The first thing we did when we arrived in Luang Prabang, was to reduce our pace. Despite being quite a tourist attraction, this little place in the middle of Laos still has the feel (and look) of a big village with no high-rises, lots of green and – thanks to UNESCO – no big traffic. It’s got a very laidback feel to it too, well-captured in the street-crossing sign of a woman gliding gracefully across a zebra-crossing!
The first road-sign we saw
As we don’t have all that much left of the day after sorting out our accommodation for the night, we decide to focus on just one attraction on our first evening in Luang Prabang: A Lao-style table barbeque. In this case, the barbeque pit is in the centre of the table and covered with what looks like an old hubcap. Then come the ingredients and instructions. The meat goes in the raised centre of the hubcap which is greased with strips of pork fat. The rim of the hubcap is flooded with the clear soup, which then is filled with the leaves, sprouts, carrots, noodles, cabbage and an egg. The juice and fat of the meat runs off into the soup and, with generous helpings of chopped garlic and a few squeezes of like, you end up with a really good broth and some very yummy meat. The dessert is built in, too: the strips of pork fat, left on the barbeque throughout the dinner become delicious pieces of crackling at the end of the meal. Unfortunately we were too busy enjoying the meal to take pictures, so you’re going to have to try it yourself when you go to Luang Prabang!
We really did very little on day two. But the nice thing is that Luang Prabang doesn’t even make you feel bad about it. We changed our guesthouse, as our first find was a little far from the centre and also got quite cold at night. Even though we already are in the South-East Asian tropics, it still gets quite cold in Northern Laos.
Rise and shining…after a freezing night in our first guesthouse
An orientation walk around Luang Prabang made us look forward to exploring this place a little deeper – venturing into the temples and little alleys full of old colonial houses. Our dinner on the Mekong riverbank with the sun setting somewhere behind the hills further down the river made a perfect end to this lazy day.
Sunset over the Mekong
Our new guesthouse is located right next to the alley where the daily fresh food market sets up early in the morning. We start Day 3 right there, exploring all the amazing (and sometimes disgusting-looking) fare on offer. Two neat rows of stalls line the sides of the road, with mostly women vendors selling vegetables, fruit, freshly prepared and cooked food, clothes, and meat. The ‘meat’ stalls were the most interesting – there were quite a few exotic-looking creatures up for grabs. We identified quite a few Freds, something that looked like a dog’s thigh, various types of little rats and mice, frogs, iguana, little birds and even something that looked a little like a mousedeer!
Market…and mice for sale
We set off for a walking tour around the sights of this ex-kingdom town. Compared to the Buddhist temples we had been seeing in Tibet the temples here in Laos are quite different. In terms of architecture and features they are very similar to the Thai ones. The roofs have gilded tips and nagas protruding from every possible corner and the relief works above the entrances are decorated with disco-ball mirror pieces that glitter in the sun. The other thing about the temples and monasteries in Luang Prabang is that they are very quiet and there are only very few local people visiting the temples. It is a big contrast to the bustling Tibetan monasteries we visited – even in the Chinese-controlled state they are in.
Temple-life in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang-style temple architecture – tiered and pointy roof
Beautiful carvings on doors and windows
One of the few non-temple sights on the walking tour, the former palace, now housing a museum, is closed. It is National Day today (Dec 2). Considering that modern Laos was built on Marxist-Leninist ideology – visible even today in the hammer and sickle flag flow in tandem with the flag of Laos on every official building - there is very little activity. There are no parades of the glorious workers’ associations or other revolutionary remnants.
We walk down to the other river in Luang Prabang, the Nam Khan , passing pretty colonial shoplots and riverside restaurants. Spotting an interesting-looking restaurant right by the river, we go through a little village trying to find it and end up having a looooonng lunch there – Daniel orders a Lao specialty of grilled fish, which, in turns out, takes more than an hour to prepare. It was an entertaining enough wait, though, as the restaurant seemed to be a popular outing spot for Lao families and groups of youngsters alike. We pass the time watching fishermen fishing in the river and cats trying to fish for leftovers from the tables.
View of the Nam Khan and the little restaurant in the background
By the time we were done with our lunch and a coffee afterwards, the nightly handicraft market was just setting up. We spent an enjoyable time walking through the market looking at the various sarongs, scarfs, shawls, lamps and handicraft on offer. All were so pretty and tempting, we had to exercise great restraint to not buy up the entire market!
Next morning, we had a fabulous breakfast at this nice little cafe, and visited a wat right next to it. Unlike most of the other wats, this wat was almost entirely red in colour, which made it a little bit less mundane. J Visited the Royal Palace Museum, which used to be the residence of Luang Prabang’s royal family. The museum also houses one of the most sacred Buddha statues in Laos, the Pha Bang, making it somewhat of a holy site. So I had to pull on my sarong to cover up my legs in accordance with Lao custom.
Sarong-ing it at the Palace Museum
After a quick drink at the riverside, we walked around town a bit more before making our way up Phu Si, the little hill that overlooks Luang Prabang and the confluence of the two rivers (Mekong and Nam Khan). We were not the only ones hoping for a good view of the sunset over the Mekong, though, as the entire summit was crawling with tourists and their cameras, all jostling for a good view.
View from Phu Si
Temple at dusk
As we were not all that hungry, we snacked on a roadside meal of spring rolls and pad thai before heading back to the hotel and trying to make progress on updating the blog.
Our plans for catching the bus to Vientiane the next day change fast as I wake up with yesterday’s spring rolls making an unexpected re-appearance. L The rest of day was quite uneventful, as I was busy holding my upset stomach and giving (not so helpful) ideas for the blog entries, which Anushia was took the opportunity to catch up on.
By evening, I was feeling well enough to wander around town, and fill my stomach with some pasta. We also discover that Christmas comes early to Luang Prabang, and Santa is in a jolly good mood as he makes me jump while buying bread at the Scandinavian Bakery in town.
Santa in Luang Prabang