Enchantment in Luang Prabang

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Vilayvanh guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, November 29, 2010

Sitting on the banks of the Mekong, under the shade of a tamarind tree, gin and tonic in hand and watching the sun slip below the hills turning the water into liquid gold, this is Luang Prabang.

This enchanting place cast a spell on us as soon as we arrived and we decided to extend our planned three day stay by another day. Situated on a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Nam Khan and Mekong river, Luang Prabang exudes a magical, heady charm. Dotted amongst shady palms, wooden colonial buildings have been tastefully restored and many now function as guesthouses and restaurants. Glittering wats (Buddhist temples) abound and monks in flame coloured robes walk quietly through the sleepy streets. At night, restaurants are transformed by lanterns and fairy lights into magical gardens and the main street turns into a night market where all sorts of beautiful things can be bought, including silk scarves, ornate opium pipes and paper lanterns containing pressed flowers. One of the frustrating things about travelling long-term is that we do not have room for any purchases so can’t buy any of the wonderful things we see, which is a real shame.

On our second day in Luang Prabang we decided to learn a bit about Laotian food so joined a cooking class at the Tamnak restaurant. It was a great day. We started by taking a tour of the market where we saw a variety of unusual vegetables and other delights including Mekong riverweed, which is much nicer than it sounds, congealed blood that looked like raspberry jelly and paa daek, which is fish that has basically rotted down over a long period into a brown liquid that sounds disgusting but is actually a very important and tasty ingredient to many Lao dishes, especially the delicious and very spicy papaya salad that we have been eating a lot of! We cooked a variety of lovely dishes during the day including chicken laap (a famous Laos salad), stir-fried pork and aubergine, sticky rice and an amazing chilli dip called jaewbong.

The following day we awoke early to watch the alms procession of the monks which takes place daily at dawn. The monks walk barefoot and silent through the streets collecting balls of sticky rice in their begging bowls. Unfortunately, the event has become very popular with tourists many of whom are not keeping a respectful distance and instead are standing right next to where the monks pass and pointing their cameras in their faces. After a noodle breakfast in the market, we hired a tuk-tuk along with Laureline, Maxime and Bob, and visited Tat Kuang Si, an impressive multi-tiered waterfall, that tumbles down into a series of milky opal blue pools shaded by a canopy of mature tropical trees. We climbed the steep path up the side of the falls and waded through the shallow water at the top where I managed to fall over in the mud! This wasn’t a problem though as back down near the bottom, we went for a cleansing swim in one of the deep pools. Next to the falls an enclosure houses several bears which have been rescued from poachers. In parts of South-east Asia bears are cruelly targeted for their bile which is used in Chinese so-called medicine.

The rest of our time in Luang Prabang has been spent wandering the streets and generally soaking up the sultry tropical atmosphere. A wonderful, wonderful town.

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