Luang Prabang is a small town situated in the heart of Laos. It is an obvious tourist destination but it does not attract the younger crowds looking for a night of crazy partying mixed with days spent around the pool. Yes, you can still have a few drinks at night and then spend the day sitting around a pool, but that is not the real attraction of this place. Instead it is a blend of a couple of things that really come together in a surprising way that makes people wonder what part of the world they really in. Laos used to be under the control of the French and you can still see that influence out here around every corner. It sometimes makes me feel as if I am in some small European town, but then there is also the fact that it is in the middle of Asia, and the place also holds on to the charms of the long rich heritage that has been here a lot longer than a few invading European forces could crush with their imperialism.
I could see it when I looked at the lush landscapes around the place. It is situated between two rivers, the bigger Mekong river, and the smaller Nam Khan River. When I looked at the banks flowing down to the river, I saw the power of nature as it took over the land with its jungle landscape.
But then, walking through the town, there are many places where the foliage has obviously been landscaped to look pretty and perfect, making the simple alleyways in town tempting little places to explore. The nice thing is that they are fun to explore because the town is so small that I am never worried about losing my bearings and getting lost in a dangerous part of town. I don’t think there is a dangerous part of town.
Unless I count the foot bridge that takes people across the Nam Khan River. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and would be ready to collapse at any moment. It just meant that this would have to be something I would have to cross some time while I am out here. I did not do it on my first day because it costs a dollar to get across and I wanted to explore the main part of the town first, but it is definitely on the list of things to do while I am out here.
Apparently the people of Luang Prabang rebuild it every year during the dry season. When the rains come, the river gets really high and takes out the bridge. This just gives me another reason that I have to cross it because it is there and this version of the bridge will only be there for a limited amount of time.
I guess the rest of the year when the bridge is not up, they use ferry boats to get across the river. It would be fun to take one of these as well, but not as much fun as that bridge has to be. But I do need to make my way to the other side of the river while I am out here because there is a whole different part of the town over there. This is probably where most of the people who work out here live, and they do need a way to get across.
It goes back to that mixture that I saw on my first day out here. There is a healthy amount of fishing that takes place on the river, and it is probably the main source of food for the people out here. The river looked huge in my mind when I watched fisherman throw out their nets, and I am sure that they could bring it a big haul everyday, and this was still the dry season. I could not imagine how crazy this river gets during the wet season. It has to be huge, but then again I come from Colorado where we think that the trickle we call the Platte River has earned the title of river. When I see the Mekong during its low period, I learn that Coloradoans need to rethink their position on rivers.
Beyond the river is the town itself with its many features. There is the old palace that used to house the king of Laos that you can tour around. It is absolutely beautiful inside and even though the presentation chambers are decadent, it is surprising to see the humble quarters where they lived. Granted the bed room is probably close to the size of my whole apartment back in Seoul, but it is its simple decoration and practical living styles that remind me that I am looking at the living space of an Asian king. There are also many Buddhist temples out here, and their intricate design and peaceful atmosphere make them a wonderful place to visit and tour.
But as soon as I leave the grounds of these tourist spots, I find myself back into the French influence of the country. There are numerous bars that spill out to the sidewalks at night and people sit in their chairs sipping on their cocktails as they watch the various people pass them by. They serve food that is a blend of Asian spices and French cuisine. It makes the choices of food amazing. Laotian food is very similar to Thai food with its spicy deliciousness, but I can still find a nice Western style meal if I want to. Eating will be one of the things I will enjoy a lot while I am out here, and it makes me excited for what other adventures await me on this trip.