Luang Prabang : Peace and quiet by the banks of the Mekong

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

 › entry 118 of 268 › view all entries
These boats ferry people, produce and livestock back and forth across the river as well as being used for tours up stream to certain caves and villages.

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.

Boats on the Mekong (abstract)
  A modern miracle in this regard maybe?

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.

The village of Xieng Maen on the far banks of the Mekong.
  A daily stream of market goods, food stuffs and live stock (the violent squealing of wise-up pigs will often accompany your coffee) drift across and are disgorged onto the dusty bank slopes below.

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).

  Coffee shops and bakeries…BAKERIES!!! Oh you would not believe the irrational craving that had been swelling within me for decent baked goods!  Even plain old fashioned good fresh baked bread.  I was getting desperate and LP is the answer to my prayers.  Street stalls with fresh baguettes on offer filled to over flowing with wonderful fillings and fresh made pate for just 10,000 Kip.  Tables piled with fresh baked cakes: ginger, apple, chocolate, banana, vanilla and many more.  “Yum yum yum!” all the way.

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.

The most revered temple in Luang Prabang and the whole of Laos, Wat Xieng Thong
  Pong, the director or the Spicy operation is the in situ manager here.  A charming, well-educated former Buddhist novice he certainly knows how to run a friendly successful business.  Whilst Spicy Laos retains the excellent friendly and generous atmosphere of its highly successful Thai opposite number, the venue itself is far from being as pleasant despite the fact it is housed within a historic LP building of the nature of which many such buildings have earned LP its UNESCO World Heritage City status.  Paying 70,000 Kip ($8.25) a night here for cramped dorms is a hefty whack (despite free internet and breakfast)… but in its defence this is one thing to say to the backpackers out there.  Luang Prabang is not cheap!  Certainly not when it comes to accommodation and the expectations you may have therein.
The Naga-headed prow of the impressive Royal Carriage housed atWat Xieng Thong
  The cheapest digs I heard talk of were about 50,000 Kip ($5.80) a night (not including any breakfast).  Private rooms are the best way to go.  These with their own bathroom can be got for two people at 70,000 if you’re lucky but the going rate is a minimum 100,000 Kip ($11.75).

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.

Temple gold leaf stencil decoration

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.

The National Museum, housed inside the former Royal Palace (a great disappointment)
  Most of the major Wats (Wat Xiengthong and Phou Si Hill the musts) are 20,000 Kip a time ($2.50).  The grand sounding National Museum, housed in the former Royal Palace hits you for 30,000 Kip ($3.50, no camera permitted) and in my view is patently not worth the price.  The building itself is of limited architectural or decorative interest and disappointingly absolutely nothing within its walls is geared to a genuine desire to communicate knowledge or understanding of anything about either the former Royal Family (whose remaining members fleeing troubles, mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again into the northern jungles of Lao some long while ago) or Lao culture in general.  You will learn approximately zero here about the country you have entered or its people and history.
The very beautiful (free!) temple within the Royal Palace grounds
  Any further exhibitions in the palace out houses and the very pretty Wat that resides in the grounds can all be entered for free so why pay more.

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.

Luang Prabang night market.
  Just gentility and calm.  I swear this must be the least hassle market in the whole entire world.  You will barely once be propositioned to attend to and buy goods as you calmly stroll along.  The ladies eyes largely down-turned.  Not feveerishly searching out tractor-beam eye contact with you and your wallet.  This is the 'library' system of the market world.  "SSssssh!, don't rustle those dollars too loud!". 

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.

Market brollies.
  It’s all I can do to turn my computer off and roll painfully onto my back.  A mystery illness has swooped and will claim me for the next 36 hours.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
These boats ferry people, produce …
These boats ferry people, produce…
Boats on the Mekong (abstract)
Boats on the Mekong (abstract)
The village of Xieng Maen on the f…
The village of Xieng Maen on the …
The most revered temple in Luang P…
The most revered temple in Luang …
The Naga-headed prow of the impres…
The Naga-headed prow of the impre…
Temple gold leaf stencil decoration
Temple gold leaf stencil decoration
The National Museum, housed inside…
The National Museum, housed insid…
The very beautiful (free!) temple …
The very beautiful (free!) temple…
Luang Prabang night market.
Luang Prabang night market.
Market brollies.
Market brollies.
The Nam Khan river that meets the …
The Nam Khan river that meets the…
Monks robes.
Monks robes.
Temple structure ingrounds of Wat …
Temple structure ingrounds of Wat…
Wooden carved door (detail)
Wooden carved door (detail)
Wat Xieng Thong & blossoms
Wat Xieng Thong & blossoms
Mirror-glass tile ornamentation (d…
Mirror-glass tile ornamentation (…
Ornate entranceway to Wat Xieng Th…
Ornate entranceway to Wat Xieng T…
Gold leaf stencil decor
Gold leaf stencil decor
Disco-elephant!!!
Disco-elephant!!!
The beautiful mirror-glass tile de…
The beautiful mirror-glass tile d…
Pretty glass tile decor
Pretty glass tile decor
Tuk-tuk abstract
Tuk-tuk abstract
Door carving (detail)
Door carving (detail)
Pickled geckos, scorpians, snakes …
Pickled geckos, scorpians, snakes…
Tree Print (Luang Prabang)
'Tree Print' (Luang Prabang)
Dinner time!! :D
Dinner time!! :D
Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2