Diamond in the rough
29.11.2008 25 °C
Bet you've never heard of Luang Prabang!
Neither had we until a few weeks ago. What a rough diamond we would have missed. This jewel in the Laotian jungle should be on every tourists' map, (just wait until we have left).
It is a feast for the senses in every way.
The sights: Ancient Buddhist Wats with 500 year old murals; French colonial villas sitting next to bamboo shacks; palm trees swaying in the warm breeze; traditional fishing boats plying the rivers, flourishing vegetable gardens dotting the banks. Fruit, flowers and foliage of all shapes and hues turn every street and alley into a postcard.
The sounds: Apart from drumming monks who rend the early morning air with their calls for alms, this is a relatively quiet town. No screeching sirens or blaring horns. Buses and trucks are banished to the outskirts and even some tuk-tuks are electric. The sound of happy Lao children can always be heard.
The smells: The fresh morning air, (deliciously cool for us but freezing according to the locals), is scented with wood smoke from fires and barbecues in addition to the fresh bread and Lao coffee.
The senses come together in the Night Market where hundreds of bright canopies, illuminated by paper lanterns, offer a collage of local handicrafts and textiles: silk, silver and wood turned into every conceivable souvenir by numerous dexterous hands.
A tortuous 300 steps takes you to the Wat on the hill where two imprints of Buddha's feet, (of vastly different size!), can be seen in the rock. Below the Wat in the town's centre, is the Royal Palace.
The Palace is a somewhat austere 1930's French Colonial mansion with gaudy interior decorations reminiscent of a Parisian brothel. Crimson, gold and flashy coloured glass plaster the walls and ceilings, though the bedrooms are stark and utilitarian in contrast.
Luang Prabang, (a World heritage Site), is truly a place where east meets west - In Lao, " Ock Pop Tok"