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CAN YOUR TRAVEL LUCK RUN OUT?

THE UNIVERSE AND TRAVEL LUCK

I confess to my mother that I’m nervous about my upcoming trip to Laos and Indonesia.

She points out that my travel luck to date has been better than average.

“Sooner or later,” she reasons, “your luck is going to run out.” Thanks for the encouragement, Mom.

Southeast Asia Map

TRAVEL LUCK

With travel comes risk. But my rational self knows that The Universe is not tracking my travel luck to date and determining that I’m overdue for a mishap or two.  You can roll the dice even 20 times in a row and you’re chance of rolling even the 21st time is still 50/50. The stars do not keep score.

Traveling well (without incident) is a skill. If anything, my history of successful travel should be a good predictor of successful future travel.

Yet I can’t shake this nagging feeling – not of doom, exactly – that’s too powerful of a word – but of apprehension.

Maybe it’s because my cat was recently ill, and I thought I might have to cancel my trip. He recovered quickly.

Or perhaps I’m nervous because a few weeks ago civilian protestors closed the Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi) for a week, leaving hundreds of thousands travelers stranded. I have six flights booked in and out of Suvarnabhumi: it’s my Southeast Asia base of operations. It closing again would be a Bad Thing.

“There are worse places to be stranded than Bangkok,” I had said to my mother at the time. But then the protests ended and the airport reopened in time for my vacation (thank you, protesters).

Should I take these near-incidents as a sign that my travel luck has turned bad? Or is the fact that the situations self-corrected proof that travel luck is on my side?

I know the answer. The answer is: I should stop being so damn superstitious and act like the sensible person I like to think I am.

Yet the foreboding remains…

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WHY TRAVEL TO LUANG PRABANG?

LUANG PRABANG AIRPORT

A little disoriented (who knows what the hell time zone my body’s on) after a brief overnight in Bangkok, Bagzillo (my trusty Hartmann traveler) and I land at Luang Prabang. I have my two passport photos on me, so we snag my visa quickly and are out the door in 20 minutes. If only O’Hare was as efficient.

I hail a taxi, they take one look at me — blonde, American, female (in other words, a sucker) — and beckon not one of the multiple air-conditioned mini-vans just sitting in wait for a passenger, but a tuk-tuk. Whatever. After years of traveling I’ve finally learned (somewhat) to just go with the flow.

LOTUS VILLA

Lotus Villas Luang Prabang Laos

The check-in staff at the Lotus Villa is sweet, and the hotel couldn’t be better situated. I booked the property because it is rated high on Tripadvisor and it costs next-to-nothing.

And you get what you pay for. Not that my room is bad — the walls are paneled in deep red wood and I have a balcony — but my mattress is cast from stone and I can see and hear my neighbor’s 14-inch tv set from my window. It could be worse: my poor neighbors can see and hear me using the toilet if I don’t fully shut the bathroom door.

I lie back on my slab of a bed and fall into a long, deep slumber (coma?) just like I always do when I arrive in Asia.

WHY LUANG PRABANG?

Laos

A lot of people ask,  “Why go to Luang Prabang?!?” They’re flummoxed by the thought.

Well, for one, because Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A traveler can hardly go wrong sticking to that list.

But, in short, Luang Prabang is just one of those unique, wonderful destinations that the world is on the brink of discovering (and possibly ruining in the process). I fear it’s reaching a sort of tourist tipping point that will strip it of the very charm that draws people to it in the first place.

Despite my unsupported apprehension regarding this trip, I really am a left-brained person, and I seek algorithms and statistics to either determine my travel plans or validate them. One formula I apply when determining where to go — and when — I’ve internally dubbed The Sweet Spot. Graphed-out, it’s the point at which a destination’s infrastructure (an upward sloping line as it improves with time) converges with the deleterious effects of tourism (a downward sloping line).

I don’t have the stamina for a destination that’s too removed from civilization (I like my hot showers and cold beers) yet I don’t want to be sharing it with thousands of other sweaty tourists in fanny packs and bright white sneakers either. Luang Prabang, from what I’ve read and heard, is in the Sweet Spot.

MY SWEET SPOT LIST

Past the Sweet Spot

  • Venice
  • Prague
  • Bali
  • San Miguel de Allende

In the Sweet Spot

  • Sri Lanka
  • Myanmar
  • Croatia
  • Nepal
  • Oman

Not Yet in the Sweet Spot

  • Ogasawara – Shoto, Japan: the only way to get there is still a 25-hour ferry
  • Madagascar
  • Azerbaijan

Do you agree? Disagree?

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MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THIS TAK BAT STUFF

play:

3:00 A.M.

What’s that godawful noise?

And where am I?

It’s the crowing of the roosters next door, is what that godawful noise is and it takes me a few seconds, but I eventually recall that I’m in Luang Prabang.

I clutch at my iPhone. It’s only 3:00 a.m. and I’ve been in a coma-like state for 14 hours. I like to think of myself as an experienced, savvy world traveler but the sad fact is that I’m a wimp when it comes to jet lag. Returning from Asia will be worse: I’ll be sick for a week.

I open my Pringles and reach for my iPad, killing time until Tak Bat.

6:00 A.M. (TAK BAT TIME)

A hint of daylight. I grab my windbreaker (mornings are chilly in Luang Prabang) and walk the uneven streets to Sisavangvong Road, the main street running the length of the city. I claim a perch atop a wall respectfully recessed from the street and watch as fleets of mini-vans dispatch their passengers. This sleepy neighborhood is awakening before me with two types of people: the calm, sincere locals who wait patiently on plastic stools along the kerb; and the animated tourists snapping photos of one-another, holding bags of rice aloft like trophies.

We’ve gathered to either watch or participate in Tak Bat, the daily alms-giving ceremony. A long line of monks wearing orange robes with bright yellow cumberbunds (or something like that) snakes through the streets of Luang Prabang, the young men extending bowls to the kneeling villagers as they walk past them. The villagers dip into pots they’ve brought, form balls of rice with their hands (yikes), and place them into the monks’ bowls. A few small children run along side the monks extending their own pots, playfully begging them for a portion of their alms. The monks indulge them.

Luang Prabang Monks Observing Tak Bat

Like many other bloggers who have posted about Tak Bat, my feelings towards the ceremony have been dampened by the tourists’ exploitative behavior. It’s a good reminder for me to conduct myself with respect when I travel, and not get too snap-happy with my camera (which I have a tendency to do) as I’m merely a guest.

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