Not the right kind of falang for Luang Prabang

Trip Start Jan 24, 2007
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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, March 25, 2007

I have learned something on this trip. Its probably obvious but it has only struck me now. It is not wise to over-read guidebooks, in fact maybe its not good to read them at all, or maybe just read them a little to get a vague idea of something. But since we posted home home all our other books to lighten the load in our packs, I have been reading our lonely planet guide perhaps a bit too religously (Or maybe Im just hot and tired and the mozzie bites on my legs are itching like mad, and Josh told me my hair band makes me look 'a bit german', so I feel like a rant)

 They can create high expectations, which can lead to disappointments. And I think I speak for us both when I say we were a little disappointed with Luang Prabang. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and consists of lovely traditional and French colonial buildings and ancient temples. It is positioned on the banks of the Mekong and Another river amongst 'emerald mountains' (unfortunately all but completely shrouded from view due to local villagers choosing that particular time of year to practice their 'slash and burn' farming techniques thus creating a dense smog enveloping Northern Laos and Thailand and ruining our views - how inconvenient!!), actually the smog gave it more of a spooky apocalypse now feel, which was possibly more atmospheric? Anyway, on paper the town was a must-see for us, and we did have a nice few days there but several things rang wrong. The hub of the town, the main street, consisted almost completely of tourists. We could have been standing on the streets of a cosmopolitan European city. Every other shop was a cafe - and those in between were either tour agents or expensive handicraft boutiques. At night the street transformed into a night market, which, while featuring some beautiful Laotian textiles, had rows of stalls selling 'travellers' garb, fishermans pantaloons and the like, which you will not catch a Laotian wearing. The place just catered for the tourist. Which is fine, if it gives the locals a better income/quality of living etc. But the expectation was there, of a more authentic and untouched location. But hey 3 days in a beautiful town with no shortage of cafes isnt the worst we could do.

The other gripe I have with guidebooks is they also give approximate prices for services which leave a feeling of being shafted when you get charged 10 fold more than the guidebook suggests (including allowances for inflation, and leeway for bartering). The Lao cooking class we went to was great, but consisted of minimal practical participation ( mine was limited to practising chopping some garlic, and stirring some rice in a pan- woohoo). Unfortunately Jamie Oliver had discovered it before us, and the $10 for half day as advertised in LP was now $25! I would love to say it was worth it but it was defo on the overpriced side of my budget-conscious mind. A tuktuk to the bus station was now 50,000 kip instead of 5,000. Our bargaining skills are improving and we are managing to root out some of the scammers but there have been occasions where you're left with no option but to pay up.

Rants aside, the impression we have is that Laos is a beautiful country, its people are beautiful (anyone larger than a size 8 feels like an elephant!), peaceful and friendly which when you consider its history of being the most bombed country in the world, most notably by america who considered it a threat as a potential domino in the spread of communism through asia, is quite remarkable.

NB falang means tourist
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