The UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang is the top of most tourist itineraries in Laos and with good reason. Shuttered colonial buildings cluster on the banks of the Mekong and without too much imagination you could see the French officials of a hundred years ago sweating in the southeast asian humidity, under spinning ceiling fans sipping coffee. In fact most of the french tourists here are doing exactly the same! The old town is full of falangs (foreigners) but luckily it has been able to keep its beauty and charm…
‘60,000, lucky day lucky day 35,000kip for you.’
The haggling was rife at the huge Luang Prabang night market. Don’t worry readers I got the necklace for 20,000 kip and sorry mum that present was bought purely out of a love for haggling rather than what it looked like! Southeast asia has made us love to bargain! The night market is rows of tourist items laid out on the street side…if you wanted an opium pipe, painted tortoise-shell or of course the baggy elephant trousers every backpacker must have, here’s the place to barter for them! We of course were a little more interested in the local food market tucked down a side street at the far end, complete with lao-lao (local rice whiskey) smoothies!
Maybe a little too early the next morning, rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we went to watch the famous Luang Prabang alms giving. The city is a centre for buddhism and with dozens of temples, at sunrise each morning the novice monks go out and collect their food from the local people on the street, who in turn receive merits for their generosity. This happens in almost every town with a temple across asia but the number of monks has made Luang Prabang’s ceremony particularly famous. We silently watched as nuns dressed in white, knelt on mats and offered a handful of sticky rice to each brightly dressed monk as he solemnly walked by, head bent. Though on the main road the number of tourists fighting with their ipads and cameras for the best photo made the ceremony feel more like a zoo!
After a good cup of coffee we felt much better and jumped on a bike to explore the UXO museum south of the old town. Here you an learn about the social and economic impact of unexploded ordnance (bombs), left over from previous conflicts and what this government sponsored organisation is doing to safely remove them. It’s really interesting and totally worth visiting while you’re in Luang Prabang.
After climbing the hill in the old town to get a good view of the Mekong below, it was time to see some temples. While at Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest and most famous, we were casually attempting to overhear guides telling their groups information about the various paintings inside so we didn’t have to pay extra, when we met a celebrity. Hugh Dennis…a British comedian…he’s on Mock The Week and Outnumbered…middle aged…bit posh…no? Well we felt impressed. In fact we chatted with him and his very blond son for about 5 minutes about a friend of his riding a horse across Russia! He was really friendly and we played it especially cool (he came and talked to us)…well apart from when Ella got over excited and broke the bag of rice she was carrying!
As you guys know we like food! So we ended our few days in Luang Prabang with a Laos cooking course, through Tamarind restaurant. We cooked spicy and smoky Jeow (dip), sticky coconut rice and steamed fish in a banana leaf…while also learning Lao people’s love for MSG! Also all traditional Lao cooking is done over coals in a ceramic BBQ, often with a pot or wok on top. It was lots of fun and of course we ate far too much…
Next time, Vientiane…stay tuned.