Luang Prabang

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Mar 10, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sabaidee, everyone!  I arrived in Luang Prabang in the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos this past Saturday.  Laos is an incredibly beautiful and interesting country.  The French colonized Laos (adding the silent "s") in the 18th century, and its impact is still evident, from the architecture to the pastries.  The country was granted full sovereignty in the 1950s and quickly became a battleground in the Cold War.  During the Vietnam War, the U.S. bombed the everlasting crap out of this country in an attempt to beat back the North Vietnamese, and failing to do so, withdrew in 1973, leading to the formation of a socialist state in Laos and once again demonstrating the idiocy of modern U.S. foreign policy (feel free to draw your own modern parallels...).  Since that time, Laos has embraced limited foreign investment and capitalist entrepreneurialism, and has slowly been reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

Socially, Laos is very conservative and nothing like Thailand, though these are some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.  The country pretty much shuts down at midnight - which is "curfew" here - and there's very little in the way of nightlife outside of a few bars and nightclubs, although the people here are quite fond of rice whiskey ("lao lao").

Luang Prabang has become one of the world's top tourist destinations in the past few years.  There are plenty of places and activities that cater to both upscale travelers as well as the backpacking set.  The food here is amazing, from traditional Laos food like laap- a spicy beef salad with lots of garlic and herbs - to fine French dining.  The cost of living is much higher than in Thailand, but still cheap by Western standards.  There's lots of shopping, though bargains are harder to come by, with a focus on the silk and silver trades.

I've spent a lot of time walking around the city center, a peninsula framed by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, visiting Buddhist wats and reading in coffee shops.  I've also done several trekking trips, including a slow boat up the Mekong River to see Pak Ou, a cave with thousands of Buddha images; and a full-day hiking trip in which we stopped in Hmong and Khamu villages, visited a tribal school, and plodded through the jungle to see Kuang Xi Falls.  Once again, I've met some great people here- Christina from Maine, who I met on the way here, and who's on her way to India for six weeks; Frank, a jewelry designer from Dusseldorf, who splits his time between Germany and Bali; Alessandra, an Italian currently living in San Francisco; and my old friends, Pascale and Astrid from Switzerland, who just arrived this morning.  I hope you enjoy the many pictures from Luang Prabang that I have posted to this blog entry.

I'll be here for a few more days before flying back to Chiang Mai, my last trip there before heading to Bangkok, Cambodia, and the beaches of Southern Thailand.  I wish I had more time to spend in Laos, but apparently even a ten-week holiday isn't long enough to do everything I want to do.

As an aside, you may recall in an earlier blog entry on the challenges of meditation, I referred to a "Spin the Bottle" game behind Bryant Woods Elementary School in which Lisa Hepburn wouldn't kiss me but had no problems locking lips with Blake Sibley.  When I checked my email yesterday, I discovered an email from...Blake Sibley, who I hadn't spoken to in about 30 years!!  Turns out that he Googled his name, found my travel blog, and decided to email me, which I think is proof that Google is the greatest invention in the history of mankind. :)

OK, time to grab some lunch and look at some trekking options for tomorrow.  I hope all is well back home.  Take care and keep in touch!


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kristen77 on

Knife boy!! Great pictures!! I love the waterfalls and that still water is so blue! Beautiful! And again, you made me laugh out loud at my desk at the 'modern day parallels' comment - seriously, never pass an opportunity, do ya? Enjoy your travels and eat some chocolate - it's VDay! Hope you are well and thanks for the updates! :-)

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