Not Leaving Luang Prabang!
Paul was out of cigarette papers and so lazily tore a couple of the dryer pages from ‘The Lonely Planet’ – they weren’t hard to find! He rolled a herbal cigar and lay back in the boys’ shabby bedroom . A wonderfully tawdry chamber. Lime green cornicing skirted the ceiling and faded lemon plaster soured the walls. A mouldy wash basin and a pea-green en-suite one wished wasn’t there completed the design. T’was full of Indochine class and Laotian filth!
He and Andrew loved it.
So much so that the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang had screwed up their itinerary once again. Years before they had visited the sublime Asian setting and had become landlocked, just like the country itself. There was something they equally found hypnotic in it’s geographic opulence. The meeting of two rivers, the majestic Mekong and it’s equally pretty consort, the Nam Khan, surrounded by verdant peaks, made it magical.
Not to mention the faded glamour of Gallic colonisation that clung to the place like garlic on one’s breath next morning.
Luang Prabang still had that whiff of class.
The small town in Northern Laos was of important spiritual significance. Famously the Buddhist monks walked out each morning before dawn to collect alms from the townsfolk, and the tourists! Paul and Andrew had risen at an unbuddhaly hour on their last visit to the place, to catch the ceremony. They had both been appalled by the spectacle!
(See the Blog – ‘The Lola Boys Do The East – ‘A Call To Alms’!)
They would not be doing it this time, neither would Paul be documenting anything more of the tragic charade it had become!
He had learnt, from a local storyteller, that the young monks were most unhappy about the paparazzi-like conditions they were forced to endure, yet had been told by the authorities to continue with their spiritual procession or be replaced by actors! Spirited away into the wings as it were.
Cruel – surely.
Paul concluded the future in Luang Prang may not be completely bright and orange. Especially as the main line from China was due to pull into Luang Prabang’s spanking new railway station at sometime in 2021. Doubtless thousands of Chinese would then alight, light up and obscure the ancient setting in a haze of smog and smut. He suspected the timetable for visiting this special place was probably coming to the end of the line. He knew he would advise anyone with style to get there now, while the old girl was still on the right track.
He and Andrew were staying, ominously, in room ‘666’, on the upper floor of an old Laotian mansion. As mentioned, their quarters were aptly devilish in decor. But at under ten quid a night one could not complain. Even when the bathroom flooded twice nightly. And not with their own effluence!
It was definitely a room with a phew!
‘Hot’, the ‘proprietor’, was cool. He possessed eight teeth and a prepossessing manner. He sang tonelessly most days, and when the mood took him, chucked a couple of dead salmon-hued towels onto their bed. Sometimes the bin was emptied. Occasionally, the bath wiped clean. Almost. And on the odd day, two bijou bottles of water appeared on the dresser. It was a kind thought Paul thought. Yet he had no intention of touching it. Let alone drinking the stuff. The ‘Absolut’ vodka he and Andrew had smuggled with them was much safer for brushing one’s teeth.
And at least absolutely palatable if swallowed.
It was clear that the misnamed ‘Mojo Guesthouse’ had slightly misplaced it’s mojo. But when exuding such charm, Paul wondered who gave a shit. Besides, he and Andrew were low on bucks. He thought they may have to consider passing the charity bucket round at the next ‘Lola Boys’ gig, seeing as one of their main employers had unfortunately kicked one earlier in the year. So as economic refugees they could hardly complain. And, after all, the quality in Laos was priceless. He knew such authenticity could not usually be bought so cheaply.
They were certainly making the most of all the town had to offer, and it was all to easy to fall into the same somnolent rhythm of the riverine paradise. Even the people worked on a slower current exuding peacefulness and bags of ‘om’, despite some murky undercurrents eddying through the place.
Paul noticed that it was now a little harder to find the authentic serenity he’d discovered before. One had to wander further afield. Of course, going too far off the beaten track in Laos was never recommended – seeing as it had the dubious epithet of being the most bombed country per capita in the world.
From 1964 to 1973 the US dropped two million tons of ordnance. That equals about a plane of bombs every eight minutes for nine years. Over 270 million were of the hideous ‘cluster bomb’ variety, with 80 million failing to explode.
Making a walk in the park not quite a walk in the park!
By the time the war ended in 1975, an estimated tenth of the population had been killed.
America’s latest gift was now the multi billion dollar railway project, doubtless with financial rather than spiritual well-being being it’s driving force. Paul considered that instead of passing the buck, the U.S.A. might want to spend a few, and clear up the shit they’d left behind. Rather than laying down more metal nonsense.
Clearly, one could not blame the United States for everything, even if it was quite fun at times. Especially with President Lump in power. The Chinese, with their obsessional materialistic notion of weaving a new automated Silk Road, were lending Laos the money for the scheme, at a price. And it was quite obvious The Laotian authorities had their part to play as well. Sadly, they seemed to be getting it slightly wrong. Instead of lessening traffic in the historic city they had cleared some of the charming terraces from the riverside replacing them with concrete car parks. White mini vans now blocked the river view from many a boutique residence.
Of course this deconstruction didn’t currently affect Andrew and Paul, as they were residing in the less salubrious part of town. But Paul found it sadder than their accommodation. He only hoped good taste would win the day, but then, he’d been to China! And having seen development in other parts of spectacular Laos, he wasn’t gonna put a bet on it.
The odds were not in Luang Prabang’s favour.
But for now the town continued to mesmerize with it’s evocation of ancient esoterica. Paul decided it may even be his favourite town in Asia. And he’d done a few!
He lay back and puffed on the traditional herbal mix he’d rolled with a piece of page 492 and a section concerning Deep Vein Thrombosis. He hoped it wasn’t an omen.
As the smoke took him to a more pensive place he wasn’t concerned for himself. It was the beautiful little town whose lifeblood he feared for most. It was her arteries which were becoming blocked. The bloody pressure on her to modernise was sky-high. He only hoped on his next visit, for he knew he would return, that she wouldn’t be in need of resuscitation.
But he wouldn’t hold his breath.
The bathroom gurgled loudly and a piece of spore ridden plaster fell from the ceiling onto his bed. Andrew, hit the antique wooden floor with a great thump as he attempted to do the ‘tree of life’ pose. Paul had warned him that yoga and vodka were not the best mix. His balance was precarious at the best of times. Just like that of the town in which they were staying.
Paul hoped that, unlike his beautiful partner, Luang Prabang may just discover hers before it was too late. Otherwise, she too, would most certainly come crashing to the ground with a huge Luang Prabang!
And then no-one would be able to save her.