Luang Prabang

 

Formerly the capital of Laos, The old town centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the end of WW2, in April and May 1946 the French recaptured Laos by using paratroops to retake Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

During the First Indochina War the Viet Minh and Pathet Lao forces attempted to capture the city several times in 1953 and 1954 but were stopped before they could reach it by French forces.

During the Laotian Civil War of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a secret American airbase was located at Luang Prabang and it was the scene of fighting.

Luang Prabang remained the royal capital until 1975, when the Pathet Lao communist forces seized power with North Vietnamese support and dissolved the ancient monarchy.

Today the old town is very small, and is confined to the peninsula. As with anywhere on the Mekong, the water levels vary enormously over the course of a year.

At the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market where stalls sell shirts, bracelets, and other souvenirs. The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are among the best known historical sites. The town, particularly the main street, is dotted with many smaller wats such as Wat Hosian Voravihane - there are apparently 33 temples in the town.

 

Rive Driote Hotel

Be warned, this is not a hotel - they do not offer dinner, only breakfast. We chose to book here as we thought we were booking into a hotel

Remember you are on the "wrong" side of the river from Luang Prabang, so apart from 2 local restaurants (which the management does not particularly recommend,) you have to cross to Luang Prabang to eat at night. or see the town.

When we arrived we were told that the hotel boat operated 24/7 for the 30sec trip over the river. After two days when we asked for the boat, we were told that the water was too low, and we would have to get ourselves to the town. The only way to walk is via a rickety bamboo toll bridge, which is fine during the day but difficult after dark. Although they must regularly have the problem, there was no Plan B for getting guests into town, and it was only when we got upset that they agreed to supply a tuk-tuk for the return journey after dark - it takes about 15 minutes by road, given that there is only one distant car bridge.

The other problem we had was house-keeping. The girls do a good job, but nobody in management bothers to check their work. Basically they roughly make your bed in the morning, but do not tidy anything else in the room. The assistant manager found it difficult to accept that this was his fault for not checking the rooms, and not the chambermaids' fault, as they were not properly trained.
,
Our room was particularly dark (garden needed pruning outside the verandah and some shutters would not open) and one of the main lights was not working. It took over 24 hours to change the bulb from first reporting it, and that only after we had asked again

The building and rooms are very pleasant, sort of faded colonial chic, but as I say, it is a B&B and not a hotel. And it is difficult to get to town at night if their boat is not running. If you want a hotel, then you need to stay on the Luang Prabang side of the river.

 

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

Mulberry Paper

We bought a "tree of life" from Mr. Nalonkone Khounphachansy at the craft village 30 minutes walk from the hotel. He has been producing mulberry bark paper, also known Posa paper, since the 2004. The raw material for this paper can be found naturally throughout much of Laos. For the past ten years Mr Nalonekone’s workshop has also produced Posa paper from other materials: from banana tree bark, rice straw, pineapple leaf fibre and even elephant dung. www.nalongkoneodop.com

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

Haw Kham — the former royal palace and now the national museum. The Royal Palace was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong and his family. The site for the palace was chosen so that official visitors to Luang Prabang could disembark from their river voyages directly below the palace and be received there. After the death of King Sisavang Vong, the Crown Prince, Savang Vatthana, and his family were the last to occupy the grounds. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family were taken to re-education camps. The palace was then converted into a national museum.

In March 1977, fearing Vatthana might escape to lead a resistance, the Communist authorities arrested him along with the Queen, Crown Prince Vong Savang, Prince Sisavang, and his brothers, Princes Souphantharangsri and Thongsouk, and sent them to the northern province of Viengxai. He was transported to Sam Neua and imprisoned in "Camp Number One," which held high-ranking officials from the former government. During his time in the camp, the royal family was allowed to move freely around in their compounds during the day and were often visited by members of the politburo and Sopuhanouvong himself. In 1978, the government reported that Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui, and Crown Prince Vong Savang had died from malaria. More recent accounts suggest that the King died in mid-March 1980. However, according to Kaysone Phomvihane, Vatthana died in 1984, at the age of 77. With Vatthana's and the Crown Prince's deaths, the King's youngest son, Sauryavong Savang, became the head of the Laotian royal family, acting as regent to his nephew Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, b1937. Soulivong Savang had escaped Laos by swimming the Mekong to Thailand, and now lives in Paris. He has 4 children

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

 

With 33 to choose from, you are not short of temples to visit. I couldn't say how many we actually visited, but it was a lot. After I while I was in the temple equivalent state of the American tourist in Britain with castles when he said "When you have seen one castle you have seen them all"

We had a new guide for the day - Mong. Charmingly she was called that because she was born at 4am to the sound of temple gongs going ...mong, mong, mong. She is sheltering from the sun with her umbrella below.

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

Mount Phou

Mount Phou Si is a 100m high hill in the centre of the old town of Luang Prabang. It lies in the heart of the old town peninsula and is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other side by the Nam Khan River. The hill is a local religious site, and houses several Buddhist shrines. Halfway up the hill, overlooking the Nam Khan is Wat Tham Phou Si, a Buddhist temple. At the summit of the hill, overlooking the town and surrounding countryside, is Wat Chom Si, which is also a Buddhist temple. It has broad views of the town and river systems, and is a popular place to watch the sun setting over the Mekong River.

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

Eating out - you have plenty of choice at Luang Prabang, but much of it is tourist food , all much the same in choice and quality. You need to dig around a bit to get better quality or a better ambiance, either of which will inevitably cost you more.

 

Aspara

We ate here two nights as we were staying in their annex over the river, which does not offer dinner. The restaurant was very quiet both nights, as others have remarked, while at the Tamarind next door it is impossible to get a table. Nevertheless the quality of food is very good, though the service is impersonal - there being no obvious manager in charge

One night we had their set menu (large quantities of food, and I think was 140k kipp per head) . The other just a la carte items from the menu. It was expensive by local standards, and the value for money factor was not really there.On our third night we found a better venue overlooking the Mekong on the the other side of Luang Prabang peninsular, which offered better ambiance and value for money

 

The Belle Rive Terrace

This was the best restaurant that we tried in Luang Prabang. It belongs to the Belle Rive Hotel, and is over the road from the hotel, and right on the banks of the Mekong. Down a few (dark at night) steps to get to the terrace. The food is good, without being gourmet, and is reasonably priced. Service, is by Lao standards, good. But you go here for the atmosphere and the view - I could not get enough of the view

I would recommend this restaurant to anyone, and would eat here again if I were back in Luang Prabang

 

Le Banneton Cafe

This place is popular because, apart from the 3 or 4 mains towns, western things like coffee and patisserie are rare in Laos. So when they are on offer, like here , ex-pats and tourists in from the sticks go for it. There are plenty of places to eat Lao or Western food in Luang Prabang, so come here for the coffee and cakes.

You can go up to the counter and point at the items you want, croissants, pan au chocolate, various cakes. And order a coffee off their menu. It is simple, it is good, and it is rare in Laos

 

Click on thumbnail image to get a larger photograph

 

After that it was off back home via Luang Prabang airport, Chiang Mai, Singapore and Barcelona - quite a hike really

Home James.

 

Return to David Grant Holidays

Return to Laos & Cambodia Holiday