October 3rd 2018
Luang Prabang is a much deserved UNESCO World Heritage location and this is combined with being a lively tourist destination which has spawned markets and shops selling wonderful woven fabrics and bolts of cloth.
In every direction there are tropical vegetation and cafes are screened by plants in pots on the narrow brick and red baked tile pavements.
Here there are also beauty treatments, spas and accommodation offered to suit all budgets.
There are no high rise buildings and everywhere you go there are well restored old colonial buildings and any newer buildings have been constructed from brick and wood and of course bamboo in a complimentary fashion. It is lovely and not Disney UNESCO!
No mention of Luang Prabang can pass without acknowledging Buddhism. The town has small clusters of orange clad monks moving about their business and a trek up the steep Phusi hill in the old quarter boasts many Buddhist statues hidden in the many nooks and crannies as the steep steps take you ever skywards.
The landmark Stupa on top was built in 1804 by King Anourat in a period before communism. Legend would have it that the mountain itself was moved to Luang Prabang from Sri Lanka by the monkey King Hanuman!
The view from the top is stunning with the green clad hills on the horizon and you can see the old town nestled below next to the wending river.
The town boasts a number of Ashrams and temples including the Wat Xiong Thong Monastery. There are ornate statues and distinctive carvings and designs.
Our first find in the eatery section, was the amazing Utopia Bar which had a full range of cocktails and boasted rows of cloth covered loungers laid out on wooden decking overlooking the brown muddy Mekong river tributary, which was bordered with overhanging greenery and palm trees aplenty.
The whole set up was really well done with very busy serving staff being rushed off their feet while back packers and other intrepid travellers relaxed exchanging stories of collapsed bridges, impassible landslides and experiences in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. We felt in our element, if not rather ancient!
On the outskirts of town are located more mundane things including a fine modern Toyota garage. As I write another garage is having its turn at trying to resolve the problems with our gears. One advantage is that they keep Jim in free hot drinks.
Nothing difinitive has been stated and we fear that no solution is in sight in spite of the huge amount of money that we have deposited in each large town! We thought we were going to collect the car yesterday and took ourselves out of town on the local multi-seated Tuc Tuc taxis. In spite of showing our driver the location on Maps Me, he steadfastly drove off in the opposite direction. He then met a mate on the street who looked at the map and turned him around. We had fun puttering out of town weaving in out of traffic. The Tuc Tuc driver was ushered onto the grand Toyota forecourt by saluting security and the Lao women in charge emerged from the gleaming air-conditioned glass doors to greet us. Landy however was still stuttering back and forth in the workshop and we were sent away again!
We decided to have our evening meal in a Lao establishment, shunning the Italian, Indian and French restaurants en route. We thought of our friends Andy and Libby and Fresh Eyes as we learnt from the menu blurb about the pricing structure designed to employ students from local minority communities, who were taught languages as well as hospitality skills. I was surprised to learn that minority communities in the remote villages that we had passed through even struggled with the main Lao language and that these ethnic minorities have more in common with those in the villages in Southern China than in Lao. What is clear is that their traditions have included working with cloth and dyes and fabrics. The area is teeming with eye catching work, some of it very authentic which is being supported through various ethical outlets in town.
Today we will visit the Haw Kham Royal Palace which is now the Museum. we will learn about the history including the secret war. The Americans dropped millions of shells on the Country when fighting in Vietnam back in 1965-1975 to discourage support for the Viet Kong.
These munitions are now appearing as decorations outside shops and cafes. I am not sure how I feel about that?
One market stall was even fashioning jewellery and bottle openers from recycled bombs! The real story is much sadder, as still to this day farmers and children are stepping on unexploded cluster bombs and mines in their fields.