I think it is wash hour, visit hour and play on the highway hour - fading lights, smoke haze, no street lights, no roadwork signs and crazy express buses unable or unwilling to dip their headlights mixed quite well through the continuous village life along the main highway. Add to that the local traffic that deems headlights either unnecessary or a waste of power and you can start to imagine the difficulties of driving at dusk in Laos. Every now and then you caome across a pile of rocks, gravel or sand dumped on the road and of course there was my favourite, a boulder the size of a caravan, recently dropped onto the road, the same colour as the road and almost as invisible when oncoming traffic wsa blinding me.
Arriving in Luang Prabang to an absence of street signs in English meant that we did 3 laps of the town and 2 trips out of town before working out where we were.
Again the driving wasn't exactly easy. Julia had the job of spotting pedestrians, cycles and animals whilst I tried to prevent scooters becoming bonnet ornaments. They would have made attractive ornaments mind you, as every scooter carried at least one well dressed Laos lady with a large silver rice bowl. We think it was something to do with the final celebration of New Year and giving alms to monks - the whole town was doing it - at about 15km/h so again driving was easy.
So that night we were just glad to find a room - over 500km in a day in Laos is an achievement and we all gladly went to bed without dinner.
The next morning we got a better look at Luang Prabang and secured a better, more central room. In fact without realising it our room, with balcony overlooked a famous temple and also the morning alms route. Morning alms is where the local monks walk in single file along the streets around their temple and local people sit waiting to provide food for their day. So we had ring side seats - if you are up at 6am that is!
We really enjoyed Luang Prabang but did find that our choice of hotel meant we didn't have the full "chill out" relaxing time that the town is famous for.
You see monks like to bang drums and gongs - apparently best heard at 4am. Our convenient location was opposite one drum tower and not far from a 2nd - well within earshot. So when one beat started it was a surprise to hear a second more distant beat in competition rather than in unison. The addition of smaller drums reaching a climatic crescendo with - yep you may have guessed it - cymbals, was a particularly unusual way to be woken. I am quite sure there was chanting as well but perhaps I just imagined that up out of expectation.
For some reason it didn't occur on our 2nd night - perhaps the wedding party set up in the street outside our room kept the monks up late as well. When the band finished at 10pm, having completed their run through the Laos top 20, it was only 10 minutes until the 6 remaining wedding guests plucked up the courage to tackle some Laos karaoke classics.....until 1.30am. No wonder the monks slept in!
Of course during the day we did stuff, ate stuff and visited stuff - Laos pizza's, Elephant farms and 4 wheel driving in no particular order - and generally spent 3 days relaxing before the great Northern journey - to China and Beyond.