South from where the Nam Ou river meets the mighty Mekong river is Luang Prabang. I had hoped to travel all the way there from Nong Khiaw by boat, but a dam had been built effectively stopping all slowboats from making the trip, but hey that’s progress right. So I had to catch the bus which did the normal Asian trick of dropping you off just far enough from the main part of town you need a tuk tuk to get the rest of the way there. Its a scam between the bus drivers and the tuk tuk drivers but there is nothing you can do about it, just find some other travelers to share the cost with.
Luang Prabang is a jumble of different style buildings with very European buildings from when the French had control of Lao, standing side by side with traditional wooden style Asian buildings. Evidence of the French influence is everywhere. Most of the restaurants do sandwiches made with French style baguettes and many of the tourists themselves are French.
The night market is one of the things that most sticks in my mind. Simple covered gazebo type shelters cover the local market stall holders who take great time to display their wares from a sheet on the ground although some do have trestle tables. Lots of great handicrafts here and if you take your time to look around you will see the women patiently working on the next piece for their stall. Temptation to buy is strong, whether its artistic work painted on home made paper, or embroidered gifts and nick nacks. Some of the displays too look very eye catching. Along side the night market just down a side street is a food market with stalls selling great cheap street food. Try the sausage, its a mixture of minced meat and herbs and vegetables. Very tasty, very filling. Sit down at one of the tables and order a cold beer Lao to wash it all down with.
If that food is not to your taste just behind the stalls towards the end are the sandwich stalls selling dozens of different fillings all with salad, all in fresh baguettes. These also sell some of the best fruit shakes you will find. Just pick a sandwich from the menu and the shake you want then take one of the plastic chairs at a table in front and wait for it to be brought over. You may need to go early as they have been known to run out of bread.
Across the Mighty Mekong is a little village. You can cross over on the car ferry for about 5000 kip. Once across follow the road up till you see a sharp right and the path continues through the village and to several temples. There is supposed to be a hiking trail further on but it is not maintained and you will get lost. Unfortunately to see many of the places there is a charge. Not much but I find it such a shame. Would Buddha really be happy to see villagers charging just for people to see his image. I think not. You will be told its for maintenance but very little is done and what there is the local monks do for free anyway.
Just behind the night market in Luang Prabang is a hill on top of which is a temple. I went up here to get a view over the city and saw a little stall selling drinks which also sold these small cages with little sparrow like birds trapped inside. At first I thought they were for food but now I suspect they release them to do a good deed hence increasing their karma. I know does not make sense to me either.
Overall I found Luang Prabang a pretty laid back city with not many party places although I was travelling out of season. The restaurants are great, there is a few bars but not many, one of the best ones for backpackers is Utopia, a very cool place with a river view, lots of mats on the floor to chill out on and even a volley ball court. There are some great and cheap quality guest houses if you try some of the back streets and it is a good place to recharge your batteries before heading off into the wilds again.
Thanks for reading.