Luang Prabang is encircled by mountains and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It now welcomes visitors with a degree of sophistication that was probably un-dreamed of, in terms of the quality of accommodation and restaurants that is now available, when it first opened up to tourists in 1989. The city is UNESCO heritage listed which means that it’s mercifully empty of buses and trucks and most people get around on foot, by bicycle or in tuk-tuks.
We took a taxi from the airport to our guesthouse and our guesthouse was a pleasant surprise as it was at the far end of the peninsula, almost at the confluence of the rivers, and therefore quiet. It was sandwiched between a temple complex and the very exclusive Viceroy villa, the former residence of Prince Chao Lansa Samphan, the brother of the Lao King, and which is now one of the few privately owned mansions available for rent.
Our (first) room had polished dark wooden floors and a high ceiling.
A covered balcony ran the length of the building overlooking the Viceroy Villa’s garden with its palm trees, bananas, and large lily pond complete with fountain – a very pleasant place to sit. Breakfasts were somewhat erratic as you didn’t always get what you thought you had ordered, eg. when I wanted some marmalade for my toast I got an omelette.
Next morning, a gong at 4am in the temple, followed by chanting, woke me but to me that was part of the charm of being there.
We spent the first morning discussing what we were going to do and soon realised that there wasn’t much to do except chilling out and temple visiting. Both sounded OK to me.
In the afternoon we walked into town looking for the tourist office.
That Makmo – known as the watermelon stupa, because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects a Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos.
While I was off looking for the tourist office, vainly it transpired, for it no longer seemed to exist, DH had found and ensconced himself in the Aussie sports bar where he got talking to one of the guys who helps out there. We decided to eat dinner there and it was very good too. By the end of the evening we had been introduced to a number of denizens. From them we got some recommendations on where to eat and where not to eat – definitely not at the night market if you wished to avoid getting sick! – as well as other useful information such as where I could get a name stamp carved. They also told us a bit about life in Luang Prabang. Casual fraternising with the locals is forbidden. One of the guys had an arranged marriage and another had courted his wife for 2 years with a chaperone in attendance. There were apparently no prostitutes there and only 2 or 3 known lady boys. This was the big difference between there and Thailand where you see a never-ending stream of (generally ageing) Causcasian males with young Thai girls on their arms.