Dave in Thailand Laos
Luang Prabang March 20-24 2006

Luang Prabang ... for me, it's always had the magical sort of imaginary aura of a place out of time, like Xanadu or Tibet, monks and temples and mountains and the Mekong River and simple people and lives, but peaceful and good and with doors to the spiritual pathways that some of us sort of long for ...

Well, first let's see where we're going with a map of all the countries of southeast Asia - not much detail, but an overview. {There's a nice big map here if you want a more detailed look - Hat Yai is way in the south of Thailand, near the place marked Songkhla on these maps (which is the provincial capital city), and Luang Prabang is towards the top of the red-lined square, just north of the "L" in the word Laos... ) southeast asia map

- and here is a bigger scale map of northern Thailand that shows most of northern Laos, including Luang Prabang (don't worry about the spelling, there's quite a few different ways), so you can get an idea of the relativity of things, if that's your bag. Bangkok is about 300k straight south of the middle of the bottom of the map, if that helps you orient things)(and - if you look on the map about three inches in and one inch up from the bottom left you will see a town called Uttaradit - which is Ann's home province - she lives just a bit south of the provincial capital shown here) northern thailand and laos

And we got There and Back Again - BKK to LP - on this little baby from Bangkok Airways - Ann couldn't stop giggling over the little plane with those strange propeller things, called an ATR 72 (you can get more info here if you're a techie sort). The tickets were a tad expensive compared to Air Asia or the other discount airlines here, which do not go to Luang Prabang - but then they behaved like a real airline too, with free meals and leaving on time and even a glass of wine with the meal! Or two at times. C'est la vie. Bangkok Air ATR 72 plane

- after 90 minutes or so of flying above the clouds and through them a bit (I didn't get a picture of the small coffee adventure with the flight attendant during a few seconds of particularly bouncy turbulence), we finally started descending - and soon got our first view of the Mekong River and Luang Prabang..... very beautiful, really, the big temple on the hill (ok, it's not actually that big, but it looks big on the top of the hill) in the middle of town, the river in the background, misty mountains in the distance - very atmospheric - another world, in many ways.
first sighting of Luang Prabang

Well - Ann was still amused at the little airplane, which got us in ok - and I was happy to be at the doorway to another country once again (I was to Vientiane a bunch of years ago for a CUSO meeting, but this was further and freer and I had a bit better idea of a lot of things ....)

Ann at Luang Prabang airport Dave arriving at Luang Prabang

Laos visa ... First the visa - no hassle really, $30 US, one pic, and you're there (none for Ann, Thais don't need a visa to enter Laos)

visa receipt

Lonely Planet Laos guide ...and soon, based on some reading of the Lonely Planet Laos guide (with the little helper, man they got small print in them books!)....

...we arrived at our home away from home for the next few days, the Vanvisa Guesthouse (about $12 US - there are somewhat more expensive options available, with hot water that works and minor details like that, but there's something about my Scottish heritage and current income that keeps me going to guesthouses..).


This is the view from in front of the guesthouse looking down towards the Mekong River, which is somewhat more below our level than the pic suggests. This street has been fixed up quite a bit, and is very middle-classy - you will note there are no streetlights overhead or the associated ugly wires - but the night lighting comes from the little ceramic pottery-bucket-like thing you can see at the lower right with the red arrow. It's really pleasant to walk around in the evening - it's a very quiet place overall, and safe. A downside is the lack of sidewalks, but there aren't that many vehicles, and the drivers are MUCH MUCH MUCH slower and more considerate of others and generally safer than the drivers in a certain country to the south.
looking down towards Mekong from Vanvisa
street in front of Vanvisa, looking up towards wat - and here we look up towards the main street, across which is one of the many wats (temples) that Luang Prabang is famous for (at least 30 or so in this quite small place).

- So - before we go much further, we ought to get the map and get oriented a bit - the red arrow in the bottom left points towards the Vanvisa. The Mekong is the big river at the top, of course, flowing from mortheast-southwest here, and the other river curling around from the bottom right and joining it at the top right is called the Khan River. Most of the town lies on the peninsula formed by these rivers. The white section in the middle is the mountain with the temple on top. The whole map is two miles per side, give or take, so you can see it's not that big. Population about 20,000, but lots of tourists roaming around the streets as well.
map of luang prabang

- so we wandered in towards town to have a first look around - as always, lots of interesting shops - this thing Ann is holding - take a guess and see if you can figure what it is???? ann with the fishing thing

Still guessing? It's quite a clever thing - they do a lot of fishing, of course, and this thing is like an audio bobber or something - the fishing line is hung from the bell-like clapper at the bottom, and when a fish bites, the moving line as the fish tries to escape causes the clapper to bang on the wooden sides, alerting the fisherman or woman as the case may be. Neat. And then the tinsmiths, and ubiquitous vegetable sellers....

tinsmiths couple of people talking about the vegetables

- the stairs leading to the wat that runs along the other side of the mouth of the street we stayed on - Wat Pha Mahathat, or Wat That. The big snakelike things alongside the stairs are called Nagas, a mythological snake that protects the Buddha and Buddhist things. Very impressive altogether - the wat is old and not well looked after now, but it must have been an important one in the past sometime, to judge from its size and entrance here.
Wat Pha Mahathat

Some workmen improving the main street - there is a lot of fixing up going on around the town. The place has of course been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I guess the goal is both preservation of the old things (the world heritage includes the colonial days as well as the preceding Laos-Buddhist things), and making it a hospitable and amenable place for tourists. Such things can be overdone, but I think as long as they preserve the older things, and help people understand the history, it can be done without wrecking everything - we can't all be archeologists like Indiana Jones stumbling through inpenetrable jungles, but there is still a lot to see and think about in old places like this, as long as the main aspects are preserved reaonably realistically and not "disney-ized". Mostly the people are nice around town, but there are still a few of the "rip them tourists off for everything you can" people lurking - especially the transportation drivers - as in a certain country to the south. Don't get me started. improving the streets

wall hanging ....I bought this wall hanging - I thought it was a good deal, a painting of the big Phousi wat on top of the big hill we will be getting to later. The dogs were cute, sitting on top of this wall, watching the world - the small one seems to have decided to snarl at something just as I snapped, but he was mostly smiling when I saw him walking by most days.
two dogs watching the street

- and one of the weaving shops, which seemed to be almost every other store - a lot of traditional handicraft things (as well as the ubiquitous made-in-?? t-shirts you see everywhere) - which, of course, Ann was quite interested in, and spent quite a bit of time talking to various people (even I could understand the language quite well, as it is about 80% the same as Thai - but most Laos people speak Thai as well, as they watch Thai tv a lot - mixed blessing, I suppose, tv in general is not a civilizing or educating influence I better not start).

weaving shop
National museum ....It was still mid-afternoon, and there was not a lot happening along the street - mostly a bunch of tourists doing the same sort of wandering around we were - very hot there in the daytime, and this whole street turns into a big open market later in the day, as we would find later. Soon we came to the National Museum, in the pic behind us - it was formerly the King's palace, until the communist insurrection (you can read more Laos history here, if you're interested) - it doesn't look very big, and isn't really, compared to many palaces, but it goes back quite a ways as well and, for this remote part of the world, a hundred or two hundred years ago, it was probably pretty impressive. And the property stretches back a bunch behind as well, with the back fronting on the street along the river, with a staircase for the King or whoever going down to the river. We don't have any more pics of it - you had to check the camera at the door. But there wasn't really a whole lot of really interesting stuff there anyway.

....And this statue was in front of something called a theatre building to one side of the museum property - Ann thought the big guy looked pretty scary ... it's the former King ...
National museum
National museum

- and here's a picture of the big temple on the hill, the stairway to which starts just across the street from the national museum - it really is quite a small town, and most of the main stuff is just a short walk. But it's a big hill, and we're going to leave it for another day.
Phousi from the museum

So it was getting later in the afternoon, and we strolled down the main street seeing what there was to see - we both thought this little guy was really cute -

Dave with the pup Ann with the pup

- and stopped by this wat over the Khan River - where the river turns to the west, or left, beyond us, is just before it meets the Mekong - you can get an idea from this of the population - not far to the left of us in the pic is the main street, through the temple yard and down a short street, but here it's like we're out of town - (another reason for this, of course, is that we are visiting during the hot and dry season - this river will be much, much higher and stronger flowing from July until December or so, and it would be impossible to build anything in the area).
looking over the Khan River

- and then we walked back through town and down to the river, both tired and ready for some food and rest - and found one of many open air restaurants high above the Mekong River - and my first Beer Lao, one of the best beers in the world. Delicious! (actually I may have had more than one...)
first dinner by the Mekong

sunset over the Mekong

OK - if you're still awake, you can carry on to Luang Prabang - Day 2 - (by the end of this first day we were both pretty beat - I somehow managed to come down with one of those ugly greensnot stuffynose headcolds the very afternoon we arrived, which put a bit of a damper on things for the week - I took some cold medicine each night (which ensured I got a good sleep anyway, it does that to me), but was feeling a bit fuzzy-headed for the whole time we were there. A drag. And the heat added to that energy-draining situation - the heat was much more than in Hat Yai - even my poor camera was acting up from it (fortunately Ann's camera, same brand but a year newer with a different battery style, held out better so we didn't miss any good pics. Just thought you needed to know that).

Other Dave in Thailand stuff:

Wien Tien
PSU AG Fair 2004
Loy Gratong at PSU 2004
Kuching 2004

this site is mostly sort of a photo album for some friends and family, but if you have stumbled across it somehow on the net and want to contact me, you can write to siamdave at yahoo dot ca