Luang Prabang : Peace and quiet by the banks of the Mekong
Luang Prabang Travel Blog› entry 118 of 268 › view all entries
Luang Probing (LP) is the first major town encountered on the banks of the Mekong River if one is heading south through Laos. Its more charming Old Town area sits nestled along the banks of a confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. Of all the places I visited in Laos it is the town that has most retained; or rather best fused the positive cultural characteristics of its French colonial past with both the here deep seated harmony with and respect for Buddhist Temple life and culture as well as the present aspirations of the gentle Lao people. Modernity, and expanding population and the need to cater for an ensuing boom in tourism to Laos have not yet dented the subtle charms of this deeply serene, almost slumbering provincial capital one bit as of yet.
Having been unceremoniously dumped by Mr Bus’s bus here at about 3.00am this morning, and myself having volunteered to sleep on the tiled floor of an emergency room shared with Mike and Eris, it’s an uncomfortable time waking up this morning for me. Not much sleep has been had. It only takes a short promenade walk along the banks of the Mekong though, whilst the lads continue to slumber, to refresh my soul though. The majority of the bank is taken up by café and restaurant operations of varying degrees of taste and cost. A very calming place to wake up with your first sweet Lao coffee of the day. Sat in a chair staring down through sleep-dazed eyes at the wide brown concourse of the Mekong (meaning ‘Mother River’ by the way) whilst some of the many long tin-roofed boats start to drift over from Xiengmen Village on the west bank.
LP really is a salve for my soul in many ways. The deep, deep calm here is just what I need. Sometimes walking in the residential back streets, or along the banks of the more rural Nam Khang river I swear a pin drop would be heard. No one’s in a hurry here. Whilst they’ll laconically proposition you, the tuk-tuk drivers are more than happy to slumber within their vehicles all day rather than do business it seems. The roads for the most part are not at all choked with traffic, human or automotive. Mixed with this quintessentially Lao laid back vibe are the pleasures of the best of French inspired European café culture (if that’s what ya want).
The boys and I lug our bags to Spicy Laos where we’ve booked to stay for the duration. This is the sister hostel to Spicy Thai in Chiang Mai, Thailand which regular readers will have heard me enthuse about until the stars go out.
I decide to spend the lions share of the day introducing myself to LP and some of its sights. Walking around this town is an absolute pleasure in the sunny haze. The whole place seems in a permanent state of siesta time. Pale, buttercup yellow butterflies flutter in the trees and bushes in flock and flutter in large numbers. A moment of memory from a Marquez novel. Little does more in nature to add a little poetry to a scene than their delicate comings and goings I think.
I visit Wat Xiengthong, the oldest and most impressive of LPs many fine Buddhist wats. In many ways LP remains the nerve centre of the deep rooted Buddhist culture in Lao and the highest concentration of monestary schools and consequently novices and monks reside here. Wat Xiengthong aged wooden sloped roofs and beautiful mirror-tile mosaic patterned walls are quite enchanting. There is plenty that is delicate, ornate and colourful to capture the eye here whether in wood carving (the incredible Naga-headed royal carriage), gold stencil friezes or ceramic tiled design. I would say it is the most worthwhile fee-paying sight in LP.
Picking up on that last point, another note to the budget conscious out there. Most sites in LP carry a (in my view) hefty entrance fee so trying to see ‘everything’ will burn a hole in your wallet.
I meet the boys for a post sun-down drink and we head back to chill out at Spicy Laos. En route we pass through the beautiful night market that is set out night after night, turning Sisavangvong Road into a pedestrian only zone. Small fabric sheltered stalls are laid out colourfully shoulder to shoulder and pretty ladies sit silently besides or behind a delicate arrangement of their traditional craft wares. And silently, again, is a key word here. So much about Luang Prabang; so much of its charm stems from its perfect placidity. No need for eush and hustle and noise.
As I settle down bak at the hostel, hunched over my laptop on my bed to try and right some of my journal a strange, bad feeling is creeping into my body. Into my muscles and bones. Suddenly out of nowhere, as if drugged, aching and deep fatigue and mild pain seeps into my every bone and muscle.