Soaking up the atmosphere (and more bowling)

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
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Trip End Aug 15, 2008


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Another long but beautiful journey brought me to Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and deservedly so. Probably the most developed town (there are no cities in this country!) in Laos, it is almost certainly the most visited and definitely the most attractive. Several people I met made comparisons with Hoi An in Vietnam, but I vastly preferred this place. Formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name, and also the royal seat of the monarchs of Laos (before the country became became Lao PDR), the city is an intriguing blend of architechtural styles, very little looking out of place within the whole, though the adaptation of a classically colonial style mansion into a temple did stand out as perhaps being slightly odd. 
Temples are something that aren't lacking in LPB. As the town grew, instead of a typically centralised structure it followed a more local design of a conglomeration of neighbourhoods functioning as one town only when necessary to do so. Each neighbourhood was centred around a temple, so now it's almost impossible to throw a stone without hitting a monk. The impact of this on the city is numerous impressive structures (usually charging an unreasonable amount to visit) and an abundance of photo opportunities, if photographing monks happens to interest you. I was quite pleased to get pictures of monks using the internet, a monk on a mobile phone and the most miserable monk I've ever seen. Why these all amuse me so much, I can't explain. 

Temples aside, Lunbag Prabang is a beautiful town. Although the main street eventually annoyed me considerably, it was a pleasure to amble around the back streets of town, along narrow lanes lines with old wooden houses and far away from the noise and hassle, and just to spend a bit of time soaking up the atmosphere of the place, mostly untouched by the mass tourism (as much as that applies in Laos) that has touched some areas of the town. The main road, Thanon Sisavangvong (named for the final and most amusingly named King of Laos) has unfortunately been turned into one long stretch of cafes, restaurants and travel agencies, though even this wouldn't be so bad were it not for that lowest element of society, the tuk-tuk driver. I hate these people with a passion. I don't think it's possible to convey just how annoying it is to be greeted with a raised hand and an almost pleading cry of "Tuk-tuk?" a hundred times a day. That wouldn't be so bad if they left it at that, but even after displaying my preference for being impaled on a rusty spike than getting into their vehicle, they still felt the need to tell me that they could take me to the waterfall. Every last one of them. I even had another case of being followed to breakfast by a hopeful driver.
That was the daytime annoyance. During the night, every tuk-tuk driver seemed to double as a dealer. I guess it's the long hair that does it, but after a couple of days, I began to wish I had one of those clicker-counter devices so that I could keep track of just how many times I was offered weed or opium. And it wasn't just the tuk-tuks. I had people on motorbikes stopping me, people on bicycles chasing me, even little old ladies on food stalls trying to push various illegal substances onto me. I think the principle source of income in this town reads "tourism/narcotics".

Like elsewhere in Laos, the nightlife is a bit limited. Here, several evenings were spent browsing the night markets, which were pleasantly stocked with a little more than the usual junk, though unreasonable prices were the norm rather than the exception. Once the appeal of that had worn off, the only late night option was bowling :) Yes, once everything else had closed down in town, the only place still open was the bowling alley. I really like this town! A word of advice though - shorts, socks and gleaming white bowling shoes is really not a good look.  
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