Subject: Report from Laos
Dear Friends,

We arrived here - Luang Prabang in Laos, yesterday afternoon (Sat). We had a good flight from Syd to Bangkok, much better than we expected because the direct Syd - Bangkok supposed to go hours before ours (via Melbourne) had been delayed and they offered us seats on that instead of the one we were booked on. We took the offer and so had an earlier and more comfortable flight - it was only about 25% full. There was a long wait at Bangkok airport but we survived that and then got a short flight from there to Luang Prabang.

LP is beautiful. Over 1000 m so not too hot (31 when we arrived but much cooler today), lots of old French colonial buildings and luxuriant tropical growth - frangipanis, Bougnvilea etc. We're in a very comfortable quite upmarked guest house charging the enormous sum of $30US per night. There's an enormous variety of restaurants, cafes and guest houses. The idea that LP is a gem waiting to be discovered is a joke - there are plenty of tourists - Asian and European - although now in the low (wet) season it's fairly quiet.

Today we've spent exploring the town (not very big - pop 25,000 but spread out) and enjoying the food. One of the highlights is the vast number of Wats (40 I think). Some of them go back to 16 century although LP was sacked by the White Thais in 1887 and only about one of the Wats was totally unscathed. Every morning the monks process (as in procession I mean) around the town but you have to get up at 6.30 am to see them so maybe we'll manage that tomorrow. At 4.00 am I dimly heard bells and monkish noises from the wat across the road but it reminds me too much of school for fun!!

Another big attraction is the mighty Mekong, which now is fairly swirling along. It's obviously rained much more here than in Sydney in the last few months and from the plane everything was beautifully green. Tomorrow we're going for a boat trip on it (the Mekong) up to some caves with Buddha statues. On Tues we thought we might go for a one day trek (very soft) to a Hmong village. Then on Wed we leave for Vientiane and on Friday return to Bangkok and on to France (Lyon at first).

To pass the time at Bangkok airport we went and got a shower and massage. B opted for a foot massage which was a good idea and she said very relaxing for the weary traveller. I stupidly thought I would try a traditional Thai massage. After a shower I was give a pair of pyjamas and told to lie on a mat on the floor. So far so good but then the receptionist who didn't look very strong was replaced by a square shaped lady built like the proverbial counrty dunny (for non Australians it may help to know that a country dunny is known less politely as a brick outhouse). This lady proceeded to pummel, push, pull and stretch me for a long time. Occasionally she would stop the torture, look at me and say "Pen?". I couldn't understand what she wanted to write for but just shook my head, at which she would go back to work with renewed vigour. Much later I realised she was asking if I had any pain! Alas the realisation was too late, now the damage has been done and I think I'm lucky to have esacped with a stiff shoulder! Chalk it all down to the travel experience I suppose....

Now I think dinner is calling - wonderful variety of very cheap food - excellent French and Indian restaurants as well as Lao, Thai etc.

By the way for motorbike enthusiasts we met a French resident (of LP) today who had this beautiful old 350 cc Royal Enfield. I asked him what year it was and said how well he kept it - he laughed and said it was 2005 and they still import them here from India where they are still made!

Best wishes to all, Michael and Bronwyn Sydney, Australia