South East Asia - Winter 2012 travel blog

New temple near Royal Palace Museum

Seasonal bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan

Must be orange season!

Sampling Lao appetizers

View from my breakfast cafe

Lao tuk-tuk

Kids playing in front of temple

Sunset over the Mekong

Orlam, a Lao specialty (with buffalo meat)

Bhuddas on Mount Phusi

Colonial houses

Last Sunday I flew from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang in Laos.

Luang Prabang is a town I've wanted to visit for a long time, ever since I went to Vientiane (the capital) in 1997. LP is Laos' second largest city, but has a population of only 70000. The whole country counts less than 6 millions inhabitants.

I haven't been disappointed. LP is as laid back as I was hoping for. In fact, it's probably the most laid-back and hassle-free Asian town I've ever visited. Fifteen years ago it was named a UNESCO city and has become increasingly popular ever since. The UNESCO status means that buses and trucks are prohibited from the old town centre. Despite having a lot of tourists, I haven't seen many tour groups. Perhaps the reason is that LP doesn't have any world-shattering sights. Instead, the centre of town, a peninsula about 500 metres wide at the confluence of two rivers: the Mekong and the Nam Khan, harbours colonial houses, cafes, restaurants, and many wats (buddhist monasteries). There is also the Royal Palace (now a museum), the Night Market, and Mount Phusi that one can climb for great views over the town. The sidewalks are not broken and are free of obstacles, the streets are clean, and you are not constantly hassled by tuk-tuks, sellers and beggars, so walking around is very pleasant. In addition, the temperature is not hot and sticky like Malaysia, or even Cambodia. In the early mornings and evenings it's actually cool enough to require a light jacket.

Although it's not a large place, both the consequence (or perhaps the cause) of it being laid back is that everything is done very slowly. Restaurant service is slow, traffic moves slow (easier to cross the streets), nobody seems in a big hurry to do anything. I'm happy I gave myself a week in this town. I would have been frustrated and tired trying to see everything in 2 days. Especially since my guesthouse is about 15 minutes walk from the centre. However I quite like my area. It has a number of restaurants and seems less busy than further up the peninsula.

Basically, I like this place so much (or conversely, I haven't yet found any major annoyance) that I made a drastic itinerary change this week: I am no longer going to Chiang Rai in Thailand. Tomorrow I am going to the countryside for three days (which should be even more laid back – I hope I won't go comatose) then spending another week in LP before flying to Bangkok (and on to Manila) on Feb 9.

I'll post a few pictures to give you a taste, but will be posting more information about LP and its people in a future post (and more pictures as well). Tonight I have to do some packing.

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