Luang Prabang is a beautiful town on the banks of the Mekong river with a population of just 50,000… far smaller than we were expecting. Our guesthouse was a beautiful traditional Lao house located in the heart of town run by a lovey lady and featured lots of wooden furnishings, floorboards, and a fantastic 1st floor verandah to chill on. The surrounding streets were cute alleyways adorned with trees, shrubs, bushes, and lined with traditional houses. Kids were playing in the streets and locals were laughing over a beer on the bench seats dotted about the place. Certainly a lovely place to be!
For the first few days we explored the historic part of the town. It reminded us of Akaroa, and felt almost as if we were if France. On the first afternoon we climbed the hill in the centre of town and explored the temple grounds at the top and enjoyed the 360 degree view of the town and surrounding area. The night market at the bottom of the hill was a relief after the bedlam of the Thai markets: very relaxed atmosphere and not crowded at all.
We ate many breakfasts, lunches and dinners during our stay at one of the many restaurants which lined the Mekong river, which was especially stunning at sunset. When we weren’t eating there we were gorging on french baguettes overflowing with salads and meats making some of the best sandwiches we have had in years! In between eating and drinking the exceptionally good Beerlao we looked at some of the surrounding Wats, undertook a 12km return walk up to a beautiful Cheddi just out of town, and checked out the markets on the dusty outskirts of town.
While our initial impressions of Luang Prabang were glowing, the more time we spent there, the more it started to frustrate us. Perhaps it was the wrong time of our trip to visit, but we were ready to discover the real Laos, and yet we felt we were in a tourist trap that did not reflect Laos at all – almost like going to Auckland for the weekend and saying that you had travelled through the whole of New Zealand. Venturing out of the town into the outskirts and going down dusty roads on the last couple of days improved that feeling greatly, and the lack of tourists and presence of Lao people did wonders for our attitude. But we are ready for more of those local experiences (and local prices…we were shocked at how much more expensive it was even than Bangkok!). And our next destination – Phonsavan, which is not only the gateway to the Plain of Jars but also one of the most heavily landmined places in the world (still) – apparently is at the opposite extreme. But first is a 6-7 hour bus trip on a local bus along questionable roads. Should be interesting!