November 26th, 2012 – by: Jollyjetsetter
Low-rise shopfronts in Luang Prabang
Those of us familiar with travel publications which cater to the real traveller's needs will no doubt be already aware of the fact that the central Laotian river town of Luang Prabang, has already enjoyed its fair share of accolades in recent years. Now that the town has been officially discovered and visiting it is no longer considered quite so pioneering, just how far does the town dubbed 'The marvel of the Mekong' hold its own? The answer is to a fair extent, even further if you consider the fact that this is a city mercifully free of western trappings (fast food joints and shopping malls, to name but two), and the atmosphere which prevails when visiting the town cannot help but reveal all of the cultural facets which, when grouped together, constitute an impressive whole, at least from the standard Laotian citizen's point of view, who could well regard Luang Prabang as their nation's most vital national treasure.
Stunningly intricate temple in Luang Prabang
So, just how does the uninitiated go about seeking out these components which make up the treasure trove that the town is made out to be? Well, encouraging factors are the uncomplicated city street layout, the fact that traffic is kept to a bare minimum, and only entails taxis and tuktuks, handy for getting around, but still by no means impossible without, depending on the time frame. Mount Phousi seems to be a significant enough reference point, from which all other spots could be mapped out in relation to, and it also marks what appears to be the starting point of an enclave of Laotian temples in all their elemental glory. Centrally-located Dara market might be the closest Luang Prabang comes to an 'under one roof' shopping area, but it is hardly a nod to its western counterparts, and the outlying Phousi market is a commercial area on a larger, but more ramshackle scale.
Look what the far end of the Whisky Village reveals!
Since tourists have descended upon Luang Prabang in reliable numbers, restaurants like the Laotian-themed music-cum-dance-cum dinner venue 'Roots N Leaves' make a visitor's trip there feel palpably more exotic, and complete. Excursions out of town, thankfully, make the entire package an even more attractive one, and a visit down the Mekong river to the Pak Ou caves, where monuments of Buddha abound is made more enjoyable by a short stop at the whisky village (handicrafts and more) being thrown in for good measure. Heading 30 or so kilometres south of town, and you will reach the majestic Kuang Si waterfalls, which really are a joy to behold, when considering the multi-tiered nature of the falls and the imagery which meets the eyes upon arrival, thanks to a turquoisey colour which is alluring enough to attract even the most reluctant bather to step inside.
Hard to believe these metallic items of jewellry were once bombs!
All in all, this is a town where time would literally stand still, were it not for the influx of tourists, and the minor buzz which it has taken on board in order to market itself more ably. For my money, Luang Prabang does live up to its 'marvel of the Mekong' label, and then some, and those still unsure about the limit of its appeal should consider the country's ravaged past, and see Luang Prabang as being a vital success story in the process of turning all of the negative energy inside-out to produce an enclave of peace where exotic Asian trappings are the order of the day, and that much-needed glass of beer Lao consumed by the riverside would surely be your very latest 'best buddy.'