My Laos trip coincided with the Christmas and New Year holiday. In my last post, I mentioned the grueling trip north from Vientiane, but my arrival in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, effected a very different feeling. It is quite unlike any other Asian city I've visited--relaxed neighborhoods rather than tuk-tuk choked thoroughfares. Again, my journal, kept on my iPad:
This little place is so quiet and peaceful, and so different from other places I've been to in Asia, I'll be happy to just sit around, toddle off to the market occasionally, and find an expat joint to drink beer in. Right now, it's not even 11 PM and the only noise aside from the artificial sound of my typing is a few far off rumbles of tuk-tuks, discords of music somewhere and a wind chime on the next patio over.
Oh, and the temperature. So mild, it's almost chilly right now.
I stayed at terrific place called Manichan Guesthouse, with a great location and awesome owners, such a place I even forgave the upstairs room with downstairs bathroom (inconvenient and borderline hazardous for that middle-of-the-night pee trip)! I could sit on the patio with a coffee and watch the passersby at the morning market.
Do you recognize the banana blossoms in the shot above?
Here is a young vendor-in-training:
It's arguable that there's not a lot more to do here than in Vientiane, but I had a rather better time not doing it. Aside from Wat Mai (temple post to come), the main draw in the old town area is the Royal Palace. I was told it is underwhelming, but I can't speak to that as it was closed to visitors every time I went by. Here's a shot from the outside, and a statue of King Sisavangvong made by the Russians in the 1970s:
But ... a fellow inmate of Manichan (Hi, Jeff!) informed me there is a display of the royal cars, Lincoln Continentals, a Citroen and an Edsel. I managed to get the shot below before a docent interrupted my photographic carnage. Also, I found a great photo op outside by the gate. The pumps, I suspect, don't work anymore.
The street accessing the Palace and Wat Mai is more or less the main tourist boulevard in Luang Prabang and is also the location of the Night Market. There is not much unique about the wares there, although it is where I got the sucho alluded to earlier. I bargained the guy down from 40,000 kip to 25,000 for what I bought, but gave him the difference as a donation.
Along that route is the Lao Blossom Restaurant,
the place I stopped in for a beer previous nights so I could use their bathroom. The staff, Seevun, Geon and the other dude (Hmong like Seevun), really spend their time talking with me, so much so that a guest comes over to complain that I am monopolizing their time so he can't get a beer. What can I say? Mostly we're teaching each other language, comparing notes on education, and talking about ... stuff.
Speaking of tourists, would you exchange your money here?
Thirty km out of town is a very nice waterfall around which a considerable tourist trade has arisen. Still, as of now, it's quite nice.
Though it's not a natural wonder, visitors also enjoy the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan river, which joins the mighty Mekong, right here on the east side of Luang Prabang. I did not do the crossing, for two reasons: 1) it cost money, but only for tourists; 2) I don't like heights. Sue me.
My remaining posts will focus on temples, market/cooking class from Bamboo Tree, and food.