Luang Prabang: The Romance of an Old Town

On January 9, 2014 by Niza Zainal

 

 

To be frank, my first insight guide to Laos was from a movie.

A Laotian romantic movie. About a young Thai photographer travelling to Laos for an article ended up finding his root and falling for his sweet Laotian tour guide. How rare is that? Honestly I’m not so much into love movies, but somehow I was hooked for two hours merely for the beautiful background sceneries of the film locations. It was as much as a tourist commercial as it is about love story, when love blossomed between the two as they travelled from Southern Laos to Luang Prabang.

Perhaps Luang Prabang is no match to the world’s most romantic city of Paris, and unable to surpass the exotic Bali. But nonetheless I found Luang Prabang has its own romantic charms that I immediately fell in love with, although I was just arrived from the picture-perfect Vang Vieng with severe diarrhoea and all. Anyway that’s just my personal opinion. I didn’t say it was perfect. But it was easy to say that I like it (well, I like many things). Perhaps it was the peacefulness that mesmerized me. Perhaps it was that languorous spell that made time seemed non-existence and the pleasant feeling that you are actually living in the moment. Perhaps it was the baguettes and those French vibes that add to the allure.  Or perhaps, it was the tiresome journey from Vang Vieng that I found comfort at the thought that I finally arrived at my destination, the highlight of my short trip to Laos.

For the first time I saw Phousi Hill and the gilded stupa of Wat Chom Si glimmering under the setting sun as the tuk tuk approached our guesthouse in Phommattat Road. We quickly dumped our bags and went out again. It was time to look for dinner. Walking past Wat Visoun we encountered a few eateries but I had no appetite for another Indian vegetarian cuisine. Spicy foods would definitely add troubles to my already-upset stomach. But DH was hungry for rice. Typical Malays.  So I just watched him eat. I hadn’t had anything for a day and was hungry like hell but unable to swallow a thing. Even the smell of curry that I usually craved back at home was suddenly intolerable.

Luang Prabang has nothing much to offer at night. On our part we had enough sleeping out of our long drive from Vang Vieng that we decided to check out the night market which I heard the only happening place in town. Soon when DH settled with his dinner we continued our walk to Sisavangvong Road in search for the night market.

We strolled casually along the empty streets trying to get a sense of the place. Once in a while the silence was broken by the revving sounds of motorbikes that zoomed past us, until it fades away in the dark. All shops were already closed for the day, saved for a local eatery one or two.  And that was all. It was so quiet that I started to doubt whether they even have night market that night. We continued walking nonetheless and were finally there. But it was nothing like what I imagined it to be. There was no sound of vendors calling for customers. No noise from the people selling and haggling. The vendors will smile and say hello, and you are free to do the looking. No pressure of buying. The only thing we could hear was the buzzing sounds of the lamp generators and our own footsteps.

The night market was made up by just two rows of make shift tents. Colourful trinkets and crafts were neatly sprawled on canvases that lined the street. Most of them were handmade. I was immediately attracted to the adorable cloth book on animals, lovely purses and pins, nicely hand sewn blankets depicting Laotian daily life and all other girlish things.  The dim lights emanating from the hanging bulb were diffused by the colour of the red tent, giving a warm, dreamy kind of effect – luring the customers; mostly tourists – like a photophore of the deep sea anglerfish. And I one of them:   just happy to see it.

 

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 The night Market at Sisavangvong Road

 

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All the colorful and cute things!

 

Tucked away in an alley, we arrived at a totally different world. Here is where you would find the locals and all the commotions that was previously lacking. This is the real night market. Almost everything for sale was food and daily consumptions. No cute souvenirs. Vegetables, fruits and spices were arranged side-by-side along the cramped walkway. Fussy customers were sniffing and picking their goods for bargain. At one corner a long table festooned with dizzying arrays of local cuisines served our eyes, colourful and glistening under the incandescent lights. Foreigners and locals alike thronged the makeshift tables which brimmed with food as cheap as a dollar. For the first time since yesterday I was hungry. But none that I could eat. Too bad. I ended up with a fruit smoothie instead, and get totally overwhelmed by it.  I’m proud to say that I survived Luang Prabang with only fruit juice (and ‘Lao style’ tuna sandwich).

 

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The ‘hidden’ night market

 

The next day we climbed all the way up the Phousi Hill on a well-paved staircase, and enjoy the view of the town from the summit. A little exercise and breathe of fresh air was all that I need. We could clearly see the Nam Khan river snaking its way into the far behind mountains while brick red roofs of houses down below popped out in between lush greeneries. On the other side Mekong River flows calmly as it has been since the beginning of time. All was peace and calm.

The rest of the morning we made way around the old town, exploring every nook and cranny. The cozy weather of mid-November was kinda perfect for our jaunt, not too hot and not to cold. Occasionally we bumped into monks in their distinctive saffron robes and paper parasols, locals with their casual glance and the unspoken Sabaidee, pretty Laotian girls in their chic Sinh skirts, or tourists on bicycles; while other time saw us marvelling over the old French colonial architectures – some of them have been restyled into upscale hotels and charming restaurants, or otherwise inspecting the intricate reliefs that adorn the roofs and the walls of the many wats. At times when we were out of ideas we simply enjoyed a cup of fine brewed Lao coffee from the side walk café and filled up our time observing the passers-by.

 

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Luang Prabang from Phousi Hill and the  Nam Khan River

 

The calm River of Mekong

 

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Haw Phang Ba and the Royal Palace

 

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Caged birds to be released at the summit of Phousi Hill.  Laotians believe that by setting a bird free you will have better luck and happiness in future.

 

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A young monk with his book

 

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The French Colonial Architecture. The fusion of western and traditional Laotian architectures in a well-preserved townscape environment entitled this little, sleepy town a rank in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

A monk walking out from a monastery in the compound of Wat Visoun

 

Hanging in wind

 

 Cleaning time

 

 

 Quiet street of a neat town

 

A lady with her daily chores

 

 Multi-tiered roof

 

 Reliefs from the Wats

 

 Star shaped paper lantern

 

 Hanging out for a cup of coffee while waiting for the rain

 

Old carvings

 

Later in the afternoon we joined the day trippers to the Kuang Si; a dip in its cascading emerald pools was the exact remedy I needed to cure my lethargy. The river flows into the nearby village, which I became to envy – I mean waking up to pristine, turquoise-blue water running endlessly behind your house every day! We returned contented to the friendly Luang Prabang in the evening – as the sun and its sexy crimson rays spilling upon those elegant, multi-tiered pointed roofs, and the soft glow of the colourful star-shape paper lanterns added the appeal to the amicably romantic town.

 

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 The Emerald pool of Tat Kuang Si

 

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Simply refreshing 

 

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