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Monday, November 07, 2005

Luang Prabang is an extremely beautiful city

From the moment we arrived in Luang Prabang, we knew it was something special. The road outside our guesthouse was, if anything, even more sleepy than Vientiane, and lined with old wooden shuttered houses and shops. Monks passed by, holding parasols, while in the distance was Mount Phousi, covered in trees.

Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful, and genteel, places I've ever been to. We stayed on the penninsular part of the city - a half mile or so of land that's surrounded by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. There are three main streets: one along each river bank, and one down the middle, where the main shops and restaurants are.

For the first couple of days, Sara was still recovering her strength, so we took it easy - walking along the banks of the Mekong in the morning, and having a drink while reading books, or watching the boats go by. Our favourite drink was coconut, which is the simplest drink imaginable, but the most refreshing in the hot sun - take a young coconut, hack at it with a machette until you break the tip of one end off, and put a straw in. Delicious. In the afternoon we visited some of the Wats for which Luang Prabang is famous (and for which the entire city has been awarded a UNESCO world heritage site)

From what I've seen, Luang Prabang shows the best of the Lao people; relaxed, happy, easy-going, and gentle. The food has also once again been excellent. There is a huge contrast from Vientiane, though. The city is much smaller - maybe only 20,000 people in it altogether, and surrounded by jungle. After Hanoi, I was surprised by just how green Vientiane was. Now, after Vietiane, I was surprised by how green Luang Prabang was.

By day 3, Sara was feeling better, so we climbed Mount Phousi, which is actually more of a steep sided hill in the centre of the city. Stairs run up to a wat on the top, cut out of the rock, and after about 300 steps (and many rests, in the tropical heat), we were rewarded by one of the greatest views I've ever seen. We could see the spires of the wats and stupas, the curve of the Mekong, the tropical forest all around, and distant mountains.

It's now day four. I've eaten delicious food each day- both European and Lao - drank plenty of "beerlao", walked through the evening market and picked a couple of choice souveniers, and had long discussions with a local monk about life in the temples, and what it's like to be Lao. There are occasional reminders of war - the bomb cases that have been turned into plant pots, for example, but overall this has been one of the most gentle, and easy, cities to be a tourist in.

Some things that are typically Lao, and particulaly from Luang Prabang (or so it seems to me):

1. Good food
2. Fruit shakes (fruit mixed with ice)
3. Weaving
4. "same same", when used to describe two things that are similar.
5. Lizards climbing all over the walls.
6. Intense heat in the middle of the day, and so a citywide siesta
7. Fine restaurants, with rotating fans and veranda's.
8. Boats along the mekong.
9. People lying about, particularly the back of tuktuks, where they hang a hammock.
10. Beautiful Wats, and orange robed monks, carrying parasols.
11. Flowers.

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