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Houay Xai, Laos

After our bike adventures the day prior we woke up in Luang Namtha and man my butt was sore! That bike seat was not the best. We got up, went by the veggie place and got breakfast to go then headed down to the bus station to catch the bus to Houay Xai - where you can cross over into Thailand. Look how colorful our bus was! They still jammed as many people as the could in there and it was mostly locals. There was another lady from the US who ended up sitting next to us, but man she was not happy/friendly. She had a ton of stuff with her - this giant backpack, a giant purse bag thing, another purse, and another bag. I really wanted to know what was in all her bags. Like what in the world did she bring with her? 
So she got on the bus and her giant backpack was in the aisle, which of course would not work since that is prime seat for other passengers! So they wanted her to put the bag on top of the bus, but she was just like I can't lift it myself...and was half heartedly trying to get it back off the bus when some of the guys there grabbed it for her and put it up top. She didn't even say thank you or anything to them. Then I tried to make some conversation with her, we were going to be on the bus for a while, but she was having none of that. I asked if she was heading right into Thailand and she said yes and I said we were thinking of staying the night in Houay Xai and she just looked at me like why in the world would you want to stay in Laos?!? She was all there is a bus that leaves at 4pm you can take into Thailand!! She apparently couldn't wait to leave, while Raymond and I wish we could have stayed longer. She was just not very happy. And that was the end of our conversation.  

The bus was really slow, but that was fine. It was rainy and windy mountain roads so slower is better. Then we wouldn't slide off the road like I read in one of the guestbooks in Oudomxay. We got to the bus station and the tuk tuk took us right to where we wanted to go. It was perfect! The other US lady was arguing with the tuk tuk people - she wanted to go to the boat dock for some reason (the guidebook said you can no longer cross into Thailand by boat - only locals can cross there) and didn't want to pay $1 to get there even though it was a bit of a drive. Luckily we weren't waiting on her in our tuk tuk and off we went. We found a room - 70,000 Kip for a place that overlooks the water - and got some foods. We ate at the same place for lunch and dinner (there were not that many places to eat there) and both times the people who ran it were also eating their meals. It was just in the front of their house, which is common, but here there was no wall of anything dividing the space. It was just some tables next to their living room and kids watching TV and such. 
After lunch we went to explore. The town is not that big, but right on the water which is nice. There is also a temple on the hill so we went to check that out. 

It was very colorful

As I was taking this photo I heard someone say in English - Hello! in a way that made me think I was doing something wrong. But it was just the one Monk who is studying english and wanted to practice speaking with us. He was super friendly, really loves Maroon 5 (he kept singing bits of their songs) and it was nice. We were chatting for awhile and another big group came and we were all talking. We asked him a bit about himself and being a monk and everything and he tried to get some of the other monks to practice their english with us as well. That was the first and only time the monks came over to talk to us as we were exploring. It was fun. 

After that we continued exploring, booked our bus to Chiang Mai for the following morning, then went and sat by the water for a bit. The view wasn't the best, but it was still nice. There was a night market so after dinner we went to try and find that and did - it was a ton of balloon pop games to win sodas and snacks and only a tiny bit of food. 

When we were booking our bus ticket I noticed the place had a tour package you could sign up for which included getting up early to see the daily giving of alms to the Buddhist monks. This is popular in Luang Prabang, but we didn't get up to see it there. It seemed like a bit of a spectacle in Luang Prabang, like the people watching don't respect the ritual, and it doesn't seem good. The monk we were talking to the day before was saying that the monks there don't like it because people just do whatever and don't seem to care if they are interfering. He said a lot of them like to go to neighboring towns for the morning alms. 

So when I saw that they did that here, that you could go watch along the main street at 6am, I figured if we were up why not. Well I woke up a bit before 6 and made Raymond get dressed and go spy with me. We tried to stay way out of the way and not interfere. We were the only people who were not apart of it so we stayed behind the monks a way and on the other side of the street so we wouldn't disrupt them. People who live there would come out with rice and kneel by the side of the road, hold up their contain of rice and say something, then give a bit of rice to each monk that walked by. After every set of people who gave them rice the monks would stop and chant something before moving down the road. 

It was really interesting and I am glad we made it out to see the alms giving. It was definitely this spiritual thing and I think if we would have tried to see it in Luang Prabang all of the other people would have ruined it. It was a different experience and to hear that people have turned it into kind of a spectacle in Luang Prabang is kind of sad. So if you are visiting Laos in a smaller town I recommend getting up early and watching the procession. 

Afterwards we continued walking along the road and spied on Thailand

These are all of the empty balloon pop game boards from the night market

Then we headed back, packed up, ate our breakfast and caught our tuk tuk to the border. The tuk tuk driver was super friendly. He was so happy and nice, and made sure we knew exactly what to do then gave us high fives before wishing us well. We exchanged our money (you can't take any Lao Kip outside of the country) and waited for our shuttle bus across the bridge. 

Oh while we were packing up Raymond turned to me and said "You wanted me to remind you that we needed to take a photo with the hotel people." I just started laughing as I had forgotten until he said something that I was having this weird dream the night before and I remember kind of waking up and being so annoyed because Raymond just didn't seem to understand what I was talking about. In my dream we had to take a photo with this old guy at the hotel to get a discount rate or to win a scavenger hunt or something, I don't really remember what, so I was all Hey! You need to remind me to take a photo with the old man tomorrow. He of course was confused and all what old man?? And I was getting annoyed, like the people at the hotel! We need to get a photo! Like what is wrong with you? Why don't you remember what is going on? It made me laugh so much in the morning when I remembered it. We were talking later and he said how it kind of made sense since we had been talking earlier in the trip about taking photos of where we stayed to prove we were there...which I have no memory of. I think he dreamt that. So it was odd that at different times we both had odd dreams that somehow made sense together. Good times. 

Goodbye Laos! We were honestly super sad to be leaving. I still miss it even now months later. I cannot say enough good things about our time there. Yes, it was way too hot and humid and my body is just not set up for that, but I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat. The people were so nice, the countryside was beautiful, the food super delicious. Just everything about it I loved. It was so laid back, so you get there when you get there, just so awesome. I loved that there were no western chains (although they do love their Oreo's and Ritz crackers!), I loved that there weren't billboards and advertising everywhere. Loved traveling through all of the small villages and the markets and everything. It was simply an amazing 2.5 weeks. Oh and one of the best things - all of their money is bills! No coins! So there you have all of our Laos adventures. We will definitely be back to explore more of the country. Next up Thailand and the vegetarian festival (aka eating all the food!). 


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