Luang lives up to its reputation, though we are overwhelmed by the number of tourists, ranging from dreadlocked backpackers to chic French groups, via the hordes of Koreans, Japanese and Chinese, that descend en masse upon this sleepy town.
We are staying in the 3 Nagas hotel, comprising restored colonial French town houses, with lovely soft beds and delicious breakfasts. Good food is not hard to find in this town either. Our favourite restaurant is The Tamarind on the Nam Kham river.
We take in the normal sights – the Royal Palace, remarkably not destroyed by the Paket Lao when they took over at the end of the war and redolent with fabulous glass mosaics, old photographs and a furniture; various temples and wats; and of course view the daily Tak Bat, where the monks circumnavigate the town at daybreak, seeking alms. Lots of tourists arm themselves with sticky rice bowls, don sashes and kneel in serried rows to give, but they are so cack-handed that they only manage to deliver to every third monk or so. The locals are much more adept. Annoying photographers disrespect the monks with flashes and close-ups and it’s all a bit commercialised. We take bicycles to get further away from the main drag.
We visit the famous Pak Ou caves, with thousands of Buddhas strewn higgle-de-piggledy on the natural rock ledges. It’s a bit of an anticlimax, and busy, but the boat ride up the Mekong is peaceful.
The Tat Kuang Si waterfall is better than expected, with the falls being an electric blue due to the limestone. Cindy is transported to delight by seeing the rescued Moon bears. Guy and Ross even brave a dip!
Three nights is too short in lovely Luang and reluctantly we depart for Vientiane to meet our flights home, while Cindy and Guy leave for Hanoi for another month of wildlife touring in SE Asia. We have time for a quick whizz round the capital and a final farewell dinner before going our separate ways.
It’s been a great couple of weeks, and Christine and Diego are, as ever, wonderful travelling companions. We have seen much of northern Laos; one of the English founders of OckPopTok handicraft cooperative was impressed by how much ground we had covered and said it was unusual for people to explore in such depth. Sure, there are things we would have done differently, but we have had a marvellous time and seen much of village life here in Laos, and witnessed a country in transformation.
Here are some random photos of me that Ross has shared, finally!
Go now before the Chinese developers have knocked down all the old buildings (as they are in Vientiane to build huge hotels) and the virgin forest has all disappeared. As it is, traditional dress is hard to find…and will soon be brought out only for tourists. I just hope the Lao people don’t lose their gentleness and serenity. It certainly is the Lao PDR – People Don’t Rush.
Here are some final photos….and check Ross’s more erudite site with loads of professional photos too.