The wonderful Luang Prabang
22 June 2012
My recent trip was supposed to be an adventure to Bagan, Myanmar but because of a longer visa process I decided to defer that trip to another time. I arrived in Bangkok faced with the dilemma of having nothing much to do so it was a last minute decision. It was a choice between Phuket where a friend is now based and working as a manager for Amanpuri or visit Bali again. Luang Prabang came up when a friend suggested it. First, part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We are not talking of just a building here but like 4 long streets that stretch over a kilometer! My friend Janina who was also in Bangkok at that time also recommended a visit. So my friend and I decided to go to Luang Prabang. It was less than 48 hours planning. We got ourselves accommodations online for $12 a night (twin sharing) for 3 nights and a Bangkok Airways flight that cost around Php 12,000.00 each. While checking online I read the Wikipedia info.
“Luang Prabang, or Louangphrabang (Lao: ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ, literally: “Royal Buddha Image (in the Dispelling Fear mudra),” pronounced [lǔaŋ pʰra.bàːŋ]), is a city located in north central Laos, at the confluence of the Nam Khan river and Mekong River about 425 km north of Vientiane. It is the capital of Luang Prabang Province. The population of the city is about 50,000.
The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main part of the city consists of four main roads located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. One of the major landmarks in the city is a large steep hill on which sits Wat Chom Si.
Luang Prabang has both natural and historical sites. Among the natural tourism sites are the Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Caves. Tourists may also ride elephants. At the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market where stalls sell shirts, bracelets and other souvenirs. The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are among the most well known historical sites. Along with the wats a significant part of the old town’s appeal are the many French provincial style houses."
While looking at the pictures, I was starting to worry if I made the wrong choice. I am seeing pictures that were very provincial and boring. So when I took the early morning flight of Saturday June 16, I decided to lower my expectations of the trip. This one is not really a vacation because I’m not going to an island surrounded by water where you don’t do anything but eat, walk, sleep and swim. It’s also not a creative charge trip like going to NYC or Paris where you need another 5 days vacation once back Manila because you are more tired than when you left home base.
If there’s any sign that this trip will be wonderful, the Bangkok Airways plane showed signs. The plane was painted with colors and graphics of underwater fantasy (or was it a sign that this small plane will crash on water?). After 2 hours of flight, we landed in the airport that looks sad (when I realized that I have seen sadder airports in the Philippines). As an ASEAN member passport holder, we do not need to fall in line and apply for visa-on-arrival unlike the Westerners on the other side of the lane. One of those few moments you feel you are treated better.
The airport is small that I did not even dare to take any picture for fear someone might scream at me. I read that they will accept Kip (their local currency), Baht and US dollars.
We were out of the airport building in less than 30 minutes and the sight that welcomed me was not promising at all. But hell, I am here and I might as well cheer up. It was a very provincial ride all the way to the guesthouse. I realized I am paying $12/night so things can really turn nasty and miserable.
As we entered the main town, I saw part why it is a UNESCO heritage site and suddenly my excitement was alive. We took a small turn and saw the guesthouse. It was located in a local neighborhood next to other guesthouses that I saw online. Looking at our home for the next 4 days, this can’t be $12 a night. We were greeted by a charming young guy who spoke good English. We were guided to our room and it was another surprise except that lighting could be better (rural accommodations always fail to do good lighting).
Villa Le Tam Tam
By this time I was already excited so in less than 30 minutes we were out on the street and were walking down the road to see the Mekong river which was so brown and mighty! That was the same river that runs through 6 countries from China Yunan province to Vietnam.
The mighty Mekong river was just down the street from the guesthouse
Our first stop was Joma bakery cafe for breakfast and the place was packed with foreigners. Now you see, you don’t need a beautiful airport so tourists would come. They come because of the culture and tradition of the country. It can be more fun anywhere but you have to be distinct. I say this because in the 4 days I was in this town, I met several tourists and the reason why they are in Luang Prabang is because of its well-preserved culture and history.
Now if you are looking for starbucks, mcdonalds or even a 7-11, this is not the place. With it’s UNESCO World Heritage site status and aggressive non development policies (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you) you can sometimes get the feeling that Luang Prabang is more of a quaint cultural theme park than a real, living town . Now that is working to their advantage. We have met a total of 8 foreigners and they all love Luang Prabang and only 1 yes 1 have been to the Philippines and most of them were traveling around Asia but not the Philippines.
The streets of Luang Prabang
We walked the street of the old town and ended up in the Royal Palace Museum.
“The Royal Palace (official name “Haw Kham”) in Luang Prabang, Laos, was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong and his family. The site for the palace was chosen so that official visitors to Luang Prabang could disembark from their river voyages directly below the palace and be received there. After the death of King Sisavang Vong, the Crown Prince Savang Vatthana and his family were the last to occupy the grounds. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family were taken to re-education camps. The palace was then converted into a national museum." – Wikipedia
There was really nothing much inside but I loved the architecture.
Part of the Royal compound was a temple that looks majestic from the main road.
Royal Palace Museum
There was a very relaxed and calm feeling about Luang Prabang. Walking was not really very tiring and the streets are lined up with beautiful old-style Lao architecture. In the early 90’s there was no electricity at all. The influx of tourists has changed the lives of a lot of locals but you can see that the beauty of the town is very evident. UNESCO did a very good job in maintaining the old part of this city.
Amantaka is right next to the old town
Did I tell you the local food was good? They have Lao sausage and seaweed that they use even for pizza!
We went to the waterfalls where I was leeched somewhere trekking there that when I removed my board shorts, I was all bloody. That was one bitchy leech that got me all freaked out.
The best way to see the whole town was to rent a bike for 10,000 baht for a day which you can find in every corner.
We rode the elephants which I will blog separately and then visited the cave which was the only part I didn’t enjoy. We also went up the Phousi hill. It was along walk up but was worth it. We were able to view the town of Luang Prabang 360° from up there.
Phousi hill with a good walk up and the view of Luan Prabang
The view of Mekong river
All the pictures here will attest to why I love Luang Prabang. I actually missed the place when I arrived in Bangkok.
I will see you again Luang Prabang.