Mar 19 2008

Luang Prabang: Him want to marry you!

Published by at 3:42 pm under Laos

It strikes without warning and without mercy. Even the most experienced travelers succumb to its monstrosity. We did not heed their warnings: convinced of our invincibility, we threw caution to the wind. But the dreaded Bangkok belly will not be evaded.

I’d go into more detail, but I REALLY don’t think you want to know.

Well, I say “we” but I mean Ben. I was actually able to avoid the Bangkok belly. There are two possible reasons for this:

1. I am invincible/I have the stomach of steel/I am secretly Wolverine
2. I don’t run up to street vendors screaming, “what is that?? I’ve never had that before! I’ll take three!”

And so it was that after a three-day voyage into Luang Prabang, Laos, Ben found himself curled up in bed, sticking close to the toilet, unable to leave our guesthouse to explore the place we’d journeyed so long to see.

While he napped, I decided to venture out into the city, occasionally returning to bring provisions and make sure he was still alive. And what happens when a single girl hits the town in Laos? She gets a date and a marriage proposal! But first, a little about my surroundings.

Luang PrabangLuang Prabang is a sleepy city nestled on a peninsula at the confluence of two mighty rivers – the Mekong and the Nam Khan. The misty rivers carving a path through dramatic, blue mountains form a picturesque backdrop for the town’s wide, shady streets. Thanks to years of French colonization, the city hosts a strange dichotomy: ornate wats neighbor austere French mansions; greasy food vendors set up street carts in front of upscale European brasseries. Our guidebook calls the city “tonic for the soul” and I cannot think of a more apt description. Despite being one of – if not THE – biggest tourist draw in Laos, the small city moves at an extremely relaxed pace. Mostly, the place is just so gosh darn quiet. As I sat in a busy café enjoying pasta and chocolate croissants (yes, really, in Laos!), I could hear only the twitter of birds, the clink of ice against glass and the soft rustle of monks shuffling down the street.

Well, there is one more noise. In any city outside of America there are hordes of dogs that wander the streets. People seem to take care of them, feeding them scraps and letting them sleep on their stoops. So you will see crazy stray dogs yelping at geckos on the sidewalk. But even the dogs in Luang Prabang seem petite! I didn’t see a single dog that was taller than a foot off the ground. It’s as if some feral dachshund showed up in town, seduced all the women with his big-city bad-dog charm, and left lots of pregnant dogs of all breeds in his wake.

In my wanderings of the city that afternoon, I stopped to watch an old man building a bamboo ladder in his workshop when a young Lao guy speeding by on a motorbike slammed on his brakes beside me.

“Hello, hello! Where you from?” he said.

“Hey, um… America.” I replied, trying to figure out what he could possibly be selling.

“You want to have beer tonight?” he asked.

I was bewildered. “Er… no, that’s okay.”

“Okay!” he said, smiling as he sped off again. I was left confused: did that just happen? WHAT just happened? And perhaps I should not have been so hasty in my rejection. I did appreciate his direct, no-games-playing approach, after all.

view from Phu Si, Luang PrabangI decided to end my afternoon with a walk to a wat on a steep hill in the middle of town called Phu Si. The wat itself is unspectacular – basically just a small, whitewashed room with a gold Buddha statue. But the views are spectacular enough to justify the entrance fee. At the top of the hill, I ran into some fellow travelers from the slow boat ride, and sat chatting with them as the sun drifted behind the mountains across the Mekong.

On my way back down the hill, I ran into, and attempted to pass, a large, laughing family of Thai tourists. Upon seeing me try to slide past her, the woman I assumed to be the matriarch squealed with delight, put her arm through mine and began to march down the stairs with me on one side, a young man on the other, her head held high and giggling like a school girl. She demanded that lots of pictures be taken. It’s strange, but certainly not uncommon, for people to grab my arm (or Ben’s) and want to take a picture with us. This is clearly because people mistake us for beautiful celebrities, so I was not put off by her behavior.

The woman paused on the stairs and started chatting away with me in rapid-fire Thai as I stared back blankly. It soon became clear, as she pointed back and forth between us, that she was trying to set me up with the young man at her side, who I took to be her son.

“Law, yes? Law?” she said to me, gesturing towards her son. Thanks to Ben, I knew that “law” is Thai for handsome.*

“Yes, law!” I emphatically agreed, producing raucous laughter from the group. She asked me several more questions, none of which I understood. Who knows what I agreed to.

I eventually tried to take their leave, but ran into them again at the bottom of the stairs, where I found them buying trinkets from children on the street selling souvenirs to tourists. The mother ran over to me giddily and began putting a bracelet on my wrist. I tried to refuse, but she simply motioned for her son to come finish clasping the bracelet, which, much to my surprise, he eagerly did.

The souvenir-selling children began to flock, saying “you so lovely! You so beautiful!” as the man fumbled with the bracelet on my arm, and his family watched and took photos. One small girl, who obviously spoke Lao, English and Thai, acted as our translator.

“Her love you,” she said to me. “Him love you, too. Him want to marry you.”

“Marry, ok? Marry, ok?” his mother said excitedly, upon hearing this word.

I laughed, but reluctantly shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. I’m sorry,” I said.

This, of course, like everything I said, produced hysterical laughter from the entire Thai family. Another woman in the group motioned that I should at least give my phone number to him. I disappointedly gestured that I had no phone number to give, said a reluctant goodbye, and went home to tend to my sick boyfriend.

But once again I questioned my decision. I mean the man DID buy me jewelry within minutes of making my acquaintance. And I wouldn’t mind living in beautiful, golden Thailand for the rest of my life. What’s a girl to do? So, dear readers, I put the question to you:

POLL: Should Brittany have accepted the marriage proposal?

View Results

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On our second (and final) day in Luang Prabang, Ben was feeling better, so we decided to visit a waterfall about an hour outside of the city. We hired a song tao driver, packed some snacks, and set off. Driving through Laos is an experience in itself. The natural scenery is stunningly wild and beautiful. The tiny villages sprinkled along the roads provide a glimpse of rural Lao life. Children come out to chase your truck and wave as you pass. I say “roads” but it would be more accurate to say “giant potholes.” That’s if the road is paved at all. Oh, and what’s that in front of the truck causing the driver to honk wildly? Just a few gigantic water buffalo.

The Tat Kuang Si waterfall is in a public park that has a relatively high entrance fee. But for those of you traveling to Laos: SO WORTH IT. A high, multi-tiered waterfall spills into bright, turquoise pools, surrounded by dramatic caves and exotic foliage. It was so beautiful I wanted to build a tiny bamboo hut on the water’s edge in which I could sit and stare at the waterfall for the rest of my days. I almost had Ben talked into the idea when he reminded me that the new season of Lost just started, and don’t I want to get home to find out what happens? And it’s true, I do.

IMG_5470So he did eventually lug me out of the park, but not before we took a swim in one of the designated swimming areas. At the most popular swimming hole, someone had attached a rope swing to an overhanging tree. While Ben managed to swing from the rope and into the pool like a normal person, I have lost all upper body strength (did I ever have any?) and was unable to hoist myself up on the rope properly. The result was me being dragged into the pool and face-planting, belly-flop-style, into the frigid water.

You can see Ben’s splash here and my not-so-graceful attempt here.

That evening was spent chasing down a traditional Luang Prabang dish that Ben had his heart set on sampling. Something involving river weed and dried buffalo skin. I have no idea how our guidebook made that sound appetizing to him. We ran up and down the main street looking at menus and asking waiters in very rough Lao if they carried the meal, but every restaurant either had no tables available or was out of stock.

Eventually I was able to talk some sense into Ben: perhaps our failure was fate’s way of saying he was not meant to consume this dish. And isn’t this the kind of thing that gave him Bangkok belly in the first place? I mean, dried buffalo skin? Seriously??

We decided that downing several bottles of Beerlao, which may as well be the national drink of Laos, was an authentic enough experience for the evening.

*You’ll have to ask Ben how we know what “law” means. It involves a ten-year-old Thai girl with a crush.

NEXT: So no one told you life was gonna be this way… »



10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Luang Prabang: Him want to marry you!”

  1. Ben's Momon 20 Mar 2008 at 10:04 am

    Correction to Blog:
    Ben is VERY cute, even when he has Bangkok belly!!!

  2. Hollyon 20 Mar 2008 at 11:16 am

    There is a reason Ben is WAY ahead in the poll!!

  3. Enrique Iglesiason 20 Mar 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Bangkok belly… karma is a bitch, eh Ben?


  4. Brittanyon 21 Mar 2008 at 1:44 am

    Ben’s way ahead in the poll because he’s received an inordinate number of votes from two people called “Ben’s mom” and “Holly.” I can see your votes cheaters!! :)

  5. Benon 21 Mar 2008 at 4:33 am

    And does anyone really think I’m above voting for myself?

    P.S. I’ll get you, Iglesias!!

  6. Abbyon 21 Mar 2008 at 6:07 pm

    I was selfish and voted for the Thai guy, just because it would make a better story – sorry Benny!

  7. Sciencemelon 23 Mar 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Brittany. That’s a great story. My friend Scott’s daughter, Monika, had something similar happen to her when she was in Tanzania in the fall. I wonder what I’m doing wrong… I just get asked for directions. Must look native. So, decided to accept the proposal? Or, venturing on with Ben and Bangkok belly?

  8. Yasmineon 23 Mar 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Brit- your rope swing video was hilarious and held true to your description. You did not swing so much as momentarily evade gravity. I miss you guys.

  9. Hollyon 24 Mar 2008 at 9:55 am

    It’s not cheating, it called appreciating Ben because he is the BEST!! :)

  10. Mustaphaon 25 Mar 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Brittany, sounds as though you two have had a great time overall. Ben, I sympathize with you and I too have had my bout with stomach problems, though in my case, in Kathmandu, Nepal, about a month ago. I was prepared enough to know not to drink tap water, without boiling, but not savvy enough to know that one should also NOT brush with same said water, as well… My “troubles” only lasted a few days and I did have a very large bottle of Pepto-Bismol on hand! I also got “hit” by some sort of a flu-bug and burned through a bottle of Tylenol Cold and Flu Formula, in a fairly short amount of time.

    Brittany, you should have only accepted the marriage proposal, if the guy actually had had the guts to propose to you, in person, without the aid of his mother… I know, it is old fashioned and there is something “alluring” about a mother wanting to pawn-off her son (perhaps “failing to launch” on his own) on a tourist she has just met but (!) where would that have left Ben? Perhaps both of you could have married into this family and this in itself would have made a great additional story. Well, I know, “what a great idea” you screech out-loud, yet as it is often is the case, this brilliant idea comes a little too late… (he he)

    Ok, so I am kidding and likely, the family (and the overly pushy mother) was simply having fun, in an innocent way (or she really did want to get rid of her son? Ha!) I did not however, know what to think of your Tarzan imitation! I remember hearing my old combat airborne qualified drill sergeant saying “gravity is a b@#ch!” and your video segment only served to prove his point! At least you have more guts than I do! I simply cannot swim very well, (which probably go a long way in explaining my number of “near-drowning” experiences throughout my life) and tend to stay well-away from potential areas that could prove to be my “last.” It would go something like this: “Well, that thar dead feller was-a-swingin’ from that thar tree and he let go and forty-five minutes later, Earl here thought maybe thar was somethin’ wrong, since he hadn’t surfaced…”

    At any rate, though I love taking long baths, as well as long showers, I avoid large bodies of water (“large” is a relative term here, meaning “large-enough” body of water, which could lead to my drowning!) as a self-imposed rule of thumb.

    Brittany, I think you need to re-try this feat and really go for it, in a very big way! I think especially, “ululating” during your attempt (and it takes practice) will serve to provide you with an “edge” in your video. I cannot help but think that perhaps most if not all great moviemakers, must have had a beginning involving “ululating” and swinging from a tree into a welcoming body of water. Speaking of “bodies,” (sorry Ben, but I feel compelled to complement her…) yours is not too bad either! You must be doing something right! (Ok so it appears Ben is a very lucky person… That is, unless you have odd patterns of behavior, often described in detail, in something called the DSM-IV.)

    All jokes aside, thank you for sharing your traveling tales and mishaps. By the way, though no ones mother proposed to me, during my travels lasting two months, I was able to get the phone number of a very nice (and “very easy on the eyes”) flight attendant… Only if she did not reside half-a-world away from me…

    A fellow traveler,


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