Arriving in Luang Prabang is like stumbling across a pretty French village in the middle of the jungle. The French invaded in the 18th Century and their legacy of petanque, baguettes, escargot and cafe culture remains. It’s a great place to sip coffee on chique terraces or fine-dine in classy converted colonial buildings.
Laos culture blends seamlessly with the European style, so there’s also some great Asian cuisine (and old people in pointy hats on bicycles) to be found. We loved to eat at the Night Market and developed a regular evening routine:
1. Bag a seat on one of the wooden benches in the narrow marketway
2. Get ginger and honey tea to go
3. Run around sourcing bags of fresh salad leaves (with amazing Laos dressing) and delicate Vietnamese spring rolls
4. Pick a fat river fish for the fat fish seller to barbeque to yummy perfection while you wait
If only you could eat this well (and so cheaply) back home!
The best view of the city is from the 100m high Phu Si Temple, and it was lovely to climb up there at sunset one evening. Unfortunately 500 other tourists seemed to have the same idea and it was a bit of a circus taking your place amongst the multitude of snapping cameras. Luckily it didn’t ruin the moment too much, and the sunset was beautiful.
Rahel and I hired funny little red bicycles to get round town on, complete with plastic baskets and football bells. They were a bit too small for us, and we looked like overgrown kids, but it was the perfect way to explore. It was just like being back on my oma fiets in Amsterdam, but with warm November sunshine to enjoy.
We cycled over the passenger bridge to cross the Nam Khan River and escape the usual tourist hangouts. It was fun to weave through villages, avoiding the roosters and children. We even got invited into a game of Petanque with some local men.
On day three I went off to Elephant Camp! The minibus route out to the home of 14 female elephants involved a drive through the pineapple plantations and about a million palm trees. I’d shopped around a bit to find somewhere that keeps the elephants happy and healthy, and this place certainly did seem to look after them. I got to go on a short trek, first sitting on a bench strapped to the elephant’s back (we were the same age so we had a nice bond!). Once we started wading through the river the Mahout (elephant trainer) invited me to climb forwards and ride on her neck, with my knees tucked behind her lovely spotty ears. She was a lovely gentle giant, and it was a far more comfortable ride than the camel trek I did in Pushkar last month. Elephants don’t like to be rushed, so you can roll along at a comfortable pace taking in the scenery.
Next stop, Vang Vieng, with its reputation for beautiful scenery, and not-so-beautiful drunk tourists, floating down the river from bar to bar in inner tubes. From the sublime to the ridiculous….