Luang Probang is vibrant and calm. The land is lush and the brown Mekong River is dotted with brightly painted boats. Monks walk quietly, yesterday’s bright orange robes drying on the line. The tuk tuks are orange, blue, red, and white. Golden temples are everywhere. There is one main street in Old Town. It’s just a mile long and extends a few blocks in either direction making the area feel manageable. It’s tropical and only recently discovered by tourists, giving us the benefit of a tourist economy in a place where authenticity reigns.
At the morning market you can find chicken, dead or alive, rats roasted on a stick, vegetables picked fresh at dawn, and noodles served atop a banana leaf. At the night market you can find jewelry, key chains and spoons made from bombs and unexploded ordinances from the civil war. We were asked not to allow anyone other than registered guests into our hotel, to keep up “public morale”. English is the language of tourists, and tourists are the source of income, so everyone from monks to guides to shop owners are eager to learn. Most only know “shop talk” though, meaning they know the script of their field, but nothing outside of it. Our favorite restaurant is called Khaiphaen, both for its food and its mission to help street children and youth in Laos. The cuisine in Laos is simple, as most people cook over a fire, using only what can be found in nature. You can still find croissants and baguettes, a relic of ownership by the French.
Luang Prabang is a Southeast Asian oasis. The UNESCO World Heritage site served as a retreat for us, far from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Laos is in the midst of change. It’s easy to look past the poverty and struggle in the sparkle of Western comfort and the highest level of service. We’re so grateful to get to experience a more complete Luang Prabang.