Saturday, March 21, 2009
Luang Prabang, Laos - February 18-19, 2009
Yesterday we flew out of Siem Reap and into Luang Prabang. What a difference a little peace and prosperity can make to a people! Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very poor country and they’ve certainly had their share of war and tragedy, but from the moment we got off the plane we could feel the difference. Cambodia made me want to weep. Cambodia made me want to DO something, anything to help. Angkor Wat and the other temples and ruins are magnificent, but the beggars are pitiful, the children are thin and dirty. Cambodia made my heart hurt.
Luang Prabang is a tourist destination par excellence. It’s Bali, but 10 years ago. The people are happy and well-fed, industrious yet relaxed and laid-back. Within an hour of checking in to our sweet little hotel we both gave a big sigh of contentment. Everything just went down about 5 notches in intensity.
After inspecting our room, Lee settled down for a siesta (and to enjoy the free wireless) while I took a quick walk around town. It doesn’t take long; Luang Prabang isn’t very big. Situated on a peninsula jutting out into the Mekong River, there are beautiful river views only a block or two away from our hotel. Walk down the street; enjoy the colorfully painted tuktuks, the beautiful silk weaving, and the well-preserved French architecture. Long boat drivers ask politely if I want to take a ride but don’t persist quite as desperately as they do in Cambodia. About every other shop offers Laos coffee (some of the best in the world) or various local snacks ranging from morning glory salads to banana fritters.
When I get back to the hotel, its time for a shower and then an early night on the town. Gail and Phil warned us about the weird Laotian showers – a depression in the floor at the entrance to the bathroom and a bare nozzle on the wall so the bathroom floor gets wet, but since we knew about it in advance we weren’t shocked or upset. Plus, this is the dry season so the floor dried quickly for us!
We ate dinner at a restaurant around the corner called Arisas. WOW! It was really, really good. Laotian cuisine goes far beyond the fried bats that Anthony Bourdain ate while he was here. The food so far has been really good; great baguettes at breakfast, wonderful fruit, fabulous coffee. What more could you ask?
This morning of course we had to rise early to see the reason that Luang Prabang has become the tourist destination of choice – the parade of the monks through the streets at 6 AM. One of the great things about our hotel is that the monks walk down the street right in front of us, so we didn’t even have to get dressed, just grab a sarong, some instant coffee and sit out on the front balcony as they parade by. Tomorrow I’m going to go to the effort of actually throwing on some clothes so that I can walk 100 yards down the street and get a picture of the locals giving alms to the monks. They give them sticky rice, but I’ve heard they like candy bars too!
After breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel we went off for a walk around town. We pretty much covered the entire place, plus a journey on a rickety bridge over the Mekong to a village on the other side that sells silk shawls, wall hangings and duvets. I think we’re going to go back there tomorrow if we can and make some purchases.
After lunch at a river-side restaurant (a bowl of spicy pork and noodle soup for me, a bowl of tofu and coconut milk soup for Lee) it was time for another afternoon nap. Lee is asleep, and once I’ve sent this to myself (I’m on Lee’s pc) I’m going to get underneath the ceiling fan too with a book…then this evening its off for a riverboat ride and dinner at another wonderful restaurant. This is OKAY!