So where was I? Oh yeah, the vomiting and diarrhea…
So after the bipolar Day 4+, with its scenic hiking, cultural encounters, historical cave tour, and nausea-fraught, body-fluid-filled overnight ordeal, we had a decision to make: attempt to muddle through the day’s kayaking or prostrate ourselves across the not-really-made-for-laying-down seats of the minibus, subjecting ourselves to a full day’s worth of rutted Laotian roads that would layer car sickness on top of our existing affliction. Fortunately, because we had a three-hour drive to the drop-off point where the kayaking would begin, we had time to make that decision. Unfortunately, there would be no escaping those bumpy roads.
Rising gingerly from bed on Day 5, we slowly began packing for our departure. Breakfast in the resort’s restaurant followed, but unlike the previous day, when I had gorged on crepe after crepe (c’mon, they’re thin!), I could only manage a cup of hot tea. The husband, casting about the buffet for something that didn’t seem too off-putting and finally settling on a single glass of juice, relayed the gist of our physical troubles to one of our tour-mates at a nearby table. Overhearing the exchange, a Dutch lady at the buffet joined in:
Dutch lady: Is everybody ok?
The husband: Uh, not really. Bit of a dodgy meal last night.
Dutch lady: Was it the Indian restaurant in town?
The husband (nonplussed): How did you know?!
Dutch lady: We read online. Everyone who goes there gets sick.
I don’t know what website she found that put her in the know, but it certainly wasn’t Trip Advisor®, whose misleading four-and-five-star ratings were the source of all our gastrointestinal maladies (that, along with my stubborn insistence that we stay put and my total disregard for the husband’s savvy sixth sense about the place).
Shortly thereafter, we ran into the Swiss-German couple with whom we’d had a drink the night before. We recounted our tale of suffering, to which we got this response: Oh yeah. We considered that place, too, but when we saw the plastic furniture we decided to go to the Indian restaurant next door, which had wooden furniture. Needless to say, they didn’t get sick. Feeling guilty, foolish, and naïve, I copped to a need to develop a more discerning eye when it comes to dining in the developing world.
In due course, we boarded the minibus – the husband riding shotgun so as to stave off car-sickness, while I positioned myself in the center of the first row of seats for the same reason. Happily, nothing that would be considered “publicly embarrassing” occurred on that long ride, though the husband did require a few stops for either some fresh air (which was hard to come by when the driver kept stopping at roadside gas stations in a country brimming with smelly two-stroke scooter engines) or to use the bathroom, as he continued to contend with, uh, outward symptoms. I was lucky – I merely felt like hell.
Finally we pulled up to a little beach on the Nam Ou River where our kayaks were waiting. Even before we arrived, we’d made the decision to attempt the day’s activity: paddling about four hours, first on the Nam Ou, and then hanging a left onto the Mekong. It was our only day of kayaking on the entire trip and we didn’t want to miss it.
Now is probably a good time to mention that the husband and I have a name for silly inventions like tandem bikes, tandem kayaks, and other ill-conceived two-person conveyances . We call them divorcemobiles. Still, into a tandem kayak we went, the husband claiming the power seat behind me. Vessels like this can bring on serious bickering at the best of times. As you well know, his was not the best of times. Thus, we spent the first long while of our river adventure paddling with as much energy as we could muster while quarreling over technique, effort, timing, bossiness-abatement, kayak communication skills, and river rapid navigation, until eventually we decided we’d both better make an attitude adjustment and cut each other some slack.
We made three stops on the river that day. Once for lunch, where the husband managed to get down half an orange, while I bested him by eating the other half and a few bites of baguette, a second time for a tour of the Pak Ou Caves, alternately known as the Buddha Caves, and finally at a place known for its snake-and-insect-steeped whiskey.
Located at the confluence of the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers, the upper and lower caves that form this religious site cum tourist destination are filled with thousands of Buddha statues of every size, thought to have been left there by locals over the centuries.
Winded by a stair climb that in haler times we wouldn’t bat an eyelash at, the husband and I enjoyed the caves at a slow pace, resting when we could and noting that this was the first time on the trip that we’d had to fend off pushy trinket sellers. Then it was back down the stairs, into the boats, and onto Ban Xanghai, known colloquially as the Whiskey Village.
The husband normally takes an avid interest in terroir-laden regional liquor, but such was his infirmity that he couldn’t stomach the thought of potent Lao whiskey (we’d each had a shot at a Baci ceremony earlier in our stay – it’s something of an acquired taste) and sat on the stairs to await our group. A half-hour of kayaking later we pulled up onto the beach where the minibus was waiting.
After the long, hard day, we were driven back to our Luang Prabang resort where we checked into our room and, without even stopping to open our suitcases, took the longest, hottest shower permitted by the country’s Communist regime. Next came a few moments of mental struggle in which I weighed the pros and cons of breaking my nearly two-decade-long “soda-free” lifestyle, an unexpected but welcome byproduct of a failed attempt in my 20s to give up sugar for a month. (You’ve never seen someone so bad-tempered – I ended up quitting the endeavor after two excruciating weeks, much to the husband’s relief.) I decided the risk of a soda-addiction relapse was worth the benefit to my ailing stomach and I downed two cans of Sprite. After that I collapsed into bed and went to sleep.
It was 5:50pm.
Thereon followed a near record-breaking number of continuous hours of sleep for me – 9½! – outpaced in recent memory only by the 10-hour marathon of slumber I achieved after completing the Ride London event. The husband, not one to be outdone, schooled me by sleeping for 12 hours straight, evidence that he was faring worse than I was.
Still, we had done it. We hadn’t missed out. Well, that’s not entirely true. That night was our final opportunity to experience Luang Prabang’s night market… and we missed it. Such are the vagaries of travel.
But on the plus side, I’m still soda-free!
Read more about our Dust-Farm-Pail List SE Asia adventures:
- Things We Learned from the Travel Medicine Doctor: Laos/Cambodia Edition
- And We’re Off…
- Southeast Asia to Midwest America Jet Lag: What Fresh Hell is This?
- Blog Buddy Meet-up #1: Luang Prabang, Laos
- Laos, Days 1-2: Cycling & Sightseeing
- Laos, Day 3: The Journey to Nong Khiaw
- Laos, Day 4+: Hiking, Remote Villages, and One Really Bad Indian Meal
- Laos, Day 5: Queasy Kayaking
- Day 6: The Journey to Cambodia and a Meal for Adventurous Carnivores
- Cambodia, Days 7-8: Wat a Fabulous Couple of Days!
- Cambodia, Days 9-10: Spending New Year on a Sacred Buddhist Mountain
- Blog Buddy Meet-Up #2: Bangkok, Thailand