#LuangPrabang #Laos: Land of a Thousand Temples

Xieng Thong Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Xieng Thong Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

 

No, really, Luang Prabang has something like thirty-two temples, down from a number over twice that much at its high point in the 1800’s, plenty I reckon considering the city only has some 20-50,000 residents in the first place, on a good day, in the busy season, depending on how you count, but not counting the many tourists who swell numbers significantly, many of them neighboring Thais and Vietnamese, and more than a few backpackers who call the place home for a few days or a few weeks, or even a few months, subject to a sliding scale of definitions, returns and allowances…

Colonial Architecture in Luang Prabang

Colonial Architecture in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is Asia’s last refuge in darkness’s heart, a city built on a river back when rivers were currency and boundaries were shifting, hardly a road connecting it even to this day, just a few scattered tracks heading off in the four directions, to parts mostly even more remote than this ancient capital of a forgotten kingdom, so-called ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, formed in a murky past, one of the founding cities of an ancient Thai-Lao proto-state that crossed the borders of modern Thailand and Laos and Vietnam and Burma and China, and speaking a language common to them all…

Buddha Image in Luang Prabang, Laos

Buddha Image in Luang Prabang, Laos

It hadn’t changed much since those early days the first time I came here twenty years ago, not since the French era anyway, and soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain and Laos’s entry into the modern world after twenty years of slumming it with the motley crew of Cuban barbudos, Russian borracheros and assorted barateros that comprised international socialism back in the day, Laos left bankrupt when Russia left with the bank book…

Back then locals would stop in the street to let a (white) traveler pass, so uncertain were they of his motives and his modalities, and of course twenty years of Communist indoctrination didn’t help, but if you were a black person, then God help you, no danger, to be sure, but your waiter might die of shock and awe before you ever got your meal…

Miracle Mile in Luang Prabang, Laos

Miracle Mile in Luang Prabang, Laos

Now they’re all inured to it all, old town Luang Prabang pimped out gussied up and dressed to kill, to the max and overflowing, with waiters in tuxedos wine and candlelight just dying to serve you, a tuktuk waiting at every turn to drive you, and a tour guide at your every beck and call, Luang Prabang may be the up-country cousin, but that doesn’t mean she’s a shy lady-in-waiting, no sir, she’s the star of the show…

Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos

Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos

The tourist treatment breaks down on the outskirts of town, where people are just people again, and a bowl of pho is just a buck and a quarter, and they include all the salad fixins that the Vietnamese are known for, as borrowed by little brother-in-arms Laos, a sugar cane juice with enough ice to last you the rest of the day for a half dollar that includes free chat if you happen to speak Laotian, all the pubs and clubs and Frenchified touches miles away and centuries behind us as we walk along the Mekong as thousands do every day always have and always will…

Road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

Road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

But the best part of Luang Prabang is the journey in, scheduled flight the lamest of options, and boat from HuayXai limited to those upstream, road from the north not too bad, but the best way IMHO is the peakish view from the south over hill and mountain and rainy day’s sunshine incomparable views even for the jaded, a break every two hours to water up and water out seldom belated, in Laos nothing ever arrives on time, but you will get there some day nonetheless… guaranteed… next stop is Xieng Khoang and the Plain of Jars…

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