Planet View: N19°53.695′ E102°08.399′
Street View: N19°53.695′ E102°08.399′
The plane from Hanoi to Luang Prabang was definitely decorated in the most colorful manner either of us has ever seen, take a look at the seat covers pictured here. Laos is the only country I’ve ever visited where, if you don’t have enough cash for a visa upon arrival, you can waltz through immigration to the ATM outside the airport and then walk straight back through for the formal immigration procedures! I take it they don’t have too many problems with illegal immigration in Laos… We had a late night introduction to the tuk-tuk upon arrival in Luang Prabang, a tuk-tuk is a small truck converted to carry passengers in the rear tray, we jumped right in there with our bags for the few kilometers from the airport to our hotel. Luang Prabang was a fantastic introduction to Laos, so laid back and relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle of Vietnam. Luang Prabang existed as a tiny mountain kingdom for thousands of years, the whole town declared a World Heritage site in 1995. Such a breath of fresh air after a couple of weeks in the often quite grubby places we visited in Vietnam, the Laos people obviously take pride in keeping their surrounds neat and tidy. No more shopkeepers discarding their rubbish in the street gutters as well as a welcome respite from all the spitting, a practice of which the Vietnamese seem to be quite fond. The laidback nature of the Laos people was clearly evident as we explored Luang Prabang, a break from being constantly hassled to buy anything and everything, the traffic even seemed to be orderly and Laos drivers aren’t struck with the Vietnamese’s obsession with using their horns.
Luang Prabang’s old town, where we spent most of our time, is located on a small peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. The French-Indochinese architecture of most of the buildings is mixed with an array of red-roofed temples, or wats, dotted about town. The intricacy of decorations on the temples’ exteriors was amazing. With the surrounding jungle, monks walking about town in their bright orange robes, beautiful wats littered through town and the calligraphic script of the Laos language covering all the signs we had to remind ourselves that we weren’t in an Indiana Jones movie! Luang Prabang’s old town has an extensive range of beautiful guesthouses available for tourists, from $USD15 a night for the budget traveler to multi-hundred dollar palatial residences. Most of the guesthouses are constructed using the tropical hardwoods that abound in the surrounding jungle, the flooring, doors and interior roof of our guesthouse were beautiful varnished teak. The old town also has a surprisingly extensive offering of cuisine, from French patisseries to Indian curry houses, all priced very reasonably by Western standards. The national beer of Laos is called Beerlao and is usually served in gigantic 640mL longnecks for between $USD1.00 and $USD1.50. Happy hour at one of the local bars, where Beerlao longnecks are buy-two-get-one-free, can be a little dangerous to say the least. Most of the tour books we read recommended Luang Prabang as the place to experience Southeast Asian massage, we didn’t need much convincing and each had an hour of traditional Laos massage one afternoon when the monsoonal rains were keeping us indoors. Traditional Laos massage doesn’t use oil but instead the masseuse concentrates on pressure points, muscle relaxation and extensive stretching to relax the subject. We both enjoyed it very much, the masseuses put their entire body into the ordeal, utilizing their feet, hands, elbows and knees to stretch and twist us in every which way.
Something we both wanted to experience during our travels through Southeast Asia was riding elephants. A great deal of the elephants in Laos have traditionally been used for wood harvesting, but due to the mechanizations of harvesting as well as the reduction in harvestable area due to conservation efforts a lot of elephants are finding themselves without jobs. We found an elephant village, as they’re called, just outside Luang Prabang where six elephants live to provide tourists rides through the dense Laos jungle. They actually live quite comfortably with a full-time veterinarian on the premises and access to the waters of the Nam Khan River just below their jungle home. It was an amazing experience, we spent an hour walking through the jungle on top of the huge animals, toward the end we both even had the chance to steer our steed from atop her head. Our elephant was named Mai San and was a 60 year old female and had quite a fancy for bananas. At the culmination of our walk through the jungle we were allowed to feed our steeds by hand with bunches of banana, their massive tongues coming out to latch on to what’s obviously one of their favorite foods.
A nightly Luang Prabang event that we unfortunately didn’t discover until our third night in town is the night market, a dizzying array of traditional Laos food and local handicrafts lined up along the old town’s main street. A heaped plate of food from the food stalls cost 5000K (around $USD0.60), more than enough to fill us up for dinner and so very tasty. We also did some souvenir shopping at the plethora of handicraft stalls, the bed and pillow covers made in the surrounding villages were too hard to resist (I’m now carrying Lisa’s backpack because it’s so full of souvenirs!).
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