A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Luang Prabang

Diamond in the rough

sunny 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"

Posted by Hawkson 23:39 Archived in Laos Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Fish and Chips Thai style

sunny 26 °C


Does your fishmonger sit amid a heap of gasping fish in the gutter on the High Street? This one does in Sukhothai.
Stomach churners lurk around every corner here; barbecued frogs on sticks - like lollipops; numerous varieties of intestines and insects - fried, dried or boiled. In Luang Prabang, Laos, racks of rice cakes dry in the sun and the traffic fumes on the sidewalks in front of boutique hotels.
Sometimes we eat from the street vendors - but daren't look behind the stalls. Sometimes we eat in restaurants - but daren't look in the kitchen. The food tastes great - just don't look too closely.
Do-it-yourself Lao hotpots, (known as Thai hotpots across the border), are terrific; take a heap of fresh vegetables, fish and meat, and a clay urn of red hot charcoal in the middle of the table, and you boil and barbecue yourself a fabulous meal for about $5.
The French influence is palpable here in Laos; baquettes and croissants as good as any in Paris. But there is food everywhere for everyone. Steaming bowls of noodles with vegetables and pork for $1 in the street market, while at the other end of town the bourgeois dine on filet mignon and canard a'l'orange at $30 per plat.
We've eaten the lot - from the gutter to the stars - and, touch teak, haven't suffered the consequences. Our plan to lose weight through Delhi-belly is unravelling.

"Food on the move" could mean the squirming frogs, crabs, fish and fowl in the street markets, but it also applies to the constant parade of natives with baskets, buckets and trays of food on every boat, bus and train. We stock up for every journey then wonder why as a smorgasbord of local delicacies pass by.
Food is as ubiquitous as Buddha and as we write this on the bank of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang we are shaded by trees laden with oranges, papaya, coconuts and bananas. Maybe we will just stay here!

Posted by Hawkson 01:28 Archived in Laos Tagged postcards Comments (1)

Slow Boat to Indo-Chine

Huay Xai to Luang Prabang via Pak Beng

overcast 25 °C


We reluctantly left Thailand on November 26th, (not a moment too soon considering the political events), and arrived in laid back Laos by way of the mighty Mekong River.
Despite the travel guides' warnings some foolhardy tourists ride the white-knuckle speed boats - little better than sharp nosed bathtubs with 80 hp. outboards. We, on the sensible side, took the 2 day, 14 hr., slow boat to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai.
It was a National Geographic experience: isolated villages of thatched bamboo huts untouched by modern civilization; elephant cranes loading log barges; herds of water buffalo, goats and wild pigs on the sandy shores.
The Mekong flows like liquid milk chocolate through a continuous ravine of jungle covered mountains. Rapids, whirlpools and rocky islets keep the captain busy while the falangs digitize every new vista.
Young and old from across Europe, Australia and Nth. America trade travel tales; new friends are made; food and drink (not to mention booze and drugs), are shared.
Our time on the Mekong is a highlight we will always remember, (and NO, we didn't share the pot).
Now in Luang Prabang - a French Colonial jewel in the heart of the Laotian jungle.

Posted by Hawkson 01:55 Archived in Laos Tagged postcards Comments (4)

Hirsute pursuits

overcast 25 °C


After 3 weeks, Jim's beard took a hint from the lush tropical surroundings and madly sprouted. Thai children started calling him, "Meester Chreestmas." So a little trim was called for. The barber in Sukhothai seemed to have no equivalent of "little" and after 5 minutes of discussion and preparation Jim was swaddled in several towels, (for the blood perhaps!). and a blindfold. He looked, and felt, like an accident victim awaiting a tracheotomy.
Twenty five minutes later each individual hair had been razored and scissored to within an inch of its life.
"Great!" exclaimed Jim.
"Not so fast," (or the Thai equivalent), and he was physically forced back into the chair.
Now what? Nose hairs and ear hairs - all part of the deal.
"This is going to cost," muttered Jim as the clock ticked past 30 minutes.
"O.K. Enough," he tried again. But anyone who has tangled with a Thai barber knows that they are closet Thai Boxers. Jim was wrestled back to the chair for a full upper-torso Thai massage; hands, arms, shoulders, neck, head and face.
"I only wanted a quick trim," bleated Jim. Too late - he got the works.
And the total cost - tax included - exactly $1 Canadian. (Fifty pence!)

The winner of last weeks quiz was Roy who guessed that a Tuk-Tuk can carry 12 people. However Janet gets second prize for saying that a Tuk-Tuk can only carry 4 COMFORTABLY. Almost right Janet. The absolutely true answer is that Tuk-Tuk's don't carry anyone COMFORTABLY.

First prize for Roy - a one hour Tuk-Tuk ride in Bangkok. (airfare not included).
Second prize for Janet - a two hour Tuk-Tuk ride in Bangkok. (Ditto).

Posted by Hawkson 01:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Ancient Capitals-Ayutthaya and Sukhothai

sunny 30 °C

In the past week we have visited two former capitals of Thailand.
Sukhothai's heyday was in the early thirteenth century, while Ayutthaya rose to splendour in the late fourteenth century after the King escaped there to avoid a smallpox epidemic. Both cities lie in ruins - ravaged by war, time and the tropical jungle.
The Thais are justifiably proud of their heritage and have carefully preserved and restored these monuments. We were greatly impressed by the craftsmanship and skill that is still evident after so many centuries of decay.
Here is an easy question for Roger only:
What is the present capital of Thailand?

Posted by Hawkson 18:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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