This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Luang Prabang Royal City

4th Oct 2006 We finally made it to town about 8.30 pm last nightaround four hours late and caught a tuk-tuk to the temple district where we found a cheap guest house (if $5 US is cheap when we are used to $3) and had a nice dinner of stir fried chicken in coconut milk. The temple district is overflowing with small guesthouses and restaurants. It's a bit of a back packer nirvana.

In the guest house

We are really enjoying Luang Prabang. It still has the atmosphere of a slightly decaying colonial outpost with old French houses, mossy slightly decaying temples and the stench of drains amid the palms trees with the muddy Mekong winding through, but it is also one of those paradise locations with lots of guest houses, restaurants, crafts and a nice array of activities with a real cultural dimension.

Until the eighties Luang Prabang lapsed into obscurity under the Pathet Lao until private enterprise was reinstituted, and a host of small tourist operators began to take advantage of what has become a world heritage site. Before that the royal family was banished to a cave in the north east and died of starvation and medical inattention.

Our neighbourhood

The prices are an indication of how things work in Laos. We have a beautifully located quiet budget hotel double room with fan and private bathroom just off the banks of the Mekong for the princely sum of $4 US a day. The 250k 8 hour bus trip here (actually taking 12 hours) cost $7. We hire push bikes for $1 a day each. Entry into the better temples is $1 each. Food is a little more expensive. A meal for two is $2.50 - $5. We can also get our own goodies - going to the market, we can put on a mountainous fruit salad of mango, apple, orange, pineapple, watermelon, banana and coconut yoghurt for about 90c a plate. There are also other subtle French dimensions. Baguettes are prolific and we have learned to get small ones from the market for 10c each and Swiss laughing cow cream cheese for 18c a wedge. Liptons tea was another story - a standard international price of $2.50 for 25 tea bags, but this will keep us going for 50 cups on our spirit stove, which is running very economically on 75% ethanol (jiu jin) bought from a chemist in China for sterilizing blood drips (a common therapy in China done by chemists, including intravenous glucose if you are feeling under the weather). A 500 ml bottle for 37c-75c will brew about 30-50 cups of tea if we use hot water from the shower as starters.

Promenade along the Mekong

A gilded temple in the main street

Yesterday we hired bikes and explored the city enough to figure out where the bargains lie and to view the river district and one of the oldest decaying temples. Today we climbed the biggest hill in town to get a sweeping panoramic view of the city. Tomorrow we will probably go up river on a boat trip to see a couple of river-side villages and Pak Ou caves. The negotiated price which began at $75 has reduced to $4 each is we are part of a bigger party. There is also a bike trip to the outskirts of town to see a couple of villages and a hilltop temple with a good view of the town.

Towards the end of the week in two or three days, we will make a bid for Vang Vieng, a kayakers, cavers' mecca half way to Vientiane, which also has a bad reputation for drug busts of the ravers, and then on to the capital to try to get a Vietnamese visa.

The main street in the old town center

Another central temple in the main street by the park

A nearby derelict house

A local temple in the street leading up from the guest house

Another local temple up a side street being prepared for the festival of lights

Their paper boat

The central park with a shrine on the summit and good views of the town

At prayer in the park

The Mekong from the hilltop

Panoramas from the hill top

It is a sign of spiritual strength to lift the gilded budda lower right in the left pic.

A panorama from the Nam Kan River bend before it turns left again at the left to join the Mekong

A Buddhist museum stupa which we rode our bikes out to see.

The day crafts market near the vegetable market

The afternoon after the Mekong trip of the next posting was spent making more fruit salad and futilely trying to book a bus ticket at the bus station a long hike out of town, which proved next to useless because they couldn't give us any more than a receipt without any seat number. Maybe we'll now take the easy route and pay an additional 12% top get the little travel agent up the street to book it. (Actually we ended up taking a mini-bus as we shall see).

The night markets

Tonight we are going again to the night markets to eat all we can for 50c. It's a vast expanse of craft marquees in the main street which it is almost impossible to believe can each make anything there are so many of them, but then the real high season here is apparently so crowded with travelers it's almost impossible to move or find a place to stay. The food court is something you would only find if someone showed you, up an almost impenetrable alley full of dried fish and other slightly repugnant foods.

Knut and Julie, the Austrian couple we traveled with in Tibet appeared in the street yesterday in a restaurant I was walking past, and invited us to celebrate our mutual escape from China, after having separated in Lhasa. You can get scrumptious chicken breast on skewers re-roasted for 80c and a smorgasbord of every kind of vegetable which they will wok fry on the spot for 50c a plate.

Night market food stall up a secluded alley

Boats on the Mekong

The promenade from the river

Boat races

Boat races and a Laotian theatrical band

Video of the theatrical band

The principal temple Wat Xieng Thong at tip of the north peninsula of the city

Soft Eros in the Buddhist friezes

A temple in the north of the city

Preparing for the festival of lights

Temple trees

Their candle boat

Wooden housing styles

Boats for the festival

People lighting their floats and views of the boats on the water

Unfortunately we missed the last night of the festival of lights because we had already set off for Vang Vieng and Vientiane, so here are a couple of images of the last night when the candle boats are floated on the river.

Boun Hua Fai (lit. festival float boat fire/light) is celebrated during Boun Ok Phansa or Awk Pansaa at the end of the three-month rains retreat (Buddhist Lent), which usually falls on a full moon day in October. In Luang Prabang, people make lanterns and parade floats which are carried through town in a procession before being launched onto the Mekong & floated downriver towards Ban Wat That. Compare with the Thai Krathong festival we saw a couple of weeks later.

YouTube Video of another year's procession. See also this longer one from 2009.

Travelblog images of the 2010 festival from gill.

At the temple

The procession

Taking a boat to the water

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