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Laos, a path to paradise

By Terry Sweetman
THERE may be a more idyllic place in Asia than Luang Prabang, but I'm yet to find it.

It was described in 1861 by French explorer Henri Mouhot as "a delightful little town, set in its amphitheatre of mountains a paradise". The description still holds.
The now large town/little city on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and its tributaries in the central north of Laos is a routine stopover for kids in quest of the backpackers' far frontier, for unreconstructed hippies, for undemanding tourists, and for baby boomers in search of that elusive sea change as retirement looms.

It is home to a whole atlas of mostly interesting expats and to the most charming and gentle people you're likely to meet.

(Where else would immigration officials contain themselves to a quiet giggle when matrimonial passports and visas are mixed up?)

What locks Luang Prabang in a time warp of simple values is its UNESCO World Heritage listing since 1995 and, I guess, the conservatism that comes with a democratic people's republic.

Were it not for those factors, it would doubtlessly be under threat from the high-rise shysters who have destroyed the character of so many Asian cities.

And, for reasons I could never quite pin down, it seems to have largely escaped the American aerial assault of the 1960s-70s – when Laos is said to have become the most bombed country on the globe – although locals say the airport copped a regular beating.

What got UNESCO interested was the fact that the town "bears witness to major cultural exchanges between three communities – the Lao, the Vietnamese and French": "The rich architectural fabric of the city is expressed through its mixture of styles and materials, which must be preserved."

For the tourist, that major culture exchange has left a wealthy legacy of buildings ranging from solid French brick to the simple wood of Lao tradition.

And it has left a cuisine that ranges from the complex Laotian, based on gentle herbs and spices, to the fiery chilli-based dishes of Vietnamese persuasion and the solidly, sometimes nostalgic, French.

To me, markets are the waste spaces between bars and restaurants, but my wife could not believe the craftsmanship and value of the primitif embroidery and applique

With it comes wine of reasonable taste and value and the most excellent Beer Lao.

(Stay out of French restaurants and wine bars and you can eat and sup very well for no more than $5.)

Historically, the commercial heart of Luang Prabang lay in the substantial stores and warehouses strung along the Mekong, many of which have been transformed into guesthouses.

Across the street – Souvanbanlang – and high on the banks of the Mekong are myriad outdoor bars, restaurants, eateries and stalls.

Sit there at dusk, beer in hand, facing the Mekong, with dinner cooking across the road, and it still is M. Mouhot's little paradise.

This for me is the essence of Luang Prabang, although the younger set seems to like the parallel Sisavangvong with its similar collection of bars, eateries, souvenir joints and adventure travel agents.

In Luang Prabang terms, Souvanbanlang swings with the breeze; Sisavangvong rocks.

One of the practicalities of UNESCO's reign has been a frenzy of drainage and construction that makes Luang Prabang a pedestrian's delight (although beware of storm drains on dark nights).

That and an air of well-maintained cleanliness makes Luang Prabang a comfortable stay for even the most nervous traveller.

(And what's more comfortable in Asian terms than the need for a light pullover after dark over Christmas?)

Reinforcing the comfort is a laidback approach to affairs that can't quite muster the energy to join the shirt-tugging "you-buy" annoyance zone of most Asian tourist cities.

In fact, in the craft markets where hill people sell silks, silver and embroidery, they are sometimes so laidback it can be difficult to unload a dollar.

To me, markets are the waste spaces between bars and restaurants, but my wife could not believe the craftsmanship and value of the primitif embroidery and applique.

There is plenty of junk around, but smiths still beat out the rhythm of their craft in silver shops and exquisite silk can be found, although common sense tells you that village hand looms could not produce all the goods on offer.

The Luang Prabang riverfront is a hub for energetic young things organising elephant treks, Kuang Si waterfall daytrips or speedboat/slowboat excursions to Thailand or Vietnam. But an occasional foray to the villages on the other side and a boat trip upriver to a few craft (read tourist trap) villages and the remarkable Pak Ou cave temple were sufficient exertion for me.

If temples are your thing, Luang Prabang is your kind of town. Noblest of all is Wat Phousi in the centre of town, where a steep climb takes you nearer to heaven (and to the obligatory anti-aircraft gun site) and gives a marvellous view of the city and surrounds.

A less strenuous touch with the spiritual is to get up early and watch the monks collecting their daily rice from devout Buddhist citizens.

But for me, the abiding earthly memory was to be chased down the street by a waiter with the change I'd left as a tip. That's nice.


GO Bangkok and on with Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com).

STAY Accommodation varies from four-star (for example Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel) to backpacker digs. Guesthouses range from budget to moderately expensive. Visit www.luang-prabang-hotels.com, www.laopdr.com or www.asiahotels.com.

COSTS Expect to pay no more than $A1 a dish at restaurants.

VISA Required.

Source: http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,23257718-17102,00.html

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My name is Dinh Quang Huy or known as alias NhamNgaHanh .I made this template in magazine style and named it Simplex Darkness .I hope it helpful to persons who want a solutions for a template in Blogspot.To download this template and see template install instruction ,go to Simplex Design blog.

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  1. Mark Eric says:

    It is too good and informative post. I read it and get interesting information.

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