Sunday, 5 May 2013

Luang Prabang, Laos - Montpellier meets the Mekong

Now where were we? 
Last time I left you on my journey, I was leaving Cambodia.
A rabbit waiting for a feed?

I was finally going to the place that this whole trip was originally based around - Luang Prabang.
The clouds were positive augury with rabbits and elephants greeting me above Laos.
Baby Jumbo coming along for the ride?

For months, this place was calling my name.  
I don't hear dead people's voices but I do hear certain villages and countries telepathically beckoning me.
( Don't leave, stay with me okay?)
For instance, India has never asked me to visit.
I don't gatecrash so I have never been.

I kept getting this feeling I had to go to Luang Prabang, 
the ancient royal capital of Laos.

It is no longer the capital after the Communist regime took over in 1975 but it is still the cultural headquarters of the country.
The rest of my trip was originally just to pad out my 5 days here.
 I didn't feel like enduring a fourteen hour trip from London and 
jet-lag just for a trip of a few days.


I arrived at my hotel that had a rather artistic turn down service:
a frangipani flower coiled in the center of the bed with a gift of a Lao flute as a lucky charm.

After some slumber, I headed off to the temple right next door.
These are traditional Lao biscuits drying on lattice.
The ticket seller to the Golden City Temple on the right was a transvestite - very liberal temple.
Felt a little Twin Peaks.
This temple is where Laotian royalty would have all their rituals performed from weddings to funerals.
The temple was more of a pavilion dotted with the main temple along with little temples alongside.  This was unusual mosaic art not commonly seen in other Buddhist temples of Asia.
The lotus flower is a constant symbol of enlightenment in 
Buddhist imagery. 

A mosaic featuring the Tree of Life.  
This is one image and allegory that is not unique to Buddhism but is included in almost most schools of thought and religion from the Norse religion to the Latter Day Saints.
The newel post is a gigantic lotus flower that is mosaic all over 
and glistened in the light.
Buddhist monks not only pray in the conventional sense but they also believe that good karma can be earned in temple maintenance.
This pavilion of temples is the equivalent to Lourdes 
for Laotian Buddhists.
Every aspect of the temple is decorated from the door to the walls.
Holy icons and tablets below - it is illegal to buy and take them out of Laos and punishable with a prison sentence.

After a morning of reflection and quiet time, 
I went on to explore the rest of the city.
It is a very small city and even though it is the second largest city of Laos has only a population of 50,000.

I will say now without any hesitation and say that this place is one of the top five prettiest and quaintest places I have ever seen.  
Don't take my word for it.

There is about 100 quids worth of orchids on that tree...
So crass of me, I know.
This is a bridge you pay a few dollars to cross.  
Judging by the staircase, I decided against crossing.
The stairs back up to the town were like boot camp.
This is river weed that tastes and ends up looking like nori used in sushi - tasted delicious and is very nutritious.

I only have a bit of rosemary and sage as a "kitchen garden".
But I would love this pepper tree as well.
Luang Prabang being a UNESCO Heritage Site is wholly merited.

The city is geographically a peninsula on the confluence of the 
Khan and the might Mekong Rivers.
The tip of the peninsula is a particularly fantastic place as the 
water swirls and the architecture is better conserved than on 
the more inland section of the peninsula.

As I was walking along the river side, 
I kept having to remind myself I was not in St Remy.
The weather is cool in the morning and blistering in the afternoon.  There is a slow, gentle mood and rhythm that accompanies most towns that hugs a river. The air is filtered by mountain trees.  
The architecture is pure Provencal.
This place is special.

Even the side streets were better manicured and enticing than 
Desperate Housewives and for some of us of a certain generation, Knot's Landing.  ( I used to love that show.)

The yellow house on the left was for sale for about 250,000 dollars but it needed a lot of work.  There is a strong expat community there for obvious reasons.

The house below kept teasing me to live there.
I walked by this place several times a day imagining a new life.
This cafe was just opposite - a good cafe is a better pull than a pub.
Some buildings had good bones but still needed work...
And some were freshly licked...

Can you see why this place might have been a bit confusing and I constantly wanted to ask for the bill in French?

It really was so hard to find an ugly house...
Thought the door frame to the garden was kinda cute.
Even the traditional farmhouses that could do with a 
little sprucing was charming.
Everywhere you looked were natural gardens 
just sprung organically.
I don't know the name of the flowers so do excuse me.
The crazy thing is that the colors in real life were way more zingy.

As I was strolling about and being so touristy by gaping at the buildings, I was asked by some French tourists to join them on a boat tour to the Pak Ou Caves.  They needed one more person before the boat would depart.  As usual, I didn't know what that was.  I normally come up with excuses to go anywhere in London but on holiday, I am the yes girl.
We sat waiting in the boat for ages, about thirty minutes.  
The driver was getting drunk with his mates.  The other tourists were complaining but doing nothing about it.  I channeled all the lessons New York taught me and yelled.  I just kept pestering him to come down or we would leave.  Be it tuktuk, taxi or boat drivers, I was getting the knack and blackmail did the trick.
Now, I don't recommend drinking and driving at all.  But frankly, 
I just planned on swimming if something happened.
Once we got on the Mekong, it gave me a whole new view and all along the river were these long stairs reaching either the road or a private house.
The Mekong is still a working river - it is still as important to the people as the Mississippi was in the 1800's.
People still fish and pick the river weed to survive on.
There is still a gold mining industry as well.
Trees and cows equally depend on the water to survive.
We made a pit stop at a village along the way.  
Of course the driver didn't speak English and just pointed to his watch signalling we had twenty minutes.
This was the first house we saw with yarn drying on the line.  
This later made sense as this was a weaver's village.
All the scarves and table runners were handmade by 
the women in the village.
Every single house had different types of hand loomed silk 
or cotton scarves hanging.
I bought a few scarves from this lady who kindly posed for me.
The scarves in front were a variety of cotton, linen and silk.  I liked hers the best as she had the best color palettes.  She sold her scarves for one dollar so I could not dream of asking for a discount.
Typical snake and scorpion infused whisky aka Asian Viagra.
The rooster and all his chicks.
The weaved handmade lattice walk to the boat.
After about an hour on the boat, we had finally arrived at the caves.
This destination is a major pilgrimage for Buddhists in Laos.
The caves are filled with statues of Buddha everywhere.
Nestled in the corner on a groove.

There was another cave further up the mountain.
I have never seen a Buddha with such a big belly.
The entrance of the cave borrowed light from the outside but 
it burrowed deeply.
The cave hadn't installed any electric lights.
The entrance to the door still had remnants of artwork done about 
a hundred years ago.

As the caves are accessible only by boat, the area was unfettered by tourists who had not made a special effort to get here.
After thirty minutes, the driver set sail back to town.
I know that the ocean is a popular geographical choice but personally I am a lake and river girl.
The river has the same movement of an ocean but it isn't as aggressive where the water comes at you.  It just passes by politely.
After a late lunch resting my eyes on the Mekong, 
I headed back to my hotel.
I stayed the first two nights at the Xiengthong Palace.
It was the last official residence of the Laotian royal family before they were ousted by the Communist regime.
It was ideally located with a great breakfast and 
I would recommend this place as a perfect base.
After a little refreshing, I went back to catch the famed sunset.

This temple was relatively new and only a hundred years old but located just next to the evening market.
The tents marked each individual vendor.
The view was superb every which way you looked.
Other tourists were telling me that I really needed to be next to the riverside to get the best vantage point of the sunset so 
I rushed over to the Mekong river side.

If you are into sunsets, then this is your town.  
Forget everything else.  
Just for the sunsets alone, please go.

I couldn't resist playing with the sun.
Can you blame me though?


  1. Wow! Such a beautiful place! Those houses are so lovely. It does look very Provençal!
    I'm so jealous you've been to Laos. It's been on my list of places that I really want to visit for a long time. During our long journey through South East Asia in the late 90s we never did make it to Laos. Too long was spent in Sumatra and we ran out of time and $.
    One day... Your amazing pics haves certainly re-awakened that travel urge.

    1. I have been to Sumatra but I don't think it counts because Jakarta didn't make an impression on me. But I do feel bad that I have neglected that area as it is meant to be so interesting. Yes, I was surprised at how beautiful it was - noone talks about how pristine the town is. Anthony Bourdain went there and did a piece but I think he was trying to protect it because he just covered one aspect of it. But put it on your list and go as soon as you can!!x

  2. Gorgeous photos, and I really enjoyed reading about this part of your trip - it sounds amazing. I love old French colonial places in Asia (like Hanoi), and the village all looked so immaculately clean and neat, although I can't believe how expensive it is... for a third world country that is incredibly expensive. The temple artwork was interesting - a bit Chinese maybe? while the style of the temples looked slightly Thai overall. Amazing paintings and decoration on the temples, and so good that they've still got it all intact and it hasn't been looted and destroyed. xx

    1. Thanks Heidi, but I think the photos were lovely because the place was so gorgeous. I think you would loooove it. Where as Hanoi had its own colonial influence and end result, here it was the rural town version of it. The real estate was dearer than I thought - of course I asked because I felt I might want to move you see...But refurbishment is meant to be even more costly and take forever. The temple artwork was unusual but I think you are right - they took certain aspects of the Chinese and Thai and made it their own. If I win the lottery, I think I might get a cute little house there for sure xx

  3. What a lovely post to see first thing this morning :) Amazing pictures and amazing place! The colors are vibrant and serene at the same time!
    Thank you for your lovely comment.

    1. Hi Nina, As I live by a Greek church I always know when Easter is :) xx

  4. Holy cow, Bravaaaaaa!!!! That was absolutely amazing!! Oh my. I have wanted to go there for such a long time. And we had a green light for a story on LP and then it was cancelled. Now I know everything that I missed. :) And it makes me want to go even more!

    As far as Provence is concerned? Trust me, it looks far more beautiful than the Provence outside my window.
    What an amazing start to my Monday.
    Un grand Merci,

    1. Hi Heather, Thanks so much but I wish you would have gone so I could have read your account. I finished reading your articles by the way - I think you should publish on your blog for those who missed out. But honestly, this area was just splendid indeed. Put it on your list although for you, it would be au fait but still...Have a lovely day xx

    2. Oh thanks, N. I don't put of all of the articles up for copyright reasons--there are some sticky fingers out there unfortunately!--but I have done a series of "Past Adventures" and I could definitely do one on this trip too. I'll have to look and see what personal photos I have...

      And it made me SO happy to see that LP is on the right track. When we were scheduled to go eight years ago it seemed like--well, we were just writing about being a victim of your own success!!--that looks like it didn't happen there. Yay!

    3. PS. Oh my, I hope you don't mind but I just gave you a Liebster Award. Well, I kind of did. Not one to follow rules, I didn't even come up with questions to ask you and you can pass it on or not if you wish! Just a way of saying thank you for your fabulousness...

    4. Cool - I haven't won anything since the fourth grade when I came second because my teacher hated me and gave my contestant the award so you might be making up for the trauma. But thank you Heather!

  5. Wow... thanks for such a lovely set of pics & the cheery travelogue...

  6. What an adventure I've just had... stunning photos and stories and humour!! I am a sucker for sunsets so it seems like I have no choice!! The architecture is wonderful and the pristine way in which most homes are kept... I shuddered when reading about the drinking boat captain... having experienced something similar in Mauritius - well done for bringing on your NY 'tude!! xx

    1. Jenny - I think you would appreciate this town for the various aspects but this place is also even more special because they do great sunrises as well! The town is so well kept that it almost seemed like a social experiment. Yes sometimes I need to channel more chutzpah but by that time I was so over transportation drivers that it was really easy hehe xx

  7. I hope LA is calling you...come visit! Beautiful. Biscuits on lattice!

    1. LA did call me ages ago - I do miss it - I had my groove there, Runyon, yu mi sushi, coffee bean, the grove. I am a simple girl! xx

  8. I've never been to Cambodia but it seems marvellous!!
    Thank you for sharing your nice pictures darling!

  9. aaaw Naomi this looks beautiful. I've loved all your other posts about your trip, but these photos in comparison are so imposing. I'm not an expert but just from the photos I can see differences compared to Hanoi, it just looks more peaceful?

    I can see why people would want to move there, although I'm not sure I could survive, life seems so simple and I need all go go go and lots of English speaking people - Imagine you misinterpreted the time the driver told you, I probably would have hee hee! That's cute that that particular house was teasing you, it does look idyllic, a world away from London hey - but you cant go yet, you've only just become 'ours' ha

    The river weed looks interesting, I don't eat sushi so I would have needed a lot of convincing to try it - I'm such a bore!

    I love that last photo Naomi, just gorgeous xx

    Hope you've enjoyed your sunny weekend x

    1. Oh gosh Colleen, this town was as idyllic architecturally. Food wise I don't think you would have liked it - out of all the southeast asian food, I will say it was my least favourite but their riverweed with their special chili paste was unbelievable! Recuperated today after a long tiring week last week - hope you have a good one! xx

  10. Amazing Pictures! Love the lucky charm you got at turn down

    1. Thank you Beth - that flute charm worked as well! x

  11. Now where were we?
    Last time I left you on my journey, I was leaving Cambodia.

    You Are so lucky

  12. Super exciting!!! Great photos! xxx

  13. WOW what a review - it amazes me everytime how much you know about all these places and you do these adventures solo - that's balls my friend! go you!

    1. Actually it isn't really - especially as I am a sociable introvert - traveling solo is actually quite easy!

  14. What a beautiful place. The architecture and the flowers remind me a bit of Fiji.. I love all the details you notice on your travels! It seems like a peaceful spot of the world right now and I loved learning about it.

    I seriously admire you traveling solo! You are a modern day adventuress!


    1. I went to Fiji when I was quite young so I don't remember it but if it is I must make a detour on my next trip to Oz. It is rather nice to go solo once in a while I must admit. You tend to soak in a lot more and talk to other people you normally wouldn't! xx

  15. My best friend always looks for animals and things in the clouds, I always forget to do that...:)

    You would actually swim in that river if you had to?! I'd be too scared, drunk driver or not.:D

    1. I don't even take drugs and yet I am always looking for hallucinatory images! Rivers are mysterious and yes I am such a water baby I could def swim there;p


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