Luang Prabang

Guide books often wax lyrical about the grimmest and most uninteresting of places, so we took descriptions of the town as a ‘jewel of Southeast Asia’, ‘ that would ‘linger in the imagination long after you visit’ with a pinch of salt. In fact, as you can see from the pictures, it is indeed a very beautiful and captivating town. The contrasts feel like they should be bizarre – orange clad monks mingling with foreign tourists, renovated French style villas next to crumbling gold-plated wat (temples), but in fact it all fits together perfectly in this sleepy town.

The town is Unesco-protected; the old quarter alone contains more than a dozen temples. In the last ten years, several tall, boxy new buildings had been erected to house more visiting tourists and generally to help develop the tourism industry. After a visit by Unesco in 2007, these new buildings were torn down, and the town is now investing in restoring its old buildings and developing its tourism in this way. Most of the old French villas now house small guesthouses, boutiques, spas, and fancy restaurants, and the whole town feels considerably more up-scale than any place we have yet visited, aiming at attracting a few wealthy tourists rather than hordes of tight-fisted backpackers or tour groups.

Our main excitement about this town before arrival was its proximity to several ‘Elephant villages’ offering sanctuary for retired logging elephants and an opportunity for tourists to interact with them. We had hoped to do this over Matthew’s birthday, and were initially disappointed to discover that we would have to wait for several days. However, Luang Prabang provides many distractions, and in the end we passed a very enjoyable few days here visiting temples, strolling the streets and markets, and reading and relaxing in some of the town’s many cafes and restaurants. The cuisines on offer here are almost as varied as in Shanghai: Laos, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Italian, French and just general ‘western’. Matt even found himself some tacos. The proliferation of bakeries, carts selling crepes or baguette sandwiches and places offering homemade ice-cream is also wonderful.

I particularly enjoyed sindad, which is described as Laos barbecue, and seems to me like a combination of Korean barbecue and Chinese hotpot, but not spicy. A very unique pot with a high raised curved centre and a reservoir for liquid around the edge is placed over hot coals. Meats are placed over the curved centre of the pot and barbecued, as vegetables, eggs, tofu and noodles are cooked in a broth around the edge. Juices and fat from the meat run down to give the broth extra flavor, and minced garlic and chilies can also be added. It was delicious.
We walked home along dark quiet streets, down an alley lined with crumbling, unrestored villas and half-timbered traditional Laos houses to our cosy guesthouse by the banks of the Nam Khan river. Perhaps the Lonely Planet was right to describe it as ‘the most beguiling ancient city in Southeast Asia.’


Photos can be found here

~ by alison on November 20, 2010.

2 Responses to “Luang Prabang”

  1. Incredible! Happy birthday Matt, the US misses you!

  2. H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y M A T T E I L E E N and N I C H O L A S (W E D M O R E ) E N J O Y I N G T H E B L O G ),

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