Christmas Day! Crystal and I exchanged our ‘Secret Santa’ gifts we had bought at the night market the night before, simple but nice things that were typically Lao in style. We had a nice breakfast by the Nam Khan river, fruit, croissants and tea. We then walked around by the Mekong river trying to bargain for a boat to take us to the famous Pak Ou caves. We eventually agreed a price with a boat captain, and agreed to return to his spot at 2pm. With over an hour to kill, we decided to take in the Royal Palace Museum.
Built in 1904 during the French colonial era, the builiding is a mix of Lao and French architectural and art styles – and apparently haunted by the spirits of the Royal Family. It’s a small museum, and no photography is allowed. We took in the King’s reception room, where busts of the Lao monarchy are displayed, the secretary’s reception room, and throne hall and the throne room. The rooms display some interesting art collections, and one room features gifts given to the Royal Family from various countries. The museum didn’t hold our interests for very long, and it was almost time to meet the boat captain anyway, so we headed off.
I grabbed a baguette, then we were led by the boat captain to his longtail boat, where we joined other slightly bewildered tourists on the long 25km journey up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. It took nearly 2 hours to get there. The limestone cliff views along the river are certainly impressive, but the cave itself isn’t particularly interesting. The lower part of the limestone cliff cave is full of Buddha images, left by visitors. There are hundreds of them, of all sizes and styles. After taking some photos, we continued up to the upper cave, Tham Phum. This cave required a flashlight, but as other people had flashlights in the cave anyway, it really wasn’t necessary. Local children begged for money quite aggressively, their mothers lying in wait, the beginning of a lifetime of dependency. Everything cost money, from the flashlight to the toilet – and prices were high. The place has unfortunately become a terrible tourist trap, and is more of an unpleasant experience than one I would recommend. Never go there. We went back as the sun was setting, and the chilly wind went through my body, making me shiver and taunting me with my imagined onset of flu. It was a Christmas Day like no other, for sure, but I was glad to be getting back to the town to get ready for Christmas Dinner. We got back just in time to catch the sunset over the Mekong, which was beautiful, even though I was distracted from trying to stem the flow from my streaming nose.
Crystal and I headed back to the Guesthouse, got changed, and headed out for Christmas Dinner. The day before, I had picked a lovely white colonial-era building that was doing a proper xmas dinner with all the trimmings. I’d booked a balcony seat, and we had a lovely turkey dinner. For me, it was a naturally special moment, and for Crystal, it was another new experience. I had a couple of glasses of wine, and felt very satisfied. We struggled on to another bar, a small roadside bar that served great mojitos. We had a couple each, then headed back to the guesthouse. Merry Christmas!