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krisek Luang Prabang - A travel report by Krys
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Luang Prabang,  Laos - flag Laos -  Louangphrabang
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krisek's travel reports

Not really holy, but perfect - Luangprabang

  13 votes
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I shared a tuk-tuk from the airport with a traveller, who claimed that Luangprabang was the most perfect town on the face of this planet. When I was leaving, I would share his view. Of course from a certain point of view.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
There was one thing that hit me – the town was a very peaceful place. What a change from ridiculously busy Hanoi and Saigon. Not only was the traffic massively smaller and no horns were heard but also there were no pushy postcard or insisting photocopy book sellers, no nuisance of motorbike touts and vendors. It was like being on a different planet – but seriously, without having to extraneously exaggerate, it was a different country. Was it not? So, why was I so shocked, I should have realised that this should be normal – I was no longer in a multimillion inhabitant metropolis, rather I was in a small town situated on the bank of the Mekong in the jungle.

The other thing that hit me was the number of temples (wats) and how richly decorated they were. For the first time, I saw a building painted in burgundy colour with golden decorations. If I thought that the immigration officer at the border earlier in the morning made my day, or even getting on the earlier flight and not having to spend time in Vientiane, then I was so wrong and so unaware about great many things. All the wats around were overwhelming and although they were all built in a distinguished architectural style, they were so different in the way they were decorated, painted and even maintained. Fantastically they were all available to be explored and enjoyed by everyone. I was genuinely impressed. Again! I began to believe that this was becoming a perfect holiday.

Often before I go on holiday, I decide to bring home a specific photograph. When I went to Madagascar, it was a lemur and chameleon. From Namibia - it was a drinking giraffe, etc. From Indochina, I promised myself to bring an excellent photograph a Buddhist monk or two dressed in their orange robe. It almost became a key objective of this trip. So, when I arrived in Luangprabang I thought: “Could I be in a more appropriate place to achieve this?” In the town, there were plenty of hyperfriendly monks to converse with and make friends.

Favourite spots:
Luang Prabang travelogue picture
In the centre, there was a hill with a small temple on top. I climbed it after lunch. The view was not too bad, but the temple disappointed me a little, compared with those in the town. It featured a golden stupa top, which glittered incredibly bright in the sun, even from a considerable distance. But it was small and looked so insignificant. Due to lush vegetation the view from the top was not so great, either. Although in some parts, I could see far into the fields around. I spent a few moments there on the top contemplating my mere achievement to climb the hill and looking at people who after having climbed it covered with sweat, gasped swallowing large quantities of bottled water they so thoughtfully and wisely brought with them.

In the town, I could not pick a favourite spot. It might be one of the wats. It might be a bank of the Mekong. It might be one the small restaurants by the river. I loved them all.

What's really great:
Luang Prabang travelogue picture
The monks and, perhaps even more the novices, were the true value of Luangprabang. They were all quite chatty and they asked many questions, and liked to shake hands. I was not sure what the catch was, having got used to the not-so-friendly way of life in London or having just arrived from a disappointing Vietnam. It was wrong for me to assume that there was a catch. The lads were just inquisitive and curious about other people and other cultures. I could spend hours and hours speaking with them. Without realising, that time flew. Only with two of them: Phonexai at Wat Sirimounkhoun Sayaram and Khamsouk at Wat Manolom I spent two hours each – that was literally half of the day! They were funny, warm-hearted, genuine young guys who wanted to make friends and practise their English. They kept asking if I’d visit them again later. That was moving, because I felt being treated like someone special, although I was just a tourist, one of many, passing by, not a bit less curious than them.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
I visited almost all of the 30+ wats in Lungprabang. Everywhere I was welcomed and almost treasured. Some of the temples were new. Some where old - really old. There were also other places to be visited in Luangprabag and the vicinity. I heard about a waterfall and caves, but I never went. I was busy with my new friends at the wats, who kept inviting me back over and over again and I could not refuse them. And if I went to see that cave and that waterfall - it would just be another cave and another waterfall, and I knew that they could not be more spectacular than some I had seen before. By talking to the novices and monks, I was soaking the ambiance, the culture, the spirit and the local lifestyle.

Oh yes, with over thirty wats, some literally one next to another, plus a museum, there is plenty to see in Luangprabang, and the scenery, including the Mekong, all add additional qualities to the area.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
I was staying at Sok Dee Guest House, and I would not recommend it to anyone. It was highly overpriced (USD15-20) and the rooms were not very clean, and bed sheets were dirty. I also found fungus on the walls. And finally, they even tried to cheat me when I paying with kip. I had to make them count the money twice! Whatever happened I realised that it was wise of me not to pay in dollars, because their exchange rate was awful.

Many guesthouses in the town were loads better, nicer and cheaper. There was one opposite the Market, after the mini post, which looked very comfortable and clean. It looked like a decent hotel in fact and it cost just 12 US dollars a night for a room with en suite bathroom. They also had a great restaurant serving excellent milk shakes – I would recommend papaya the most.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
There was no real nightlife in the town. There were a number of cafes and bars, which were open late, but there were few places to go out and jump around to the rhythm. I think there were two or three popular dancing places or discos. But I failed to attend them. A waiter at one of the restaurants asked me: “I am going to Rama disco, would you like to go with me?” Somehow I felt privileged, welcomed and honoured. But I was leaving very early next day, and I could not go. It was a pity as Rama was very popular with both locals and travellers.

Oh, yes – I almost forgot to mention the Luangprabang’s night market that was laid on the main street on selected nights. It was about one kilometre long and there would normally be two alleys. There were no stands, everything was laid flat on the pavement and the road. The traffic was suspended and people tred to sell whatever they’d brought with them. I quite liked the paper lamps and the ivory carvings. Nevertheless, I bought nothing.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
I hang with monks and novices. This way, I learnt a great deal about them. I originally thought that they were all holy people who always behaved appropriately. And then I saw them whistling at the girls! They, in my eyes, fortunately or not, thankfully or not, broke the taboo that monks were, or should be, untouchable.

At Wat Manolom, monks and novices residing there were redecorating the temple’s façade. I paused and observed how they were doing. One of the monks came down from the wooden scaffold to talk to me. He did smile like other monks but was a bit more serious. Others were fooling around with red paint painting not only the temple but also themselves in funny places like nipples, for example. It was obvious that they were having laugh with the job. I even saw one of them smoking a cigarette inside the temple whilst painting the door from the inside. I could not believe that! That definitely changed my previous perception that the temples were all holy and sacred.

Luang Prabang travelogue picture
There was obviously a market right in the heart of the town, with fresh produce, particularly fruit was abundant there, if someone wanted to be self-sufficient. I wasn't and my budget allowed dining in some of the nicer cafes and restaurants.

There was this restaurant near the Nam Khan river, called Duang Champa, which cooked well. But it was a little outside the main action of the town. The ‘high street’ of Luangprabang, Xiang Thong, was the centre of catering. Almost every second building there had a bar, restaurant or cafe. Perhaps certain were more established that others, but they all looked good. Most would serve a fusion between Lao and French cuisines and absolutely all had French baguettes. Many did delicious milkshakes, of which I often dream to this day.

On the picture here are monks, who were painting their wat. The one on the right was very poor and could not even afford water. I decided to sponsor his education at a university in Thailand. Hopefully he'll get a good job.

Other recommendations:
Luang Prabang travelogue picture
I crossed the Mekong the other day to go and see Ban Xiang Men village, which had rave reviews in my guidebooks. A guy offered me the trip across the Mekong for 3 dollars, so I laughed it off, as I knew that there was a regular boat service for 10 cents for the locals or fifty cents for foreigners. I told him that. There was nothing else for him to do but to feel embarrassed. I walked the entire length of the village passing by a few dozens of households, one wat, and countless chickens. I climbed on a hill to see almost completely ruined wat at its top. I was wholly unimpressed because fee was collected to see it. I wasn’t the case in Luangprabang! I seriously regretted the visit as at least five kids kept asking me for money. First, three girls followed me from the hill for 25 minutes demanding money. One of them was carrying a machete, so I did not feel too comfortable in their company and yet had to get rid of them somehow.

Published on Monday February 25th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:46 PM rating by alfonsovasco

beautiful, text and pictures and your writings

Thu, Mar 13 2008 - 03:26 AM rating by downundergal

I too loved the languid rhythm of Luang Prabang. This report bought back a flood of memories of one of the gems of SE Asia.
If you ever get to return some of the highlights for me were the temple on the top of the hill is the premier spot to soak up the sunset, the aboslutely stunning Kouangsi waterfall and the morning procession of monks for morning alms.

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:12 AM rating by magsalex

Loved the report and some great pictures to bring it to life.

Sun, Mar 02 2008 - 03:38 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Beautiful, wonderful, very nice report!!!

Tue, Feb 26 2008 - 02:35 PM rating by rangutan

Wonderful description of the local folk with top quality images. You always do that very well and I love it: people make a place, not only historical buildings and pretty landscapes!

Tue, Feb 26 2008 - 07:21 AM rating by davidx

So far I can't imagine any of your reports ever falling below 5* but, if they do, remember 4* means very good! This is a clear 5* for both text and photos

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