luang prabang (part 3)

Posted in laos, luang prabang by moonwire on August 27, 2009

So I’ve spent a week in Luang Prabang and have definitely caught up on French baguettes and some red wine. I decided to rent a bicycle again as I enjoyed it so much in Chiang Mai and though I enjoyed it here, too, it is not really necessary to have one as this is a very small town that can easily be done by foot. There isn’t all that much going on here, either. I did want to get ‘out of town’ a bit, but not too far as the rain can come on suddenly and ferociously, however, that brought another set of problems… the roads. Or lack thereof. I wanted to check out what was on the other side of the Nam Khan river so I crossed the little bridge. Well, soon enough the road stopped and all that was left was just a dirt road with rocks. Quite steep as well so it was hell trying to get up there. Also, a different kind of world. While the ‘downtown core’ of Luang Prabang is pretty, just outside of it is where the real poverty starts and makeshift houses of corrugated sheet metal and plastic are everywhere. Lots of dust and sand. Not a pretty sight.

What amazes me here, and I’ve seen this everywhere in South East Asia,  is how hard the women work. While a lot of men drive their tuk tuks (basically motorbikes with a carriage attached to either the side or the back), they also like to take breaks and you see them sleeping on the benches of their tuk tuks all the time. The women are often the ones running the guest houses, restaurants and little shops, and doing the shopping while taking care of the kids and sweeping the sidewalks. Most of them don’t have a real stove, they do it the old school way with fires. I cannot imagine.

My days were low key here. I’d usually wake up at around 5 or 6 am and go out to shoot for a bit. Then I’d have brekkie at this tiny little restaurant run by a lovely young woman. Warm baguette, eggs and black Lao coffee. After brekkie I’d usually go for a ride on my bicycle. By that time, at around 9, it would already be too hot and bright to shoot. I’d go back to my room to chill a little. Then in the afternoon I’d go for lunch and ride around some more or sit in the shade by the Mekong river. Back to my room to take a nap, then back out with my camera for a few hours and eat at one of the veggie buffets at the Night Market. Great concept. You pay about 60 cents for a plate. Load it up with a whole bunch of dishes and eat it at a long table with everybody else. The food wasn’t spectacular, but it was cheap and cheerful enough to keep me happy.

After I walked around the old part of the city some more I would usually go back to my room with a Beer Lao (which is light and crisp) and read til I went to bed at around 10 PM. Yes, that early. There’s nothing going on here at night. Most bars close very early and well, I didn’t feel like it anyways.

I finished a bunch of books here. One of them was ‘The girl in the picture’ about Kim Phuc, the girl in that famous shot by Nick Ut, who’s running naked down the highway after getting hit by napalm. After reading ‘The rape of Nanking’ I didn’t want to read anymore depressing stories but I’m glad I did pick up this book. Interesting read.

So, I’m off to Vientiane, the capital of Laos for I think a day or five to a week. I haven’t booked a hotel yet as I’ve found it’s actually cheaper if you just show up. Also, I want to check out the bed before I take anything. After roughing it in Chiang Mai and here in Luang Prabang as well with not such good rooms and beds, I’m ready for a bit of comfort. My back is starting to hurt from sleeping on ‘concrete’.

Some more shots for your viewing pleasure:

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lao life – photos from luang prabang

Posted in laos, luang prabang by moonwire on August 26, 2009

Lao Snake Whiskey. No, I didn’t touch it 🙂

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luang prabang

Posted in laos, luang prabang by moonwire on August 23, 2009

Sabaidee! I took a plane from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos on Friday afternoon. It was a tiny turbo prop plane and I felt a bit uneasy about it first but it was totally fine. It was noisy as hell, but I enjoyed the ride. We didn’t fly too high so I had great views of Northern Thailand and Laos, which is mostly mountainous jungle but it got really cool when I could see the Mekong river.

In flight entertainment magazine from Lao Airlines.

It only took an hour and we arrived on time. Immigration and getting my visa was pretty quick and painless and before I knew it, I arrived at the Spicylaos hostel. This hostel is located in an old colonial building and it has lots of character. It’s not a big hostel; just 22 dorm beds and 4 double privates. I chose one of the privates. I don’t think I can deal with the dorm thing anymore. Still, people stumbling into their rooms at 1.30 and then proceed to talk loudly while there’s no glass windows (only mosquito netting) is not my idea of a good time.

Anyways, I had just booked it because I expected delays and didn’t feel like lugging my pack around town in the dark, but I could have easily done that here. There are so many guesthouses; it makes me wonder how they are ever going to fill them. Today I looked around for another place and I found one, close to the Mekong river. The room itself is not impressive at all. A tad dark, but it has a little patio area and a small common area with couches where you can use wifi. I have seen some really gorgeous places overlooking the Mekong and I’m thinking if I’m going to stay for more than a week, I will check into something really sweet for the last 2 nights or so.

French toast at Joma Bakery. One of many bakeries here…

So, Luang Prabang. I cannot believe this place. It’s probably the most touristy place in Laos (and maybe even on South Asia’s main land) as it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The architecture is mostly French colonial. It could easily turn into some Disney theme park, but it’s not. Not sure if it’s because it’s not the high season, so it’s not overrun with tourists. Of course, there’s a night bazaar with the usual stuff, though quite a bit more upscale than the one in Chiang Mai. More silks etc.

Anyways, these kinds of places do not interest me, though there’s something redeeming about them: food stalls. Lots of them. And even better. A lot of them sell crepes and Lao sandwiches, which are just baguettes with the filling of your choice and they’re cheap and yummy. I never even knew about the baguette thing. I pretty much assumed, after Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur and Thailand with the exception of Chiang Mai, that good breads are not to be had. Well, I’ve had them. I also noticed there’s a Lao version of Khao Soy, the spicy broth noodle dish I had in Chiang Mai. Yummy.

So far, I’ve basically spent trying to get a feel for the place. The lack of street names doesn’t help, but Luang Prabang is actually very small so it’s hard to get really lost. The Mekong river is an excellent point of reference.

The food frenzy from Chiang Mai has continued. They don’t have the granola veggie traveler’s cafes here, but I can’t complain. Lots of bakeries, which makes me very happy.  But my favourite place so far is probably a bookstore/cinema/tea house/restaurant called ‘l’Etranger’. Good coffee and sandwiches and an amazing collection of books at a very reasonable price. I am oh so tempted to just take it really easy here and spend a day or 10. A bit of exploring in the morning and late afternoon and for the rest just laze around with a book and a cup of tea. This is definitely one of my favourite places so far. I love the relaxed vibe and it’s very photogenic. Haven’t shot much as I got up too late this morning and in the afternoon I was walking around with a dead battery in my GRD, but I certainly will make an effort here.

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