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Luang Prabang

July 15, 2012

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The first thing that I dug about Luang Prabang was the fact that I knew I would be spending at least two nights there. After spending the last five consecutive nights in different places and two of the last three nights sleeping in a vehicle, this was great news.

The second thing I dug was the fact that I met two cool dudes on my bus. I’m often the elder statesman wherever I go on this trip, as most backpackers are 10-15 years younger than me. It’s nice to hang out with people in my age group though, that get my cultural references and whatnot. Both of these guys were well versed in important matters like Breaking Bad and 8 bit video games and Pearl Jam records. Sometimes I ask new people that I meet if they’ve seen The Wire. No need with these cats, the notion of them having not seen it was unthinkable.

The third thing that I dug about Luang Prabang was Luang Prabang. The rumors are true – it’s a really easy city to just exist in. It’s walkable, it has great architecture, and there are tons of wifi-enabled cafes.

This city, like many that I have been to before, was the capital of Laos for a time, largely when France was calling the shots here. Because of this, the city is filled with French Colonial buildings as well as Laotian palace and religious architecture.

Laos is my first communist country, and it is also perhaps the poorest country that I’ve ever visited. However, in Luang Prabang, none of those aspects seem to come into play. Tourists are everywhere, everything is clean, and I’ve run into very little begging. I’ve even seen little Laotian kids with iPads. I have a feeling that this will change once I leave town, that the communism and poverty will become a lot more palpable.

Laos has kinda quirky drinking laws. There is a curfew, and all the bars close early, like at 11 if not before. After the bars close, there is only one option for those who wish to stay out longer – the bowling alley. There is a bowling alley outside of town that sells booze and stays open until, well, I don’t know actually. Taxi drivers hang out in front of the bars at last call and say “Let’s go bowling!” I went to check it out once, on my second night in town. One of my friends bought a big bottle of whiskey, so we had quite a bit of work to do.

Ultimately, I spent four nights in Luang Prabang. I walked all over town, I visited most of the important sights, I took a day trip to a waterfall, and I spent a whole lot of time in cafes working on this very blog. I went out my first three nights, but managed to get up at 5:30 to see the monk procession on one of those mornings.

I’m going to cut the text a little early here, because I’m going way long on pictures this time. Luang Prabang photographs well.

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The confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, which create the Peninsula that the town is centered on.

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Wat Xieng Thong, the most important temple in town. The next few pictures are from inside and outside this.

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A lot of streets and buildings look like this.

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The palace, which is now a museum.

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The palace Wat, which is a nice looking one.

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Lots of Loatian wats that I’ve seen have these five headed dragons in front.

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The palace grounds, from the Wat. Pictures inside the palace are not allowed, but I’ll make a few comments on it now. There are a collection of gifts from foreign leaders in the last room, and one was from Nixon. Nixon! I have no idea why Laos would display a gift from Nixon, since the man also dropped millions of tons of “gifts” on the country for five years. Ugh, that’s heavy. I’ll lighten the mood with a couple palace jokes. One – the throne. It looks like any other throne, high back, big cushion, but it’s kinda strange to think that anybody could go to Ikea and drop 39 bucks for something exponentially more comfortable. Two – the king’s bed. Strangely, not a king size, not even a queen. Just a double.

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A statue of one of the kings. I also want to mention that there was a royal garage on the grounds, but photos were not allowed there either. One of the king’s cars was this boss 1963 or so Lincoln Continental, in perfect shape too. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the cars from the 40s was this beater old Citroen that look like it had driven through a swamp.

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This is the Prabang Buddha, cast in Sri Lanka 2000 years ago. When it came here a few hundred years ago, it gave the city its namesake.

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The view from Phu Si, the high hill in the center of town.

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The temple on top of the hill.

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Sunset on the Mekong. I should have closed with this, but whatever, I’m going chronological.

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The monks collecting alms in the morning. Sure, not as impressive a monk line as in Amarapura, but since I got up at 5:30 in the morning to see it, you get two pics.

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One of the few communist sights in town.

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Some of the ordinance dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1973. This is the UXO museum.

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On a lighter note, here’s some wrestling bears. I went to Kuang Si waterfall, and this sun bear preserve was there as well. I planned to swim, but the water was freezing and it wasn’t that hot out on this day. Instead, I hiked through the jungle and up to the very top of the waterfall, which had a fairly underwhelming view. I guess most waterfall tops do.

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On the way back from the waterfall, our van stopped at this village. This is like most Loatian villages I suppose, except that at this particular one, every tourist coming home from the waterfall is forced to stop, and there’s a concrete path through town, and every hut in the village sells handicrafts and the children beg for money. I thought the stop was pretty exploitative and doesn’t really help the people in any real way other than teaching the kids to beg. I hope that doesn’t make me sound Republican. I give to charities, but I almost never give to beggars, especially kids.

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Here’s the minivan I took out of town. These sorts of vans are everywhere in Southeast Asia. Finally, I’ll close with my favorite Lao traffic sign.

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  1. Megatrip Bracket: Northeast Region « Jaehak's Megatrip

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