Luang Prabang: makes it all worth while…

Laos, RTW: 2007-2008, Southeast Asia — By on July 30, 2008 5:36 AM

After a very hard first week traveling in Laos, our efforts were finally rewarded in Luang Prabang. Nestled between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang is one of the most charming and sophisticated cities I have visited in Southeast Asia thus far. Streets are lined with French bistros, fancy restaurants, and expensive shops. It is quite the contrast of Northwest Laos.

The city was formerly the capital of a the kingdom of Luang Prabang. It was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975. Luang Prabang historically housed the Royal Family, has stunning temples, colonial mansions, and a distinct French influence.

There come times in long travels that one hits a wall and needs to stay put for a while and do absolutely nothing. Nicole and I decided Luang Prabang would be the perfect place to kick back for a while, and we ended up staying a whole week! We “splurged” in Laos terms ($1 USD = $8500 kip) and set up house at a very nice guest house complete with hardwood floors, air conditioning, and cable tv, for $30 a night. We definitely could have found much cheaper rooms; however, we decided we deserved a nice room after living in rat infested treehouses and rooms with no electricity!

I spent my days in LP eating chocolate croissants, pizza (still boycotting rice!), fresh baked cookies & pastries, ice cream, and many iced cappuccinos. I have also caught up on the news on CNN & BBC from the comfort of my bed. Nicole and I can usually be found at the Scandinavian Bakery, reading books, and enjoying their yummy sandwiches and coffees. We have eaten very well here and have also bought lots of cool souvenirs.

One of the grooviest shops I visited in town is Caruso Lao Home Craft, a shop filled with many hand carved wooden pieces of art. The shop is run by Sandra Yuck, who also designs all of the products for sell. This is a must see for anyone visiting LP. I fell in love with a gorgeous hand carved wooden Buddha head that I just had to buy. It is currently in route to San Francisco via sea mail and is my favorite purchase so far. Not cheap… but very special as it is made of rare black/red ebony wood and took hours to carve by hand.

Aine and Jill were with us our first two days in Luang Prabang, before they both had to head back home. We also ran into our Irish family on the streets of LP. I was so sad to say goodbye to Aine and all of my new friends. We had spent so much time together the prior week and had all bonded through our trials and tribulations of the Gibbon Experience and the slow boat. We had so much fun hanging in LP together, eating yummy dinners and shopping at the night market. I do believe that Aine is going to need another vacation from her vacation after the last week of her travels!

Night market…

We visited a few temples, but Jill is completely sick of wats and couldn’t be bothered! The four of us did hike to the top of one temple, each with a baby bird we had bought in a cage. The plan was to release the birds in the air at the top of the temple. Apparently this is what one does at the top of temples, but we are still not sure exactly wh and we felt very sad for the little birds

. We enjoyed gorgeous views of the surrounding provence and watched the sunset over the Mekong River.

Aine and I visited a waterfall on her last day and rode an elephant together.

Later that day, Nicole and I were in a used bookstore when we ran into Jodi, a girl from Portland, that we met in Thailand a few weeks back. It is crazy how travelers seem to follow the same circuit and we often run into familiar faces. She had recognized my Southern accent and came running to greet us as she was very happy to see us again.

Jodi also fell in love with the town and had already been here for 2 weeks. She has become good friends with Sing, an ex-monk who works at the bookstore. She taught him how to make cupcakes and popcorn.

She has also made friends with the local monks, and meditates with them every day at 5:30. Nicole and I joined her at the temple one evening and sat in the back while the monks chanted for an hour. The sounds were quite calming and beautiful. Most boys enter the monk hood at the age of 12 for the purpose of education as most Lao families cannot afford to send their children away to school. They are able to stop being a monk at any point in their lives.

Each morning at 5:45 AM the monks walk through town collecting food…

We had a couple of fun nights out in LP… we discovered the bowling alley and the disco teck! We met two cool Aussie girls and a couple from England and we all headed to the disco together. Jodi brought Sing who had never been to a disco before…he seemed a bit scared! As we entered Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was blasting soon to be followed by other classics mixed with Laos tunes. I will tell you what is hard…realizing you haven’t shaved your armpits in a long time and trying to dance without putting your hands in the air! I know…this is bad but it’s easy to let yourself go when backpacking in Southeast Asia!

I am realizing that Laos people are much more conservative and laid back than Thai people. While Thailand screams sex and prostitution, the Laos people are very proper and well behaved. You are expected to be in your guest house by midnight and there are a list of rules on must follow. Below are a few of my favorite rules that were posted to the back of our door in our room. These are not my typos, this is exactly what is printed…

“The tourism police office has issued accommodation regulation for tourists, accommodation provider to implement and follow below:

1. Tourists have to be in your accommodation by midnight.
2. Do not any drugs, crambling, or bring both women and men which is not your own husband or wife into room for making love .
3. Do not allow domestic and international tourist bring prostitute and others into your accommodation to make sex movies in our room, it is restriction.
4. Please always lock your door when you are coming in and going out and bring your room key to reception every time when you are leaving.

If you do not follow this accommodation regulation you will be fight based on Lao PDF law.

Gotta love the communists! At least their rules are slightly amusing!

To see more photos of Luang Prabang… CLICK HERE!

Tomorrow we hit the road again on a three day tour of “The Plain of Jars”.

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