Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Laos-Travelogue  |  Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Laos: Luang Prabang


Monday, 3/1/04
Day 27, 2nd day on the slow boat/arrival in Luang Prabang

For today's ride, we were greeted with a boat with cushioned seats! And more leg room! As we left the shore of PakBeng, I noticed that three girls who were seating in front of me yesterday were still standing on top of the hill with their backpacks.Obviously they had slept-in, probably too much partying. True to their Irish roots, they had been drinking on the boat all day yesterday and I overhead them wanting to do the same once we landed. Surprisingly, the boat turned around to get them. Scattered applause broke out when they boarded the boat and off we went, an hour later after our scheduled departure.

The scenery today was slightly less beautiful, but it was still a delight to wave to the village kids as we drifted by. At one stop, we picked up an ancient looking woman wearing a traditional Lao outfit and carrying her belongings in a bundle tied to a stick. It was like we stepped back in time for a moment to get this passenger. We also later stopped by a small village to get a few more Lao passengers. Most of the boat got out including a couple who was traveling (five mo) with their 10 mo. old baby boy. He was an instant attraction, with all the village kids crowding around him to touch his blond hair. While the kids often see farangs, it's not everyday they get to see a farang baby. I personally think it's a bit crazy, this couple was traveling with such a little kid in Laos, but you can tell they were hard core travellers who were not going to let a little one hold back their travel bug.

Again, time on this slow boat was passing by ever so slowly. But, with our added comforts I definitely was enjoying myself more today. We also got some complimentary drunken Lao singing after picking up some men who had been partying with whiskey Lao which they brought onto the boat and was passing around to the tourists seated around them. An hour before we were to reach our final destination, Luang Prabang, we stopped by the Pak Ou Caves where people have been climbing into them for thousands of years - first to worship the river spirit, and then later the Budhha with the spread of Buddhism. It wasn't amazing and we had to tip a dollar to our boat driver for this stop, but I was glad to have a chance to stretch my legs and take some pictures of the Mekong from the high vantage point.

By the time we reached Luang Prabang, the sun had already set. I made plans with John and Fran for dinner and in the meantime walked along the riverfront to find my room for the night. I checked a few places and they were all full, so I finally succumed to a $10/night room with hot shower. Way too much for my liking, but after spending two days on a boat, you would pay for the convenience as well.

After taking my much needed shower, I met Fran/John at my guesthouse's riverfront restaurant. There was a string of soft colored lights bordering the tables, making for a nice laid back ambience. We celebrated our arrival with a cold Beer Lao, which was so smooth! Better than my beloved Beer Chang me thinks. For my first proper Lao meal, I had a papaya yummy salad (similar to Thailand's) and a green curry with rice - all for a mere $1.50 U. S. It was delicious, but again the MSG was making me a bit woozy. Nevermind, I was definitely enjoying the fact that I had some good company for my first night in Luang Prabang.

pak ou caves located off the mekong

pak ou caves located off the mekong

woman with her umbrella on one of luang prabang's side streets

woman with her umbrella on one of luang prabang's side streets


Tuesday, 3/2/04
Day 28, A Kid in a Candy Store

Despite waking up to noisy construction, I was excited to explore the ancient capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom. I ran into Fran and John who were eating breakfast, and we made plans to meet up at 6 for din din. My first mission was to secure a new room. I went to Sayo, which they had mentioned was a good one and got suckered into an even more expensive room than the night before. Situated in a old French mission, my $15 room used to be in the servant's quarter but it was now an extremely nice room with brick walls and a big bathroom. Ah well, it's nice to treat yourself once in a while.

I then headed out to the main avenue filled with old French colonial buildings turned into stores and restaurants. For me, Luang Prabang was love at first sight. As I sat down at a lovely bakery, having my tea and yogurt/fruit salad I was mesmerized by the nostalgic beauty that surrounded me. People were riding down the street in old school bikes, while others on their mopeds. But, there were no traffic lights needed and everyone was going about their business at a slow, leisurely pace. There was also the odd merchant, walking and carrying their wares on a bamboo pole. Young monks in their bright orange robes were also passing through - which all together made me feel like I was sitting in an old technicolor French movie.

The side steets, as I would discover after breakfast, also had old french buildings situated amongst the more traditional Laos ones. With peeling painted shutters and laundry hanging from the windows, these beautiful decaying homes are fortunately protected by their Unesco Heritage status. The Palm trees, and beautiful pink flowered trees scattered along the sidewalks, offered me momentary shade in the hot Laotian sun as I busily snapped away photos of this all-too photogenic town.

After a brief stop at my hotel room, I ventured out to see a Wat down the street. As I was admiring the beautiful temple, which was characterized by long sloping roofs (which Laotians say, are like the wings of a mother hen protecting her chicks) a young Monk said hello to me. He asked me where I was from, and after seeing that I was fluent in English asked if I would go into his room to practice English with him. He and other young monks lived at this Wat while they studied Buddhism. As part of their education, they also learned English. The monk who was named VathSuchinda, was 21(?) and spoke English very well. Apparently, he talks to many tourists passing by this Wat as he showed me pictures of some Aussies and other Westerners. I was having a good time conversing with him and spent about 10 minutes helping him with pronouncing some English sentences he had written down in his notebook. VathSuchinda also showed me a few pictures of his family and the village where he came from and asked if I wanted to make a visit back home with him. Wanting to be a bit adventurous and get off the tourist trail, I agreed and said that I would meet with him on Thursday to head off to Udoxmai in N. Laos. I figured I won't be in danger traveling with a monk. We also made plans for today to meet at 4:30, so that he could show me the temple up on Phu Si, the hill that overlooked Luang Prabang.

Before then, I grabbed lunch at a local restaurant ordering papaya salad and sticky rice with fried egg. The papaya salad was made in true Lao style and was infused with shrimp flavor. I couldn't eat it anymore, and I worried that I would be insulting the cook. Luckily, he understood when I said I was vegetarian. All together with a shake, my lunch only cost $1. 45. Food in laos was cheapo! But, already I was missing the wonderful cuisine of Thailand.

Anyway, after another pitstop at my room (with the sun so hot, I had to take refuge for a bit) I went to meet my new monk friend. Also coming to Phu Si with us was a 12 yr old novice monk named Son Buth. I had to walk in front of them because technically they are not supposed to be in the company of women. Once we reached Phu Si, we started climbing the steps that led us first to a cave with a Buddha statue in it. The monk held out his hand to lead me around, but as we were holding hands I kinda got the heeby geebies because I was sure that if I wasn't supposed to walk with him, than hand-holding was definitely a monastary no-no. I passed it off as merely him wanting to be helpful and was happy to have two monks to pose for my pictures. VathSuchinda was also proving to be a good tour guide, giving me facts about Phu Si and it's surroundings. I learned that the temple on Phu Si is actually not that old, and many things like the Dragon stairwell was made in the 90s.

When we reached the summit, the sun was just setting. The view of the town and Mekong river below was absolutely breaktaking, the ambience peaceful. I was definitely in awe of the natural beauty that surrounded the sleepy town of Luang Prabang. Since I had to meet John/Fran for dinner at 6pm, I departed ways with the two monks, thanking them for taking me to Phu Si. I met my fellow Yanks at the same riverside restaurant for a drink before we headed to the night market. Yet again, I was greeted by a magical ambience that resonated from the street. This was the most beautiful market I had seen so far on my trip! Here, women and their children sat on colored bamboo woven mats under the soft glow of light bulbs that illuminated their handicrafts-ranging from bags, to bedspreads to lanterns-all beautifully hand made. In true Lao fashion, the sellers were very laid-back, only murmuring an occasional Madame - you like? It was nice to shop in the absence of high sales pressure.

For dinner, we headed back to the main avenue and settled for some pizza. Dining al-fresco was the norm in Luang Prabang and it was great to be able to soak in the street life over our meal. Our pizza was amazing. Laos knew how to do pizza right it seems. Equally amazing was my iced coffee. Here in Laos, and most of Indochina they sweeten their coffees with condensed milk. I've had it in the States before, but nothing came close to the caffeinated delight I was now drinking (entire meal - $2).

What was also nice about Luang Prabang, was that while becoming more and more popular with tourists, it still was not overrun with them. In fact, many of the restaurants were only half full. People are saying that in 5 years time, Laos will be the next Thailand. A german guy had told Fran/John that just one year ago, there were only 8 other tourists coming into Luang Prabang on the slow boat compared to the 70 or so that arrives each day in 2004. John/Fran and I pondered whether Laos will be able to strike the right balance of achieving economic prosperity from Tourism while retaining their normal way of life as much as possible.

In Laos, it's early to bed, early to rise. At 10 pm, all the stores and restaurants were closing so we headed back to catch some zzzzzzzzzs. What a wonderful first day for me in Luang Prabang.

novice monk at temple

novice monk at temple

main st. in luang prabang

main st. in luang prabang

vatsuchinda and som buth on our way up to phu si

vatsuchinda and som buth on our way up to phu si

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Laos Laos-Travelogue
The trip
 
Description:
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Details:
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
China
Thailand
Laos
Cambodia
Vietnam
The Author
 
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.
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