After experiencing the slower paced life of Laos' small northern villages we headed back to Luang Prabang for a week of colonial civilization. One of Laos' largest cities, at only 50,000 inhabitants Luang Prabang has a small colonial town feel with heavy French influence. Many of the buildings in the old town have a markedly European feel with high end shops, cafes and restaurants lining the streets between Buddhist temples. This classic modern city made for a great change from the simple life in the small villages, and a great place to hang out for a week.
After arriving in Luang Prabang on our slow boat down the Mekong River, we stayed a night before heading out of the city to spend some time in two small villages in northern Laos. We had been spending a lot of time in larger cities and were looking forward to experiencing small town life. We hopped in a packed and very hot van for the three hour ride north over bumpy and dusty dirt roads into the mountains of northern Laos, to the small villages of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi.
After our brief stop back in Thailand, we boarded a slow boat a little ways into Laos for our two day ride down the Mekong to the city of Luang Prabang, Laos. Two days of great views and a bumpy ride avoiding rocks on our long, narrow and very crowded wooden boat. There are many ways to enter a country, but a long slow ride up a river was a new one for us and a memorable one as well.
After Singapore we were planning on heading into Laos, but we didn't want to fly directly there. We had read and heard about a two day riverboat from the Thai border and decided to check it out. So we flew back to Thailand instead to spend a day in the city of Chiang Rai near the Laos border. From there we could check out some of the sights in northern Thailand and arrange for boat tickets.
After the modern conveniences of Malaysia we headed by bus to the small nation of Singapore. If we thought we had seen the peak of technology and advances before it was only because we had not seen Singapore yet. This tiny nation is essentially one huge modern metropolis and was the next country on our list.
Our final stop in Malaysia was the historically significant city of Malacca. Because of the city's long and varied past, there are as many different ways to spell Malacca, you will see most commonly Malacca and Melaka. It has been a strategic trading post for the incredibly profitable spice trade for nearly a thousand years, and hotly contested, changing hands many times throughout history. It is how the straight of Malacca got its name and a significant part of the reason why Malaysia has such ethnic diversity, as traders and laborers and soldiers have flooded in through this important city from all over the world.
Once again we loaded up our stuff and headed to the bus station. Our next destination would be the capital of Malaysia, the huge city of Kuala Lumpur. Home of the Petronas Towers and more street food, malls and skyscrapers as far as you can see in every direction. So we boarded another super modern and comfortable bus and headed south along the coast of Malaysia.
With our time soaking up the sun in Thailand's vast archipelagos of islands come to and end, we made our way south to our 20th country, Malaysia. Like the city of Bangkok, much of Malaysia has been transformed and modernized by capitalism. In stark contrast from rural Thailand, Malaysia is a country of modern conveniences and commercialization. Most traces of the simple indigenous life have been erased and replaced with a land of shopping malls, resorts, restaurants and cafes. If you are looking for a relaxing holiday in southeast Asia, with beautiful weather and a plethora of great food, but don't wan to stray too far from your convenient lifestyle back at home, Malaysia might just be for you.