Luang Prabang is one of our favorite places so far. It’s a tranquil little town in the heart of a valley, between lush green sculptural mountains, and two rivers. It feels unspoiled, although I’m sure the double-edged sword of tourism is affecting it some. Before they built a few good roads, it was incredibly isolated. When Laos was a colony, French posted in other parts of Indochina would come here to get away; it took longer to travel from Saigon to Luang Prabang than Saigon to Paris.
The French colonial architecture and traditional Lao stilt houses are elegant, and there are some nice mixes of French and Lao style. Luang Prabang is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can see why — the beautiful buildings and wats, the charming, narrow streets, the pretty flowering trees and bushes. I read a quote that it’s the "best preserved town in Southeast Asia" or something like that. I would say it’s certainly one of the most pleasant, but "best preserved" could also go to Hoi An, Vietnam. The difference is, here, hardly anyone is badgering you to buy something; they’re just living their lives.
Here is some of the stencil ornament found in local wats.
Nagas continue to grow on me.
Biking around town is very pleasant, and you can actually see the whole town in several leisurely hours that way. This would be a great place to hang out for a month and write your novel, or work on a collection of paintings.
Luang Prabang cuisine is also impressive. There are lots of chic yet inexpensive European, Lao and fusion eateries here. There are also several great local specialties like kaepen (sheets of dried river vegetable) dipped in jaew bong (buffalo skin jam). Soup no mind (fresh bamboo shoot stuffed with minced pork and fried) is amazing.
Not content to just consume, we took a Lao cooking course and learned to make several Lao dishes. The course started with a tour of the local market, where we found delicacies such as this:
We learned to make about five dishes, including pan fried rice noodles with pork and vegetables. Our instructors were two Hmong men Neng and Leng.
We just visited the Palace Museum here in Luang Prabang, which was built early in the 20th century and has both French and Lao influences. There’s not a lot going on there otherwise.
An observation I can make, after visiting Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, is that the monks are much more casual about talking to people in Cambodia and Laos than in Thailand. I’m not sure about Vietnam. And they’re more casual about other things as well. Many of them are young boys and men getting a free education as monks. And many will probably leave the brotherhood later. It just never fails to surprise me when a young monk, wearing headphones or smoking a cigarette, comes up to me and says "Hello. Where are you from?" and wants to have a conversation. They like to practice their English. We also enjoyed watching some very young monks having a water fight in front of a wat here.