Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage town which still holds a fair few French trademarks well after Laos gained independence. The first shock when eating out is the amount of fresh bread in all the cafe’s and restaurants. Even roadside stalls had huge lists of fresh, made to order sandwiches for next to nothing. Needless to say a French bakery was not something readily found in Thailand so breakfast there was full of bagels and chocolate croissants. A lot of the older buildings have a distinctly European charm to them and are often contrasted by glistening gold Wat’s nearby. In a nice change from Thailand you can see no real sense of urgency as locals and tourists stroll or ride push bikes around very wide streets (presumably a French influence?) around the town. It is certainly a place where one can go, sit in a coffee shop with some hot Laos coffee and relax for a week with a good book. As we only had two days in the town the opportunity to while away the days was not for the taking but we did get to see some amazing sights.
Whilst the tuk tuk’s in Luang Prabang are about 20 years behind those in Thailand, the drivers are almost exactly the same. Walking down certain streets all ‘Falang’ – white people are susceptible to the usual offers for a drive. Not having any other form of transport we negotiated a price and set out for one of the many waterfalls in the area. Before even leaving the town we had stopped at a makeshift stall where we were informed that our negotiated price was ‘old price, and now is new price’. When you’re dealing with only a few dollars in a very poor country, there is no point getting frustrated and better to admire the ingenuity in the trap and go with the flow. This is especially true when the driver waits around for as long as you want to be at the waterfall before driving you back. The waterfalls were spectacular, the main draw card being the 30 or so meter waterfall that fed a group of smaller ones. Most stunning for me were the smaller falls where the water was a beautiful turquoise blue with clusters of bamboo and other plants in and around the pools of water topping off the scene. Swimming, rope swinging and jumping off the falls were also on offer for those willing to brave the cold water and winter air.
Getting back in the late afternoon and everyone else turning in for a nap I decided to head up to the lookout and temple atop a 350+ step high hill in the middle of town. With tourists fighting for that perfect shot as the sun descended behind the mountains and unfortunately, the dense cloud cover it was hard to get a good shot. Nevertheless, it was a great sight and and awesome way to see how surprisingly large the town stretches. To top it off, on the way down was a collection of gold Buddha’s in various poses and I was also lucky enough to walk by and hear (and have a quick peak) about 30 local monks chanting/singing/praying.
Another shock we received was finding out that there was a nationwide curfew whereby everyone is to be in their homes by midnight. This is loosely enforced on tourists however it was still interesting to see city streets all but deserted at midnight on Friday night. The only remaining locals were tuk tuk drivers who have no problem walking straight up to you and offering you anything from marijuana and cocaine to opium or, a drive to the ‘discotech’. The discotech is clearly a predominantly local hangout in a warehouse style room filled with hundreds of people. With house music blaring and plenty of odd looks coming our way we decided to leave.
The next stop in Laos was the tubing town Vang Vieng, which I’ll save for the next post so stay tuned.