Posted by: Larzizou | March 13, 2009

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, formerly annexed  by France, the capital of Laos’ Kingdom, rests on the mekong, 425km north of Vientiane, the current capital. Copyright Wikipedia. Street smart follows.

After our unique endeavor on the mighty Mekong (see her), we (me + Mike) deserve a good rest. Fate has it that we are welcome in Luang Prabang (we can’t stop pronouncing its name, we love the sonority) by… rain. It is literally pouring. For us, that translates into forced home residency.

So here we are, visiting a few accommodations around, under the rain, which is not an easy task since amenities have developed importantly in recent years and our guidebook although recent is outdated (both in terms of options and prices, which have both tripled). No time for meticulous comparison though. We end up opting for a gigantic boombastick room that we share with our three fellow French Mekong cruisers. Two dollars each a night. Only one king size bed in this room, that I earn via head or tail (I almost always stick to head).

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The room is great and everything, but there is a hardly known Luang Prabang fact : it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Understand : unknown to people who know nothing about Luang Prabang, including me before then. I have been to numerous World Heritage Sites now, including the whole city of Valparaiso or Rapa Nui park on Easter Island in Chile. So many that it seems qualifying for being a World Heritage Site (a desert, forest, mountain, lake, city, monument, building, complex…can be one) is no big deal. Not like the seven wonder of the world or the ten women you wish you spent your life with (together). There are close to 900 World Heritage Sites in the entire world (and go.d knows how many in the milky way) ! If you want to know more, check this link.

Anyway, I am digressing. At World Heritage Sites, smoking is prohibited. Apparently, the prohibition includes private spaces, such as guesthouse rooms (below, a picture of our room’s wall). And public space like streets (we saw the same stickers in the street). Not standing cigarettes smoke, that makes me mildly happy. But stickers covering the bedroom walls…come on.

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First evening, there is not much going around. After dinner (lemon chicken and other delicacies), three of us want to experience Luang Prabang nightlife. The tuk tuk driver carries us around but there is not much going on. We end up at the bowling alley. Although I am usually spectacularly bad at it, I am not worst than my companions, Mike & Tom, tonight (the picture does not show since they are pointing other scores). Hell of clowns.

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We leave the bowling alley around midnight. We wanna get noisy dirty silky smooth before it’s too late, but really, after driving around fifteen minutes, we realize that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING going on. I am saying before it’s too late since our landlord enforces a more or less lenient curfew : midnight or half past midnight at most. Well, we are home anyway by this time, by lack of entertainment.

The sky is as blue as a rat, but at least the second day does not start with rain and it’s enough to warm us up. Laziness pushes us to visit the closest wat in town. A wat is a temple, you should know it by now (because you are expected to have read chronologically ALL of my previous posts).

En route to the museum. A typical Luang Prabang garden below.

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Right in the garden, a Lao couple doing what they do best : riding on a motorcycle like they are going to rape your dead ancestors, except with an umbrella (the riding). A ghetto in itself.

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It’s a shame Luang Prabang (told you, I like to pronounce/write/express in any form the name) does not hold anymore the strategic role it used to centuries and decades ago. Below, the merciful and magnanimous Sisavang Vong. A true hero, and the first king of independent Laos after the French protectorate collapsed.

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Let’s bow collectively before him and light a candle to his memory.

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Taking this kind of picture takes either skills, luck, or both. Make your own judgement. Mine is flattering.

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Enough fun we had. Culture call. Do we want to hear it ? Most certainly. We are interested in visiting the Palace complex, but the staff is not interested in us or our 30,000 kips entrance fee per person. Great trouble to get in the museum is experienced. We get there at 3h35pm. Read below. That is correct : although the museum regulation mentions a closing time of 4pm (what are we supposed to do afterwards?), we are denied entrance by the old lady in charge of keeping personal effects. In France, we call it “RTT”, except it does not manifest any given Tuesday but generally Friday. Not taking no for an answer, we negotiate brashly and open the path to a myriad of culture-thirsty moustached tourists into the palace.

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In case you want to go to the theatre, do ! The story of princess SIDA (AIDS, in French) is performed between the well wishing dance and the monkeys dance. Is that coincidental ? I think not. Dancing monkeys / AIDS. Check the studies on apes and AIDS in Africa, that attributes the outburst of the epidemic to lab tests. Check also the site that links JFK’s murder with anti-venom poison detectors. Cool (and accurate) stuff on the Internet.

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Opposite, not so far from Sisavong Vong statue, there is also this magnificent shrine…that is closed. We will call it “the 4pm rule”.

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The colonial architecture is quite peculiar. Stunning and strikingly froudj, say some (notably, the old philosopher Remyfroudj).

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Let’s not forget the pregnance of monks. Best haircut around.

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I understand the necessity but I don’t like the idea. Funding is an elegant gesture… Still when it’s advertised ?

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The stairway to heaven. These kids were insufferable.

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We are ascending to Wat Thammo Thayaram. Hundreds of steps…

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Selling incense and caged baby birds. Godly sacrifices.

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You have to see that once in your life; I am not a plant person, really. But the arrangement here is stunning.

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A random wat sitting on the Mekong.

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Finally on top of the Wat. Selling candy bar from – it seems – 20 years ago. Ultra slim !

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Also selling fakes. Well, this is still Asia. But food takes fake to another level. Same Nabisco and Oreo visual… The package reads “Siamfoods”. Must come from Thailand (like many things in Laos).

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Mike observing the etiquette. He did not really mean and just bowed and lit an incense stick for the picture.

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I, on the other hand, just decided to faithfully and sincerely devote my life to something great (to be determined).

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The relics (some) Buddhists revere. I think I am becoming more and more estranged and closed to the idea of any religious spirituality.

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This has to be Mike’s best pic ever.

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Not my worst pic either…

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Beauty, lying in simplicity and details. [Edit : maybe I should rather not make comments than useless ones. Discuss.]

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Gilded or golden ?

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A large, airy, sparsely dotted with vehicles two lanes street. This is how I imagine Vietnam. And we are in Laos.

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Models too can be simplistic simple.

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Bargin’

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We will never get to the golden wat in the back.

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This is how high (at least) the Mekong rises.

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Although we don’t make it to the 1,000 buddhas garden, we make it to a garden with a dozen buddhas.

I am certain it is a vain, vapid and stupid question, but : is there some special benefit to pray Saturday Buddha on Saturday (instead of, say, Tuesday) ?

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Would praying Wednesday buddha on Tuesday irritate Tuesday buddha ?

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Cool buddha, fat buddha and old buddha. They represent the continuity of evolution, how birds became thoughts became rugs, became flies and mojitos. Quite conceptual, but essentially the product or piles of hours of philosophical thoughts of brilliant thinkers under influence.

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And stepping down. An old couple helps us to find the way out. Very very nice people. Although they are from Lyon, France (of Lao descent), I can barely understand them.

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Buddha’s feet. In case you are wondering, just google it.

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Another effect of the Mekong rise.

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Flooded houses.

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Difficulties encountered to shoot this one : waiting for annoying Italians to leave.

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A dragon.

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Serenity.

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This ticket evidence I paid. I suspect some guy randomly decided to levy a US2$ fee one day without having any authority. Since nobody was checking and it was looking like a ripoff, I was gonna mount the wat without paying. Mike made me.

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This resemble the hall of donors in an American University or a synagogue, except with the amount given. Some pretty generous people, from all over the world. Click to have a better view.

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A deeper dive into Buddhism. I can not even think of more than three different currents. Sometimes, it downs on me that I am really, really really really ignorant. Sigh. I guess I just have my whole life to learn.

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Si tu n’as pas la nouvelle Clio, roule à vélo“. And for you smartasses, I am not referring to Clio the muse of history.

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Our cultural investigation spans to nightclubs as well. I have truly never been in such a place.

Upon entrance, the first thing I notice is that Mike and I are in the top 3 percentile height-wise. We are no more than 1m75 ! People are very short indeed in Luang Prabang. From one end of the club to the other, I can see Mike. Never happened anywhere else. Fun night. The atmosphere is really friendly for a club. Everybody is more or less smiling, nobody frowning. Very few non locals. We speculate whether two blond-dyed haired locals with silky fitting black dresses are prostitutes. We will never know. The music is South East pop and weird stuff I cannot define or describe. Some people are dancing like there is no tomorrow; other like nobody is watching them. No attitude. Conniving looks and smiles. Alas, the club closes at half past midnight. Not really a problem since – anyway – we have a curfew ! Fun to see all the locals leave on motorcycles, two by two, umbrella in hand (remember, heavy rain).

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Another wat.

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A local way of conveying people and goods.

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Fresh dragon fruit (which I hate), mango and other types of fruit I had never tried before for sale.

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Hello kitty, Disney and others.

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Selling more incense for Buddha…

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Our landlord. Very nice and affable guy. Speaks some French.

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Three days are not enough – we miss the waterfalls, the 1,000 Buddhas garden etc – but we are on a tight schedule. We are heading to the backpacker-famous Vang Vieng where another Mekong adventure awaits us : tubing. We board the 19h30 bus and will hopefully get there four hours later.

En route, TV. Starts badly with local Karaoke. Terrifying. No way to turn it off of lower the deafening volume. Then starts a black and white movie. That I have seen. Last but not least, a Chaplin movie. One of the best (to me) : The Kid. Would Chaplin have ever thought his movie would be shown more than half a century after its release in a bus in Laos ? Anyway, this version is quite different… it’s not mute anymore ! Dialogues and pre-recorded laughs absurdly  and awkwardly punctuate the movie.

Terrible. Maybe the worst thing you could have done to the movie. As if it was not enough, the same voice is dubbing all the characters (when, need I remind, there is nothing to dub because the movie is originally mute). How 51 minutes of pleasure become 1 hour of boredom and annoyance (the high pitched voice and prerecorded voice set a new record for annoyance). Why, oh why ? Note that the dubbed un-mute version does not come from Laos but Thailand, like almost any program on TV here. Although there has been some vigorous debate about whether Thai TV programs pervading Laos media pervert its society, preventing the influx seems a futile fight.

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That tops it all. We stop en route (a route that lasts more than  8h on rocky roads instead of 4h planned) for dinner. Two very appealing fried rats. Legs up likes dead roaches. Same ustensils are used to cook soups and rats. Hungry ?

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Mike, rather happy for someone who has just ingested a rat !

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Responses

  1. Absolutely beautiful photos, I also visited Luang Prabang in November of last year.

    The day of the Buddha, such as Monday, Tuesday…doesn’t mean that you have to pray to that Buddha on that day, but it means that the Buddha represents the day that you were born. Like I was born on a Monday, I would pray to a Monday Buddha, but of course if I want to, I can pray to all the Buddha to show respect. It’s kind of a strange concept, but think of it as a guardian angel.

  2. Qqu’un lit ce blog trop long encore?
    A part Gina et moi, j’entends.

  3. […] and I arrive at 2am after a rather erratic trip (see here). We check out a few hostels recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook, but (1) things have […]

  4. This is great! THank you so much for sharing!


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