So there hasn't been a lot of travel posting this time around, sorry. But there will (eventually!) be a lot of pictures!!! I promise.
We are now on Day 3 of Luang Prabang. This former capital of Laos is home to a number of World Heritage sites, and it's quite lovely. A little strange at first - I was expecting a small city, and got barely a town. It's quite small. You barely even see it as you approach by boat (the way most people get here). I don't think I've seen any buildings higher than 3 stories, and you can pretty much walk the entire town on foot...in about an hour. (OK, maybe two.)
Laos is a former French colony (they used it as a buffer for Vietnam from Thailand), so there are many buildings in the French colonial style. Some of the buildings look like they are direct descendants of some of the buildings in Vieux-Quebec, but many have a more "modern" colonial look to them (since Quebec was a 17th century French colony, while Laos was 19th and 20th). And did I mention it's tiny? I wasn't crazy about it at first - it felt like a built of a tourist circus - but it's grown on me.
Prior to coming here, in a nutshell:
Stayed in Bangkok for 5 days. Mostly wandered a lot, visited some wats (temples), shopped in some markets, that sort of thing. We are heading back to Bangkok in a few weeks and will visit the Grand Palace then. Then we took the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai which was as enjoyable a trip as I remember it being last time around (I love sleeper trains). I've been to Chiang Mai before, of course, but I didn't get to see much of the town - this time around, I got a much better feel. We were also staying at a great guesthouse called "CM Blue House" which was really central and uber-comfortable. We originally had planned to stay in Chiang Mai for 3 days, but we stayed 5.
Then, last Friday, we tore ourselves away from Chiang Mai and took a minivan to Chiang Khong, a small town on the border with Laos. That was a 5-hour ride, fairly un-noteworthy. We stayed overnight in a guesthouse on the Mekong River, and then the next morning, took a "ferry" (tiny boat) across the river to Houay Xai, where we crossed through immigration and into Laos. Then we were off to the slowboat docks, for the 2-day boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. You don't sleep on the boat - you spend the night about halfway down, in a small village called Pak Beng. We had a bottom-barrel guesthouse there - it was a room with a fan and twin beds, but the electricity was shut off around 11:00 p.m., so the room was SWELTERING. Not my favourite night. Anyway, it was clean, which is what's important. Day 2 on the boat was more enjoyable than I thought it might be, and then we got to Luang Prabang! We're been here 3 days so far, with the intention of staying 2 or 3 more. Right now we are trying to figure out the most painless way to get to Phounsavan, the town in northeastern Laos near the famous Plain of Jars site - there doesn't seem to be a painless way to do it (8-hour local bus ride seems to be one of our only bets) - and then after a day or two there, we head down to Vientiane, the Laotian capital.
You are now up-to-date.