secondly, we had arrived in the middle of nowhere to find a hotel with endless hot water, crisp clean sheets and a soft and downy bed.  Someone notify the Sainted Francis, quick !

Next morning we awoke, rubbed our eyes, stumbled onto the street and stood there blinking, like a couple of elderly goldfish with astigmatism.

We seemed to be in the middle of a waking dream.  Had we, in fact, died on the bus trip and gone to Heaven ?  It seemed probable.

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Spreading our wings we fluttered about and gasped at that which we beheld.  Words can’t describe it, images can’t capture it, but, our darlings, be very assured of one solitary, simple and undeniable fact,

Luang Prabang IS Shangri-La.

We reflected that the torture of yesterday was worth it. To have seen those Laotian mountains and countryside was extraordinary.

We went in search of Ronald Colman (or even Michael York) and instead came across young schoolchildren teaching even younger schoolchildren morning dancing and singing.

Everyone was having a damn good time.  We floated past, confident that now we are dead we were invisible to all.

We wandered ectoplasmically, moaning with delight along the Mekong that surrounds Luang Prabang.

Met up with two fellow spirits, our bus-brothers-in-arms, Hoi and Riccardo and took a tuktuk (try saying that 12 times quickly) on a day’s adventure.

First the Hmong village. Our happy Weavers here are the Disney face of the village. A good business with beautiful products and enough tourists on the way to the waterfall for a nice little earner.    They only bunged on the silly hats when the cameras came out and after the Kip had changed hands.

Cross the road to walk through the rest of the village and, desperately sad to say, it’s pretty much poverty porn. The children are dressed in colourful clothes, and learn rote chants for the tourists.

Onto the buffalo farm where we met a couple of charming Iranians spending their honeymoon helping the Lao.  Uplifting stuff.  Good people from all faiths and from all over the world doing their best to lift others up.

The Laos Buffalo Dairy purchases pregnant buffalo, crossbreed buffalo for a healthier strain, rent pregnant buffalo from local farmers, milk the buffalos, and train the underprivileged.  ” But what have they done lately ? ” we hear you ask.

While these cattle are being rented they’re health-checked and vaccinated. The LBD make products like cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. For a small fee you can sample the delights of buffalo ice cream and even ride one of the critters.  We demurred.

Just down the road we paused  briefly at an Elephant sanctuary where you could also hop a ride (but no Elephant ice cream was to be had.  Volunteers are currently bring sought for the milking position).

Next stop: The butterfly farm – a magical place where tame (male) butterflies alight on you to suck your salty sweat thus boosting their prowess with the lady butterflies, who, it seems, dig it ?  Is it a Stanley Kowalski thing ? Chicks eh ?One slightly damaged butterfly wouldn’t leave slightly damaged Bill alone and performed a little strange rhythmic dance on his slightly damaged hat.

It seems these male flutterbys spend their lives scraping together pheromones, then perform an elaborate dance with the female butterflies, give it their best shot, and if they get lucky promptly curl up and die.  Ain’t life grand ?

An added extra is the delightfully ticklish pond with tiny fishies who nibble your toes.

Next Kwang Si Waterfall.

You start at the bottom and work your way up. We passed an enclosure holding healthy chubby black Moon bears and were delighted to note that their healthy diet was in no small part due to Vegemite (seriously) !

We came at last upon the raging cataract, which foamed and swirled, and Kristen said unto me, “Darest thou, Billious, now Leap in with me into this angry flood
And swim to yonder point?” Upon the word,
Accoutred as I was, I plungèd in
And bade her follow.

So indeed she did.
The torrent roared, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy.

Thus we braved the flood and floated and laughed in a swirling soup of people of different colours and races. Spoke to 2 people of Chinese descent, one of whom had a broad Yorkshire accent and the other a Canadian, both lovely.

We all clutched onto submerged roots and boulders as the waterfall thundered past us. Perfect strangers (in every sense) were forming human chains, holding hands and helping each other out.

We soddenly (though quite slowly) returned to Luang Prabang, where the Night Food Markets dished up lip smacking vittles.

How to end such an action-packed day? How else but with A Nightcap Daaaaah-links, at Ikon club with the delightful Elizabetta – the Hungarian Mistress of Cocktails in Luang Prabang – tempting us with perfect Negronis, Old Fashioneds and Dorothy Parkers.

It was a gentle sway home. In our serene haze we didn’t even mind the tat of the night Markets, with their elephant print harem pants, velvet art, key rings of h’mong babies, folding paper lampshades, wooden carvings, & etc.

We know, We know, you, our dear (but terribly over educated friends), all hard nosed social scientists and poindexters of various disciplines, will demand hard proof that Kristen and I had in fact died and ascended into Paradise.  Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I give you exhibit A, an angel in our midst.  Case closed.

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