Luang Prabang – around the UNESCO listed city

 

 

Unfortunately the bad weather we had been having continued for 2 days out of the 3 we spent in Luang Prabang. We got drenched a couple of times by heavy rain while out and about, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the town, especially as we only had limited time. 

Luang Prabang is a city in north central Laos and it lies at the the confluence of two rivers: the Mekong and Nam Khan. The city used to be the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975, when the country shut it’s doors to visitors for almost 20 years. The whole of the old town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as Laos was selected the world’s best tourist destination for 2013, the city is becoming more and more popular with tourists.

The old town is absolutely beautiful with a mixture of French and Lao architecture (Laos was a French colony), it has a certain European feel to it. The main street in the old quarter is called Sisavangvong and it is quite amusingly also known as ‘Tourist Street’ or ‘White Man’s Street’…

The whole old quarter, i.e. where most tourists are, is located on a narrow peninsula between the two rivers. There are some really nice restaurants lining both riverbanks. There are also some viewpoints and a bamboo bridge to cross each river. These bridges actually disappear when it’s the rainy season as both rivers swell. We were lucky to be here when both were visible and for a small fee you can walk over both bridges. 

Luang Prabang is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples – there are more than 30 of them in this relatively small city. Apparently around 80 percent of the male population of Laos live in Buddhist monasteries between the ages of 8-14 for a few months or a few years, and there are bright orange robed monks and novices walking all around the streets of Luang Prabang.

We visited a few of the temples, around town, most notably Wat Chom Si and Wat Xieng Thong.

Wat Xieng Thong, also known as the Golden City Temple, is a temple complex consisting of more than twenty shrines, pavilions and residences as well as some beautiful gardens. One of its shrines is also home to a large collection of Buddha statues. 

The walkway up to Phousi Hill is unmissable if you are walking around town. The main stairway is opposite the Royal Palace Museum, just where the Night Market starts. It takes over 300 large steps to get to the top, but well worth it to get an almost 360 degree view of Luang Prabang. However if you walk up on this side of the hill, make sure you walk down on the other side – much more to see there! 

The city is also famous for its culinary scene, but truthfully, having just spent a month in Thailand, we found the food in Lao more expensive, and nowhere near as nice. Chefs here are very generous with sugar and other sweeteners. We simply could not drink the fresh fruit juices, because they were loaded with so much sugar, I could not taste the fruit. However we did like the bakeries where the French influence clearly shows. Suddenly we were eating bread again after not having touched any in Thailand (apart from some guilty pleasure slices of peanut butter toast) and we could also buy really nice croissants with our coffees. The coffee of Lao is lovely, much nicer than what we had in Thailand, so we were happy about that. We could have lattes again! 😉

The Night Market in Luang Prabang is fantastic, with really good quality arts and crafts for sale, beautiful souvenirs and lovely clothes as well. We walked through there a couple of times and I wanted to buy so many things, but shopping is one thing that being a longer term traveller does not allow for. No space in the bag!

We also went to the Food Market a couple of times for some cheap dinners: for 15000 kips (£1.25) you can fill up your plate from buffets like this:

While in Luang Prabang, we also had to make arrangements for our visa to Vietnam, which was going to be the next destination after Laos. We had researched our options previously and we knew that we should be able to apply for visas in person at the Vietnamese embassy here. We walked for 20 minutes to the Vietnamese consulate in pouring rain and found it had just closed for lunch…it was 11.30 am and it wasn’t to open until 2.30pm! A rather leisurely lunch.. Actually turns out a lot of official places and museums in Luang Prabang close for two hours at lunch time and reopen for only a couple more hours in the afternoon.
We jumped on a tuktuk on the way back to save us another 20 minutes walk in the pouring rain. The driver, being a shrewd businessman, and knowing there was no other tuktuks or taxis around charged us twice as much than it should have cost. His smile said it all: pay up, or walk home in the rain 🙂

We returned to the embassy after lunch and applied for our visas. There was a form to fill in to which we had to attach our photographs and we had to pay $70 each to get them the following day. We returned the next day and just like that, as easy as that could be, we had our visas to Vietnam! 

That evening we had dinner with two other travellers, Tracey and George, who we met on our trip down the Mekong into Luang Prabang. Actually as this is quite a small city, we found ourselves bumping into and recognising quite a few people from our boat!

A nice article about Luang Prabang can be found here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/laos/10714633/Luang-Prabang-Laos-The-City-of-Gold.html

 

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