Back to Civilisation in Luang Prabang

27 Feb
Luang Prabang - temple city

Luang Prabang - temple city

OK, I take back all I said about going back in time when arriving in Laos. As soon as I arrived in Luang Prabang, back in civilization, I did discover that there are roads, there are (loads of) western and Lao restaurants, there is electricity, all day – and a god sent gift – internet (even though it is not functioning half of the time). And you can actually sit on the toilets. Luang Prabang is Laos’ number one tourist destination, with its lovely colonial style town centre listed and protected as Unesco world heritage, the dozens of Wats (temples with monks) and somewhat of a tourist party scene (not sure if that goes together well with the previous characteristics).

I arrived from Nong Khiaw (the river town from which the boats to superb Muang Ngoi leave) cramped in a mini-bus together with my adoptive Luxemburgish and Swedish brothers for

The Baguette Mamas at the market

The Baguette Mamas at the market

the week. Taking a public bus is a cheap but tricky affair. I can live with cheap, but those buses don’t have airconditioning. I can also live without aircon, but then the question is: do I want to be hot, or do I want to be covered in dust – depending on whether you open the window or not.

The Luxemburgish guy had already been in Luang Prabang, so he took us to his favourite ‘mama’ on the market, who sells ‘sandwiches’: yummy baguettes which you can stuff with whatever you want: grilled chicken, canned tuna, processed cheese (but cheese nevertheless), banana & nutella, tofu, and a generous serving of different kinds of vegetables and sauces on top. It tasted delicious after days of sticky rice and noodles. And you better not think about the fact that all ingredients just sit there all day on her stall without refrigeration, and covered in flies. Simply delicious (and only 10000kip-1 euro).

Fruitshake heaven - 50 cent a piece - mmm

Fruitshake heaven - 50 cent a piece - mmm

The other delicacy at the market are the fruit shakes. The vendors have their fruits all peeled and chopped on display in plastic cups (with lid). You basically just pick your mix of fruit (one of the cups) and they will blend it together with some ice and coconut milk. A straw and 5000kip (50 cent) and you have your dose of fruit and vitamins for the day!

After having been up North, Luang Prabang is really food-heaven. It has little cafés (the coffee is nowhere near as good as in Vietnam though), lovely romantic restaurants, many beer gardens – and the Scandinavian bakery where they would have drool-inducing bagels and pizza with real cheese. If you thought the Italians were the champions of making pizza – come and taste the Swedish pizza here… Mmmm

Luang Prabang has a lovely old town, richly dotted with temples and monks on every corner of the street (see youtube movie). Actually I should say ‘novices’, as it is tradition in

Monks a gogo - collecting alms at 5am

Monks a gogo - collecting alms at 5am

Laos to send the sons of the family to the temple for a period of a few years. This will earn the family merit, and at the same time the novice gets an education at the temple school. It is only at the age of 19 that the ‘novices’ have to decide whether they want to become ‘monk’ or go back to normal life and e.g. study or find a job (which often is difficult after having lived in a protected temple island for years). The differences between a novice and monk are that the novice can only cover one shoulder with his robe, whereas the monk has both shoulders covered. The novice has to obey to 8 vows (e.g. not stealing, not lying etc) and the monk to 270 or so. That’s a lot of rules…

Lovely old (unfortunately) colonial architecture

Lovely old (unfortunately) colonial architecture

As the city is part of World Heritage, there are strict rules (more rules!) about what can be done and what not. It goes without saying that the facades of buildings in the old town cannot be changed. So the staff at the bar that I used to hang out at, had to wheel all their bottles of liquor, all their decoration, all the fridges, all their trimmings to another building, because they were not allowed to put a fence or shutters that would close off the bar at night. (either that or a guard sleeping there). Being on the world heritage list also means that pollution should be reduced to a max. So no cars are allowed in the historical centre, only motorcycles – but the Lao people are very creative and pimped motorbikes into so-called jumbos or tuktuks, which could virtually transport as much as a small truck anyway. (cheating). And the government even tries to promote a smoking ban in the city, without much success.

In the middle of the town centre is – no, not a church (as in Belgium), not a wat/temple (as you could expect in Laos) but a hill (allright, there is a temple on it). ‘Phusy Hill’ is the city’s landmark and point of orientation (and of course every tourist calls it ‘pussy hill’). It was very nice to go up to the Phusy Hill (paying though for the privilege of mounting the hundreds of steps in the sweltering afternoon sun) and see the sunset over the Mekong river.

Chilling in one of the movie bars

Chilling in one of the movie bars

I got to know a local guy who played badminton and invited me along. Hurray, at last some sports! Hmm, at second thought… If you can imagine how hot it was to play in EuroGames in Barcelona in the midst of a heat wave in July, in a hall that you cant open the door because the shuttle cocks would be blowing away, and multiply that by 10. Then you get sort of the temperature of playing here in Laos – despite the fact that we played at dusk when it cools down. And I even won from my Lao friend, even though I thought all Asians were born with a badminton racket in their hand or up their a… – lol.

And to compensate all the physical effort, and to replenish my body fluid, I caught a (copied) movie and an (authentic) Beer Lao in one of the cozy Movie bars. You basically just go there at 6 or 7, leave your shoes at the entrance and huddle up on a bunch of pillows on the floor, snoozing away. That’s the closest I got to international television (or television at all) here in Laos so far.

  • Is there anything happening out there in the real world?



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