LUANG PRABANG (NORTHERN LAOS): WEEK 18 JANUARY (COOL AND MISTY IN THE MORNING WITH BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN THE AFTERNOON, 28 DEGREES)
16.01.2017 - 21.01.2017 27 °C
While the view from the balcony of our new guest house was a sobering reminder that most locals live a basic existence in squalid surroundings amongst piles of debris and half finished dwellings, it was a relief not to live in fear of opening the bathroom door or having the constant smell of stagnant drains. Our guest house was run by an elderly man who could speak both French and English, had free refillable drinking water and tea/coffee available until 11am. This was absolute luxury.
After an inauspicious beginning, UNESCO protected Luang Prabang slowly wove its spell over me. Described as "one of the most alluring places in South East Asia", it is home to 33 gilded wats, dotted with shuttered, faded French villas and sits at the confluence of the Mekong River and Nam Khan. Not that I succumbed to its charms for a few days, first impressions were it was dirty, dusty and blighted by flies. The riverside promenade was a work in progress and was another example of missed potential when Luang Prabang's setting on the river confluence is magical and could be a stunning tourist attraction. Parts were dug up, clogged up as a parking lot for scooters making the pathway impassable or there were broken concrete tiles strewn all over or another patch of dust with random wire or metal objects to trip up on. If only there was a decent path with some benches in the shade.
Despite all of this and I can't quite put my finger on why Luang Prabang becomes seductive, but on an afternoon where there is not a cloud in the sky, meandering down shady alley ways or the main street lined with colonial shuttered villas round to the lesser known wats, we could just sit on the steps of a temple watching the sun glinting against the gold stupas and Buddha images. Here there is peace and tranquility, the odd saffron clad monk disappearing into a nearby doorway gives the scene a dreamy, hazy like quality. Before you know it, two hours have passed, the shadows are lengthening and its time for dinner at the riverfront overlooking the Mekong.
Alternatively when its early afternoon we discovered a few benches (a rare find in Luang Prabang overlooking the temporary bamboo bridge built every dry season (which is swept away in wet season). From here, we could leisurely observe a steady stream of monks shaded by golden umbrellas, traversing the bamboo bridge to the wat on the opposite bank, shrouded in vegetation.
At the morning market for breakfast, we were spoilt for choice: healthy fruit smoothies brimming with ginger and peppermint, savoury or sweet crepes and mammoth over-filled baguettes with an endless array of fillings. The night market was crammed pack with tourists and food stalls offering salted river fish, barbequed chicken, vegetable dumplings and the Lao staple of sticky rice served in a woven pot.
Our Lao cookery course was a blast that included cooking lunch and dinner plus a trip to the local market to source ingredients for our dishes including banana flower (used for texture) and woodear fungus. A thoroughly great and tasty way to spend the day - Thomas excelled at being the master chef!
img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/774428/DSC04051.jpg caption=Thomas is in charge, Lao cookery course]