Luang Prabang, Laos (part 1)

A few years ago, we went to southeast Asia to visit my friend in Chiangmai, Thailand. While this plan was in its early stages, he had suggested maybe we and he and his partner might go to Luang Prabang, Laos, because he had just read that during the time of our trip, there would be an international film festival there. Wouldn’t that be a kick?

I had never thought of going to Laos before. I have traveled in many countries in Asia, but Laos had just never been on my radar. So I started to read up on it.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage city, and those, I have learned, are always worth visiting. I began investigating how we would get there and where we would stay and what all there was to do there.

Restaurant overlooking the Mekong River
Restaurant overlooking the Mekong River

It looked like a wonderful destination, filled with temples, textiles and food, nestled among green hills at the confluence of two rivers. And so the sidetrip to LP was on.

Some months later, my friend started making squidgy noises about preferring to spend the money on his kitchen rather than on travel. Backing out, in other words. Humpf. By now, I was fully vested in going to a new country. Well, we were going to go to LP, with or without them. And we did.

From the moment you land, you know this is not like the rest of Asia. It felt like the first time I visited Kathmandu back in the 80’s, like stepping back decades into a magical exotic ambiance which the internet and consumption and terrorism consciousness have long since obliterated in the rest of Asia.

We all filed off the Lao Airlines plane onto the tarmac and just sort of wandered off towards the airport building. No soldiers were in evidence. No officials herded us or even waved us in the right direction, though I suppose the logic is, where else would we go? Totally laidback place. How civilized!

We had reservations for a night at one modest guest house, and then we were transferring to another, more upscale place, the Apsara, for the rest of our stay. The modest guest house was just fine. I know Bill thinks my frugality is wrongheaded and when possible, he always prefers a pool and will pay double to have one. The Apsara doesn’t have a pool, since it is in the heritage area and there simply aren’t any pools there. However, it is across the street from the river with a lovely outdoor dining veranda and the food is famous. Decor was elegant with silk in deep colors.

Breakfast at the Apsara Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos
Breakfast at the Apsara Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Breakfasts, which were included in the room tariff, were excellent. Western-type breakfast was available, such as muesli or omelette, eggs & bacon, etc. But also more exciting ways to start the day could be had, such as superb Lao-style congee or chicken noodle soup with all the trimmings. Breakfast always included fresh juice, mixed cut fruit and baguette, butter & jams.

We did eat dinner at the hotel once, and while I don’t remember what we had, I remember it being excellent, though pricey, and worth it.

However, the tea was a waste of hot water. The tea in Laos leaves much to be desired, notably decent tea leaves, so it was fortunate that I had brought some with us. Since poor to mediocre tea is something I have come to expect almost everywhere, I always bring enough to get by on.

Monks walking down a street
Monks walking down a street

The town is a delight to wander around, with lots of temples to visit. Foreign tourists have to buy a ticket for pretty much every one, but it goes to renovate and keep them up, and most of us Westerners would not otherwise donate as we should. Bill is very good about donating to temples, churches and museums, coming as he does from a Greek Orthodox tradition.

Our plans for our time in Laos included elephants, hiking and textiles and any adventure that might come up. Stay tuned…