Luang Prabang : The heart of Laos

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October 6th 2016
Published: October 6th 2016
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Luang Prabang

The town is nestled among the mountains of West Central Laos, on the Mekong river. Just coming to the end of the monsoon season the river (and its tributaries) is full, fast and brownish in colour. When coming to land the pilot has to follow the gap in the hills and land probably in the only flat area around. The airport is small, mainly catering to the tourist trade. Since its classification as a world heritage site the tourism industry here have gone from strength to strength. There is an economic boom which has not touched other parts of Laos. Unfortunately this also made Luang Prabang comparatively expensive. .

It was nearly dark by the time I got to the guest house, so after freshening up just went for a walk along the river. The banks are quite high and vertical and rising nearly 30m from the water. But locals have made platforms jutting over the precipice to allow seating room for small restaurants which are along the whole length of the river-bank road.

The main tourist area itself is small with two main parallel thoroughfares one being the riverside road. On the riverside road and on its alleyways there are plenty of guest houses and small restaurants. Bigger hotels and restaurants are on the other main road. The tourist zone is littered with monasteries which are used as the main training houses for young monks in the region. Now most locals have moved away from this area and there is not enough population to support the monks.. .

Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos since it emerged as a nation. In around 1540 the administrative capital was moved to Vientaine even though the king always had the residence here and so, was not completely ignored. The town grew from the Mekong on either side of its tributary xxxx. The palace is now a museum. You still have to take your shoes off, as if it is a temple, such is the reverence given to their old kings.

There are a couple of five star hotels and tour golf course (which I saw when coming in to land) all outside the city. In the evening the major thoroughfare is closed off and it becomes the “Night Market” just in front of the palace. Before sunset climbing the the 320+ steps to the top of the only hill in the town is rewarded with a beautiful sunset and a panoramic view of the city.

On the first day the guest house booked a river cruise for me to the caves. The boat which was a long and power full one, started upstream at 10:00 hrs. In most places the river has cut a deep channel. We were going up between lush green hills and mountains. There were 10 people in the group. A German woman and a Thai girl both of whom live in Chiang Mai, they had driven over here. The rest were in my age group. An Irish couple from Wexford (a GP and his wife), an English couple from Reading and two elderly ladies also from the UK.

After about two hours we stopped at a “whisky village” (the locals make whisky out of rice with the aid of some aromatic leaves. There were also thriving hand weaving shops where attractive shawls and decorative hangs were made using cotton, silk and some synthetic yarns. One of the curious thing I found in most shops were whisky half litre bottles filled with a liquid and containing anything from small cobras with their hoods up, scorpions, even spiders and wild wasps ?. The juice then is probably used as medicine.

Even though their houses, huts in most cases, were small they had a huge central temple which was well decorated and kept well.

After spending half an hour at the village we started upstream again, again running through fantastic scenery. After about an hour we were at the caves opposite a tributary coming into the river. The caves were discovered a thousand years earlier and devotees started placing Buddhist statues in the caves. Currently there are nearly 8,000 statues big and small, some as small as my thumb. There was also a second cave which was quite high up and one had to negotiate more than 200 steps to get there. As there was no lighting in the cave we had to use mobile phone light to walk around the cave.

After spending over half an hour in the caves we were heading home. Our host served a fabulous 3 course meal for lunch. Starters with Lao delicacies and chicken soup with coconut milk. Poached fish in banana leaf as main dish with fried vegetables and sticky rice. The meal was finished off with a mix of exotic fruit table. Though this particular trip was relatively expensive the meal alone made it worth while.

The second was a trip to a waterfall also booked through the guest house. The waterfall itself was very good but what made it special was what happened after the fall. The water continued downstream through a number of little lagoons, cascading from one to the other a pretty sight. These also made ideal pools for swimming.

With the adventurous I climbed to the top of the waterfall. It was a treacherous and steep climb and in places we had to rely on tree roots and wines to keep us from slipping down. Some abandoned the climb after a few minutes but those who persisted were rewarded with a view from the top of the waterfall and an invigorating swim in the lagoon before the waterfall.

There were also a forest walk with conservation in mind and also indicating various trees in the forest. There was also a bear sanctuary where rescued bears were looked after. They had nearly 40 bears in residence.

Only looking around the travel shops I came to know that I could have used a cheaper option in my travels. There were night buses from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and I could have avoided paying for the expensive flights through Bangkok. A lesson for the future.

Additional photos below
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7th October 2016
Swimmming in the lagoon

Laos visit
I have heard about Laos but were not familiar with the cities or topography. The blog gave me an idea what kind of country is Laos. In fact I had feeling that I was going through LIang Perang. Good. Keep writing.

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