Published: December 6th 2006December 2nd 2006
The hustle and bustle of Luang Prabang Kate
Sorry for the shortage of blogs over the last week, we were in Laos and internet access was both expensive and slow, not a great combination. So now we will bombard you with blogs on Laos.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos with Lao Airlines. It only took an hour, in which time they managed to feed us (a strange combination of two battered crab sticks, a croissant and a green and purple cake) and give us drinks. We flew over lots of mountains covered in trees, and when the pilot announced that we were about to land, we could see no city to land in, it was still all forest. It was only when we got very low that we saw houses. The airport is tiny, it was one small building that housed immigration, passport control and the baggage collection. I once flew into Exeter airport and it was smaller than that.
Once armed with our new Lao 30 day visa we got a taxi to find some accomodation. By this time it was dark, so we took the first place we found with
Street where we stayed
rooms. It was really lovely, massive room, all newly decorated, tiled floor, big beds and massive bathroom. It even had a tv with English speaking channels. I think it was called Sakkarinh or something like that. Unfortunatly, at 15 usd a night, it was out of our price range so we had to move to somewhere cheaper the next morning. We found a room in Chittana Guesthouse for 7 USD a night, which had a comfortable bed and a shared bathroom with hot water, although we only actually had anyone else using it for one night.
Luang Prabang used to be the capital of Laos, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site because of all the old temples and its traditional layout of small communities around central temples. Its on the Mekong river and since Laos was French for a long time, it is full of old French collonial style buildings. Its really beautiful. There are very few cars, most people travel by bike, moped or tuk tuk and it is so sleepy its bordering on being in a coma. All bars have to be closed by 11.30, and everyone is in bed way before midnight. Between about
Colonial French style buildings in Luang Prabang
This one housed Luang Prabang Bakery - complete with bagettes and pastries
11pm and 6am they streets are empty and the whole city is silent. We liked it alot and stayed for four nights.
We stayed near the temple district, on a street of French collonial houses that now house guesthouses, restaurants and shops. There were lots of retired couples from Europe and America there, all on holiday in Laos, which we found quite surprising. I have not heard of anyone I know from the UK going to Laos on holiday, or even considering it. It seems to be a secret the French and Germans are keeping from us. I can see why they go there, because it is really lovely to just wander around the streets, sit in a coffee shop and watch the world go by, and to sit and have your dinner in a little restaurant watching the sunset over the Mekong. Because it used to be French, they sell lots of French pastries, cakes and bagettes, in fact, breakfast every day included a bagette. You can also get bagettes made up for you with Laughing Cow soft cheese, pate or chicken. Yum.
The first day we explored the city, starting with a climb to the top
of Phu Si, the large hill the dominates the skyline. It obviously has a couple of temples and some buddhas at the top. The views are amazing and confirmed our suspicians that Luang Prabang was a very small city, you can see the whole thing from the top. We then went round the Royal Palace museum. Laos no longer has a monarchy as it is a democratic republic (its full title is the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos). It was originally based on USSR and Vietnamese style communism, but we couldnt work out how communist it actually is now. Anyway, the Royal Palace museum had been home to the last Kings and their families, but now houses a museum about the Lao Royals. Behind the museum was an art gallery showing work of local artists, many of them in partnership with artists from the Western world.
In the evening the area outside the Palace Museum hosts a night market, where lots of people lay their wares out on blankets in the street. They sell some beautiful things, homemade handicrafts like bedding, scarves, throws, cushion covers, bags, shoes....we could have bought so much stuff if we could carry it.
During our stay we did a walking tour we found in our guidebook which took us round the whole city, past many of the temples and along the Mekong. It was meant to take the whole day, but as the city is so small, we finished it in two hours!
Sampling the Nightlife of Luang Prabang
One night we decided to sample Luang Prabang nightlife and go to some of the bars that were advertised on flyers we had been given. There are six bars in Luang Prabang. I am not joking, only 6. 3 of them are owned by the same group. And they all have to be closed at 11.30. We got a complimentary Lao Lao, which is Lao rice whisky, and some Beer Lao to wash it down. Beer Lao is the national beverage, it is advertised and sold everywhere. I dont really know why they bother to advertise it, because they isnt an alternative, they only make Beer Lao. It comes in original, Dark and Light. You can buy Heniken in some places, but its three times the price of Beer Lao, and I didnt see anyone drink it.
We took a trip to Kuang Si waterfalls. It was a rough drive in a minibus over some unmade roads, but well worth it. The waterfalls have many tiers, the higher ones crashing down dramatically, and then the lower ones spreading out into lots of pools, which are so turquoise they look like tropical swimming pools. The lower areas have been turned into a park, and you can walk around crossing little wooden bridges over the pools. The plants around are really huge, its abit like Jurrassic Park! There are picnic benches beside the bigger pools and wooden cubicles to change in so you can swim. We swam in one, it wasnt as cold as we thought it would be and it was really lovely. We only took an afternoon trip there, but you could have spent the whole day.
Part of the forest next to the waterfalls has been fenced off and there is a tiger and some asiatic black bears kept there. They have all been rescued from poachers as babies, and the enclosures are sponsered by various Australian conservation societies so they can stay in Laos and be signs for Lao conservation.
There are more photos below