So, I’m in Luang Prabang, Loas, eating slices of green mango, while pricing a new refrigerator for my condo in Chicago. Meanwhile, red tiny ants are biting my ankles as I gnaw my fingernails.
I’m not stressing out if my refrigerator needs to be replaced or not, as my mind drifts to a bigger, weightier decision. A monkey wrench was thrown into my life–or as they say in Chinese–hóuzi bānshǒu. A problem. A dilemma. An unexpected change of plans. A fork in the road of my life in the shape of a smooth jawed adjustable wrench patented by Charles Moncky in 1858. So I head to Laung Prabang, Laos, a peaceful place to make sense of my dilemma. It’s as if the city has door mat that reads, Leave Your Troubles at the door.
Luang Prabang overlooks the rambling Mekong River. It’s huge, muddy and about forty-nine hundred rambling kilometers long. Not Luang Prabang, the MeKong.
Luang Prabang is possibly the most peaceful place on the planet, in spite of its horrible past. This gem somehow managed to survive the bombing during the Vietnam; Americans dumping their unexploded ordinances as they couldn’t land with them.
So now, Luang Prabang is one part UNESCO world heritage sites —
–and one-part frou-frou, with posh galleries and cafes straight out of Food and Wine Magazine.
You’ll see pricy menus with silk scoops of gelato across the street from temples swarming with novices in their saffron robes, peeping cell phones concealed in their folds of fabric, their faces glued to the glowing screens. Attending monastery in compulsory for boys in Laos, and monks in training are called novices. But that doesn’t keep these boys from being boys.
As peaceful as the city is, I wandered around Luang Prabang wishing I wasn’t in my shoes, or sandals, as the monkey wrench landed in my lap was forming a blister on my heel. It makes me wonder why the great Buddhas always went barefoot.
I hiked a few temples, well, make that one. It’s always hot in Luang Prabang, like a sauna without the cedar wood smell or terrycloth towels. The trail to this temple was crawling with monks, like orange ants overtaking a hill, But they didn’t mind the heat. Or the hill. Or the two bar reception at the top.
In the morning–like the crack of dawn, you can give alms to the monks. But instead of clumps of sticky rice, these boys prefer the Thai version of Hostess Ho-Hos.
You can purchase treats from local vendors. You are welcome to sit on straw mats, that is, as long as you take off your shoes. Even if you get up at the crack of dawn, take time to run a cob through your hair and put on a skirt, if you have one. This is a religious service.
After I gave my Ho-hos, the novices prayed for me. I’m a sucker for prayer. They prayed for me? Me with the monkey wrench hidden in the folds of my tourist map? When it comes to prayer, I accept all, just like major credit cards. If you want to send good thoughts upwards for me, I’ll buy you a Ho-Ho, too.
Speaking of Ho-hos. In Vientiane, my hotel room wasn’t as posh.
Then somehow, my monkey wrench seemed lighter. I was able to enjoy the beaty of Luang Prabang, like my homestay. It was a funky blend of American Pickers and Asian Artifacts.
I also got my appetite back. Good food was everywhere, from street markets to this mound of pork and egg over rice, About fifty cents. Plus, green flakey sheets of MeKong riverweed, which look like green paper sprinkled with sesame seeds.
I met a lot of people on my journey, sharing my monkey wrench dilemma, their eyes wide with excitement about the conundrum. Then I realized it wasn’t a monkey wrench at all, but a crowbar to open a new door.
I chatted with one funky globe-trotting couple at this funky cafe.
And of course, an adventure isn’t complete without running into folks I know from Kunming. I ran into two.
Getting to Luang Prabang is easy now, thanks to the speed train from Vientiane to Kunming. The view is pretty, too.
Soon enough, my bliss was over, and I left my monkey wrench in some hotel, along with my favorite hair scrunchie. I’m no longer worrying about my refrigerator in Chicago or decisions I have to make. I’m just fretting about the secrets that my hotel mattress holds.