This is my first backpacking trip and will soon be Seb’s longest to date. Before leaving Paris, I would regularly try to project myself into a “typical day” on the road. Would it be riding a bus all day? Exploring mountains by foot? Relaxing in a cozy café? Playing cards with locals? Turns out, there is no “typical day”.
One of the joys of traveling is that every single day is different. The nature of traveling means changing your perspective, your scope, and your routine by geographically changing location regularly (if not every day). It’s exciting, intriguing and sometimes really tiring.
But in an attempt to describe for other curious souls or soon-to-be-backpackers, I decided to document a full day, chosen at random, as an example of 24 hours on our travel planet.
April 6th, 2014
Luang Prabang, Laos
5:30 – iPhone alarm goes (yep, we set an alarm even when traveling), but we easily roll out of bed having gone to sleep around 9:30pm in our small guesthouse on the Mekong riverfront.
5:45 – Dressed and washed faces. No makeup and choosing between our limited wardrobe selection means that getting ready takes about 10 minutes tops these days. Seb has an ever-present camera slung over his shoulder.
6:10 – The monks start pounding the drums in the nearby Buddhist temple, or wat, just up the street. This morning ritual calls lay people to line up and offer their daily alms in the form of small balls of sticky rice. I am chastely dressed in a long skirt and long sleeves, despite the humid heat, according to the instructions of a local novice we spoke to the day before: women are to cover their bodies completely and aren’t allowed to touch the monks or hand anything directly to them.
6:45 – After having watched the dozens of saffron-robed monks collect bits of rice in their metal drum-shaped containers, and the hundreds of Japanese tourists lined up to take pictures of said monks, we wander the palm lined streets discussing the potential perversion of religious tourism and how this spectacle compares to the Vatican or Mecca.
7:07 – We happen upon the morning market – good for a cheap breakfast. Chunks of grilled pork and sticky rice are wrapped up in banana leaves for a handful of kip (about $3 dollars total). We sit on some concrete steps watching the people coming and going from the local ferry which traverses this wide part of the Mekong.
7:50 – We make our way to the main streets of Luang Prabang’s city center. We need to find ibuprofen for Seb’s injured knee in anticipation of our upcoming trek.
8:26 – In our mission to find a pharmacy, we also purchased a postcard for colleagues in France, found 2 leather bracelets for Seb, had an iced coffee and took a Cosmo-quiz in a backpacker’s café, rejected several jewelry items for myself and located the post office to send the postcard. The stamps are 5 times more expensive than the postcard! Crazy!
9:00 – Back in our guesthouse room. The little luxury of hot water means extra long showers for each of us. Seb uploads his morning photos while I read “The Little Princess” on my Kindle and offer encouraging comments when he shows me some of his better shots.
9:53 – Plug in all devices: computer, iPhone, Kindle, GoPro, camera batteries. We don’t know the next time we’ll have access to outlets or electricity. We start packing.
10:10 – Backpacks packed, day-bag ready, camera bag secured, we pay our $25 bill with a sincere kawp jai (thank you).
10:30 – We walk across the rickety dry-season bamboo bridge to a comfy café full of shiny cushions and lounger mats covering the wooden bungalow floors. They have a decent Wi-Fi connection here. Plus great smoothies.
11:01 – Seb sends emails from the iPhone while I attempt to upload a short video clip for the blog. Even with a decent-by-Lao-standards connection, any data-heavy work takes forever. We can’t seem to finish downloading Lord of the Rings on iTunes.
12:05 – We order 2 for 1 Pastis which is supposedly going to help my three day bout of mild digestive issues. We take a break to brainstorm some ideas for upcoming articles and briefly ruminate on what we miss about Paris: family, charcuterie, spring days, wine in a terrace café.
12:38 – Fried eggplant with pork, green curry with chicken and sticky rice makes for a tasty meal. We eat cross-legged on our green cushions with our fingers rolling the sticky rice into tight glutinous balls and dipping them into the spicy coconut milk.
1:25 – Finally I’ve published my article. I take a few minutes to read some other travel blogs and reply to an email request for contribution. This is the part of my day that feels like work, but I don’t mind. It’s always interesting. I also take advantage of the connection to email family and friends.
2:30 – We hike back across the bridge and locate a tuk-tuk. After negotiating the price down to a couple dollars, we bump along to the bus station a few miles away.
3:05 – Buy bus ticket for Phongsali – a 12-hour journey north. The bus should leave at 4:30 so we settle in and open the laptop to watch the finally downloaded Lord of the Rings on the wooden benches.
3:11 – Elderly Lao couple motions for us to go to a waiting bus nearby – apparently this is our ride?
3:30 – This is indeed the bus to Phongsali (more than an hour early), but the driver tells us it is full. Another bus will come sometime between 4:30 and 6:00. Hmmm
4:03 – The allegedly “full” mini bus is still managing to shove people and freight (100lb bags of rice, table saws, large boxes of BeerLao) into the cab and onto the roof. Confused as to why we too can’t squish in, no one can give us an answer.
4:15 – “Full” bus just left, leaving us looking around pathetically in the near-deserted bus station. Seb pulls out the computer to edit some photos while I take a walk around the small food stands. Maybe I can console myself with some M&Ms.
4:25 – Hmm, just an assortment of tired-looking fruit, packages of dried seaweed and “water buffalo skin” that looks like strips of spongy grey leather. Guess we’ll forgo dinner today.
5:07 – The second bus has yet to arrive. Not much to do here except watch the pigeons overhead and hope they don’t poop on us. Seb entertains me with silly jokes and ridiculous theories about communist organization.
6:33 – No bus. I’ve started memorizing the looped Chinese pop music videos playing on the small TV near the ticket office. Seb is making friends with a French guy traveling with his family. They’re trading travel stories.
7:48 – Still no bus. Every time we ask the ticket agent at the desk, she says “30 minutes – Phongsali” ARGHHHHH! 5 more minutes and we’re calling it.
7:53 – Got our money back. We’ll try again tomorrow.
8:00 – We are packing up our stuff when the bus finally shows up…completely packed. We can’t get a seat anyway! We just have to shake our heads and laugh at this so-called organization.
8:15 – Locate a small guesthouse across from the bus station. $6 gets us a scary looking room with a dirty floor and stained walls, but the hot water and clean smelling sheets make it bearable.
9:05 – We’ll watch a few more minutes of Lord of the Rings in order to placate ourselves after the long and frustrating afternoon of waiting in the small, hot bus station for an ultimately doomed destination. Oh well, time to sleep.
5:30 – Alarm goes. We’ve both slept amazingly well despite the crashing thunderstorm for half the night. We’re off to the bus station again. Having abandoned our plans to go to Phongsali, today we’ll try for Nong Khiaw – a closer town with a more regular bus service.
Just another fun, funny and frustrating day on the road.