Where We Be
The six-hour van ride from Vang Vieng to Luang
Prabang had some funny moments. The first was
when our driver made an unexpected stop at a
roadside stand to bargain for cabbages while
his van full of people waited. He loaded two
bags onto the roof, only to have them topple off
minutes later, requiring another stop to retrieve
them as they rolled down the road. An hour later
he stopped again, walked back to a semi-truck,
reached into the passenger side, and came out
with a toddler in his arms. Carrying the toddler
to our van, he handed him in through the open
window to the French couple sitting in the front
seat. Then he returned to chat with the truck
driver. Luckily the couple had a sense of humor
and just laughed at the absurdity of it. Since the
driver spoke no English we can only assume
the toddler was his son and the truck driver a
babysitter of sorts. The couple had to hold the
kid on their laps for the next three hours so it
was no small inconvenience. The thing is, odd
things like this happen all the time in Laos, mak-
ing travel here an endlessly amusing pastime.
|This is the Nam Khan River. The main part of the city sits
on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.
|A special treat was Tamarind Restaurant, where we sat outside with
a view of the Nam Khan River while enjoying Lao specialty dishes
|Tamarind's “Dipping Sampler” included four different spicy dips with dried river weed on the side. The river weed, covered with garlic and sesame,
was surprisingly good! The “Five Bites” sampler platter had tasty dried buffalo meat (sweetly flavored), Luang Prabang pork sausage (yum),
leafy green pickled vegetables, minced pork and eggplant, and leafy wraps. The whole meal came to about 100,000 kip ($12.50).
|Across the rickety bamboo bridge lies a quieter part of
the city to explore, including restaurants and lodges
|The temporary bridge gets dismantled each
rainy season and rebuilt each dry season
|For a memorable meal, head across the bridge to Dyen Sabai Restaurant,
known for its Lao BBQ (also called Lao fondue) in a romantic setting
|A clay pot filled with burning charcoal is placed in the center of the ceramic table with an aluminum dish placed on top. You fill its lower rim with
soup broth from a tea kettle then add veggies, cellophane noodles, and eggs. Next you add thin strips of meat onto the raised center portion
of the aluminum dish where it sizzles. Once cooked (in about five minutes), it all goes together as a soup in your bowl. Yum! We loved it.
|Another great option is the night market, where one long side alley is set aside specifically for food. The alley is brimming over with food stands,
noodle shops, and Asian gourmet treats. We bought sausages, dumplings, and a bowl of soup with chorizo-like pork for 50,000 kip total (about $6).
|Luang Prabang’s night market is justifiably famous in its own right. Sisavangvong Street closes to vehicles after dusk
so vendors can set up shop. It’s a shopper’s paradise, full of clothing, purses, and nicknacks of every description.
|A whole week in Luang Prabang gave us plenty of time to enjoy the small pleasures -- like ordering
crepes and Lao style sandwiches (10,000 kip / $1.25 each) from local vendors on Sisavanvong Street
|We loved the iced watermelon drinks made here. As you can see, the fruits
are all stacked up and ready to go. Just point and they'll whip one up for you.
|The "Golden City Monastery" is just one of some 34 Buddhist monasteries housing more than 1,000 monks.
Luang Prabang is sometimes called the City of Golden Spires because of its many temples and monasteries.
|Inside is a huge gold Buddha statue and lovely black-lacquer pillars with gold designs. The temple was built in 1560
by King Sethathilat and is one of the only ones in the city that wasn’t razed to the ground by marauders over the centuries.
|It's pleasant to wander around the peaceful grounds.
The cost of entry is 20,000 kip ($2.50) each.
|We also liked the colorful, childlike glass mosaics
decorating the outside walls of the buildings
|The Royal Palace Museum once housed the royal family of Laos and now contains artifacts from their time as rulers up until 1976.
The throne room is particularly resplendent with its multicolored mirrored mosaics. The building mixes French and Lao design elements.
|The adjacent temple (once the king’s personal shrine room) houses the famous Pha Bang statue, the most
sacred Buddha image in Laos. The city was renamed Luang Prabang (“the Great Pha Bang”) in its honor.
It's a small statue and we could only see it from a distance by standing in the entryway and looking in.
|We awoke at 7 am and began hiking to the top of the sacred hill (20,000 kip / $2.50 per person)
|The steep zigzag route makes for a good morning
climb. It's about 150 meters (500 feet) to the top.
|Mount Phousi is a conspicuous hill at the center of the old town of Luang Prabang.
Climbing to its top is one of those things that nearly every visitor to the city does.
|Along the way we passed Wat Tham Phousi Monastery with all sorts of interesting Buddha statues
|We also passed a huge reclining Buddha, a huge standing one, and a huge imprint of
Buddha’s footprint that was way beyond life-size. Each Buddha helped break up the climb.
|There's a Buddha for each day of the week!
|Near the summit was this old Russian anti-aircraft gun
|At the summit is the gilded stupa of Wat Chom Si. The views of the city below were good
but hazy -- in March the farmers burn their farmland to make it ready for the coming year’s crops.
|We descended along the more direct stairs heading straight towards the Royal Palace Museum. At the base we paused for a look
inside the small abandoned temple of Wat Huak and saw some excellent historical murals depicting visits by foreign diplomats.
|Another fun evening experience is the free Ethnik Fashion Show
and Break Dancing exhibition (!) at the Hive Bar's outdoor stage
|Only in Laos would you pay good money for a van ride and
end up holding the driver's kid on your lap for three hours!
|Wat Xieng Thong is Luang Prabang's most famous temple -- and perhaps its most beautiful. Its sloping roof sweeps
almost to the ground and is said to evoke a bird with outstretched wings or a mother hen sheltering her brood.
|Monks in saffron robes carry a ceremonial boat into the temple. Each morning the
monks go about their daily tasks, making this is a good place to visit early in the day.
|On the outside back wall of the temple
is a colorful Tree of Life mosaic