Published: November 29th 2005October 20th 2005
- FOOD: Hotel restaurant breakfasts and squid with ginger dinner - gooood; expensive but oh so nice salad; posher restaurant food; cocktails; Mekong fish.
- AREA: Best preserved town in S E Asia: Winding mountain roads, rivers with terraced banks, palms, peaceful roads; Buddhist and French architecture; Wat Xieng Thong temple - mosaic everywhere; chained up monkeys; long stretch of fantastic night market; Phu Si hill with temples, cave shrine and Buddha footprint; giving blood and having massage at Red Cross; plinkety-plonkety music; midnight curfew; Tat Kuang Si waterfalls on Singh, the elephant; bear and tiger sanctuaries; circus village stop.
- PEOPLE: Most people sleep during the day here - they're more laid back than usual!; friendly masseuse; kids fascinated by Singh, adults scared by Singh; cute village kids who are already vendors; men (and some women) doing that throat, spitting noise.
- ACCOM: On the river front but without windows! Although restaurant overlooking the river made up for it.
- WEATHER: Cold in the nights; sunny by day
Thur 20th Oct: Unsurprisingly we didn't get much sleep and I nearly deafened myself by having my music on so loud to drown out his.
was surprised to find us winding our way up and down mountains even though I'd read Luang Prabang has a mountainous backdrop. I was also surprised at how cold it was and was glad I hadn't sent my fleece home.
We only arrived one hour late and didn't get any tuk-tuk hassle. We actually managed to pay the same price as the locals (not the 'same, same but different' price) to get into town on a truck by moaning. We drove through the morning mist, past beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers, palm trees and quiet, peaceful streets with hardly any traffic on them.
I was surprised to find some hotels were full but we found one on the river front, although it didn't have any windows for us to appreciate this. The restaurant belonging to the hotel was across the road and had such good views of the calm river. We ate breakfast taking in this view, then slept and then ate lunch at a different riverside restaurant - a good salad but the most expensive meal I've had in Asia yet at 3.5 dollars!!
UNESCO protected Luang Prabang is full of Buddhist and colonial French architecture, located
in the bend of the river Nam Khan and the Mekong river join. It's supposed to be the best preserved city in South East Asia and certainly seems to be so far. On the hills on the other side of the river are many agricultural terraces and fields.
We were templed out but went anyway to the Wat Xieng Thong temple, built in 1560 and one of the best of the many in this town. The roots of the temples are layered to represent levels according to Buddhist doctrines. There is mosaic everywhere on all the buildings in this compound - very colourful. In the main temple are columns with painted gold stencil Buddhas and the ceiling is decorated with dharma wheels. The funeral chapel holds a chariot and urns and has a fantastic mosaic tree of life on the outside back wall. There are also a few tiny chapels with mosaic on the outside. A very calm place with nice grounds.
On the way back we saw a little monkey run along the pavement - we found out later this is quite a rare sight as a lot of monkeys are chained up for 'entertainment'.
Tree of life mosaic
Wat Xieng Thong temple
evening we checked out the night market - the street is really long and FULL of stalls selling temptation galore. Most sellers have their babies or cute kids with them - even harder to resist and in fact, we couldn't resist. How much money will I spend here?!
We ate squid noodles with ginger back at our hotel restaurant - I can see it will be our local haunt. A Buddha band were playing music next door - plinkety-plonkety stuff, very good.
Fri 21st: Plinkety-plonkety stuff woke us up at 6am, not very good. Breakfast with our river view and then we climbed the stairs up the Phu Si hill to see the temples, stupas and Buddhas there. At the That Chomsi stupa at the summit, the views are amazing. We visited the Wat Tham Phu Si cave shrine where a big reclining Buddha takes it easy and a fat, cartoon style Buddha laughs at you. Wat Pha Phutthabaht holds a big dinosaur style Buddha footprint, made in 1395 and sadly, nearby are monkeys chained up pacing up and down - the chain is not even long enough for them to jump successfully across to the other pole.
Pretty mosaiced walls
Wat Xieng Thong temple
Poor things looked so sad and a bit crazy.
I discovered the meaning of the flame hooks at the corner of the wat roofs - they are to catch evil spirits.
More food overlooking the river (a different stretch of it just for a change) followed by a very quick trip to the Talat Dala day market which is very small compared to the night market and selling the same stuff. Most of the women were asleep on the tables next to their merchandise - can't blame them it's so hot and relaxed here.
We then went to the Red Cross where I got to give blood - a very different experience to giving it in the UK. They hardly ask any questions, there is no pre-give procedure except to eat a few biscuits if you want and the needle they use is HUGE. They only take half a pint. It did vaguely cross my mind that I didn't have the Hep B jab but it's the Red Cross so it must be ok...
After I had a full body massage - mmmm, I could get used to these. After our hour of massage, there's no surprise what
we did next - yes, chilled out some more.
In the evening we attempted to walk to a restaurant we'd read about that has live music but only made it halfway before stopping at a different restaurant that looked nice and also had live music. We sat outside amongst the tour groups of older people, feeling out of place as we didn't have our specs on (almost every person there was wearing glasses - very strange!) with the plinkety-plonkety music getting on our nerves a bit by the end. But the food was gooood and the staff very chatty.
We tried to have a big night out and found a bar where we just made it for the end of happy hour. We immediately took advantage and ordered 2 cocktails each. The mojito was good but the caipirinha just not the same as Brazil. We raised our 2 glasses in cheers to Hema whose last day it was at work (I'm sad and I don't even intend to go back to work!). I got a bit drunk but as we had a midnight curfew on our hotel and the whole country seems to shut down by 11pm anyway,
Big fat laughing Buddha
Tham Phu Si cave shrine
our big night out wasn't so big after all.
We got back at 11.30 to find we'd been locked out! After banging on the door and ringing the bell LOTS, a sleepy person let us in finally.
Sat 22nd: Breakfast at the usual sorted the hangover out and we got a minivan tour to the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. We were the only 2 who had inquired about an elephant trek and were let out early to do this. Our elephant was called Singh and was lovely. We both sat on a seat on his back with the guide sitting on the krama cloth that shaded his head (cute). He slowly plodded through the village, stopping every now and again to drink (luckily not to cool himself down). He practically pulled a whole tree up for a snack, knocking the villagers out of the way as he swung it around. The local kids were fascinated and a bit scared of him as if they'd never seen an elephant before.
We went up a side track, going deep into the surrounding beauty that I noticed at last after looking up from my fascination with his flapping ears and
swaying trunk. The peace was temporarily interrupted with the loud noises escaping from his rear and the loud noises escaping from us at the resulting smell! Oh, and the wee he did that gushed like the waterfall. He only had a mini strop when he had to turn around to take us back but other than that we had a pleasant, hour long trip.
At the waterfall there is also a sanctuary holding bears that were rescued after their mother was killed by hunters. Also a tiger in the same situation but we didn't get to spot him. The waterfalls were big and impressive but we didn't have time to climb to the top. We swam in the cold, refreshing lake, trying hard not to get swept away by the current which was very strong. It's a shame there wasn't time to explore more as there are more pools here which everyone said were really pretty.
On the way back there was the obligatory village stop where we all get out and wonder at the lives of the people that live in these basic shacks and take photo's of the children before jumping back into the van. I
don't like these stops and the way it seems we have arrived at a zoo or circus or something the way all the tourists act. This Khamu village had a market set up where they were selling the same same as the other markets except the difference is there are so many more kids doing the selling. The village seemed to be overrun by children (very cute) and the sellers were SO young it was all a bit weird and uncomfortable. They know how to play to the tourists so much already and even the toddlers who run around bottomless in their cute little hats know they are cute and seem to play on it!
I had Mekong fish for dinner which was good but the portion was way too small! Luckily all the men who make that horrible noise in the back of their throats before spitting out weren't around to ruin it. It's such a custom here to do that and is so loud!
There are more photos below