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Andy’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 11 Jan 2007

Location: Luang Prabang, Laos

MapIn love with Luang (Prabang)

Luang Prabang is universally loved; a small, charming town in the north of Laos boasting "an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries" according to the report which placed the town on UNESCO's world heritage list in 1995.

Luang Prabang blends French villas, ornate buddhist wats and traditional lao teak buildings; an architectural mix that UNESCO declared a "unique", "remarkably well-preserved townscape". It is often referred to as a living museum, with numerous historic sites from colonial and precolonial times (though none from Days of Yor).

During the 1980s, Luang Prubang, with increasing tourist numbers faced an uncertain future. The plague of soulless hotel blocks that mushroom with the rising tide of tourism threatened. Thankfully, the UNESCO listing has led to faithful, delicate reconstruction and heavily regulated tourist gentrification based around new zoning laws. These have decreed that no concrete eyesores can be constructed - buildings must not depart too radically from the charcter of the town. Furthermore, advertising billboards are banned, power and telephone lines have to be buried and the usual clutter of fast food eateries, internet cafes and photo-stores are limited.

Luang Prabang is a sleepy town that threatened to rise from its enchanting slumber with the influx of tourists. With UNESCO's help the town has retained its distinctive atmosphere. Unlike other asian towns and cities Luang Prabang neither moves to the pulse of teeming crowds nor beats to the drum (or horn) of chaotic traffic - it drifts along lazily, a riverine town and people which mirror the Mekong rivers smooth, wide run through dense, jungle covered banks.

Upon arriving in Luang Prabang we booked into Sok Dee guesthouse. For a few dollars each we had our own room with two huge single beds and en suite. Thanks goes to Nat who we met in Vang Vieng for directing us there.

The first day Ruth and I took it easy and strolled round the tiny and compact streets and alleys; past rustic whitewashed buildings with painted wooden doors and shutters; grand french houses covered in fuscia coloured creepers; quaint pattiseries serving delicious and authentic pastries, and upmarket restaurants that were way out of our budget.

Along tree lined avenues we stopped in small shops covered ceiling to floor in traditionally woven laotian silk or antiques and gazed at peeling monastries with roofs that swept almost to the ground and windows hung with drying orange robes. Monks sat cross legged outside and called 'saibadee' (hello) as we passed.

Traffic was light. Cars were few, bikes ruled the roads. Occasionally a women on a bike would ride past, holding a parasol in her free hand to shield her face from the sun. Hassle was equally sparse. The people here are likeable and languid - more so than the rest of the country.

We were both very taken with it. An enchanting place reflected in how long we stayed here. We would explore the rest of the city more thoroughly in the days to come. More posts on the way.

Food of the week:
Mekong seaweed. A Luang Prubang delicacy. Fresh seaweed from the river fried with sesame seeds. Say it with me Ruth - Deelish. Our hotel was tucked down a tiny alleyway just off of a main road on the banks of the Mekong, along which were numerous outdoor restaurants serving the stuff.