Round the World

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a wonderful city in the north of Laos. Now a UNESCO world heritage site its fame is spreading and there are a fair number of tourists here. That doesn’t take away from the charm of a small city full of traditional architecture. I met Tara again in the 3rd country so far. I was having a drink with a Glaswegian I met on the boat coming here, in the only busy bar in town, when she comes up to say hi. We arranged to meet next day to see the Royal Palace Museum.

It turns out the museum was closed next day so we headed to the most significant Wat in town, Wat Xieng Thong. It’s quite a place, however I don’t know enough about the religion and its history to understand the significant differences between them; one Wat looks very much like the others to my eyes.

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

I did get to the museum the next day. It was the residence of the Royal family before they were arrested by the communists in the 1970s. The family itself were imprisoned in a series of caves in the north where they died soon after from poor food & no heath care. The building itself is a wonderful airy building, lacking the ostentation you normally expect in a royal palace. Although the place is a museum to the family, full of photographs and explaining the key rooms of their time here, no mention is made of their fate. Also stored in the museum is the Prabang, a small statue of the Buddha after which the city is named. For something so significant it’s very small, only about a foot in height.

Royal Palace Museum from the top of Phousy, Luang Prabang, Laos

Facing the palace is a small but steep hill, Phousy, with a series of Wats and images of the Buddha on top. It gives a marvellous view over the city with most key landmarks visible. I realised I really like it here; despite the number of tourists here the pace of life is slow, the people friendly and its easy to potter about on foot.

Young monks using an old AA gun on Phousy as a merry go round, Luang Prabang, Laos

I had hooked up with a Dutch couple, Tol & Marjorie, for a couple of meals and they introduced me to an interesting concept; a cross between a barbeque and a fondue. A small charcoal burner is put on your table with a metal cover. The cover is domed in the middle with small vents and has a moat round the outside. You are served with some raw meat, noodles and vegetables, spices, herbs and a pot of stock. You fill up the moat with stock, veggies, noodles, spices, etc to make soup whilst you grill the meat on the dome. Its a fun way to make a meal. Tol & Marj had given up eating chicken because of the bird flu, as had many others, but I didn’t feel it was a problem in cooked food. On the other hand I was not looking to spend any time with live chickens.

On my last day here Tol, Marjorie & I hired a couple of scooters / motorbikes to visit a set of nearby cascading waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si. They were easy to ride, the only difficulty being the first time you move off. What initially seems to you to be a mild turn of the right wrist produces a lot of reaction in a scooter in 1st gear. The woman hiring them out must have through she’d never see mine back as I wobbled off. Apart from that initial difficulty the ride was easy. Most of the road was unsealed so speeds were below 30 MPH, well within pedal bike range. Having seen many people with burns from the exhaust pipe I stuck to wearing long trousers.

On arriving at the falls we passed a couple of cages housing animals rescued from poachers. One off the cages housed a young female tiger and the other 3 young Asiatic bears. You could go into the cage with the bears and they were as curious about you as you were with them. Both cages had donation boxes by them to pay for their upkeep and feeding of their residents.

The falls were lovely and when half way up the main section we realised we were walking on parts of the falls that would be covered by water during the wet season. They must be truly spectacular then. Further down is a pool you can swim in and go under the falling water. It was wonderful on a hot day, especially as it had started out looking dull and over cast.

Waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si, Laos

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