Friday, October 22, 2010

Luang Prabang - the town

Luang Prabang (pronounced more like Long Prabong) has a lovely setting at the confluence of the Mekong and the much smaller Nam Kang. 


It was the home of the Royal family and only really reopened to tourists in 1989 after the 1975 revolution.  In the last 20 years with an ever increasing number of tourists it has transformed from a derelict shell to a major tourist destination. 

I have mixed feelings about Luang Prabang.

The Good:
Lovely temples. 
Lots of restaurants and good cooking schools (more on that later)
The walk up Phu Si hill in the centre of town.  You get some good views of the non-tourist part of town. And buddhas and shady trees



The Bad:

I think if I had come to LP from anywhere else in busier, more polluted, louder Asia it would have been a little haven.  Quiet and easy going.  Coming from laid back Vientiane it seemed overly geared for tourism.

I don't need a whole main street advertising or touts in my face offering me tours to the caves, to the waterfall, ride the elephants etc.  And it was the first time in ages I have felt surrounded by tourists.  I don't like the fact that by 2012 the airport runway is going to be extended so 737s are able to fly in and bring more tourists in

Monks are a huge part of the town and they are estimated to make up 10% of the LP population.  They have become a tourist attraction in themselves. 

Traditionally at dawn monks walk around the area around their temple accepting gifts of alms and local residents provide these to "make merit".  This is the monk's food for the day.  As tourism has grown and more accomodation has sprung up there are less locals to provide the food.  Unscrupulous people have started selling food to the tourists so they can participate in the ceremonies.  But often the food is bad or stale leftovers.  It apparently got so bad that not so long ago the senior monks said they would not do the morning procession - but the local  council said if they didnt they would use lay people and dress them as monks and do the morning procession that way - tourism is too important.  How true that is I don't know, but based on what I saw I could imagine it to be the case.

There are signs around town advising tourists how to behave, not to touch or hassle the monks taking part in the morning procession:   
I thought perhaps it was overkill.  But, no, when I went to watch the Alms procession I saw this:

I was here in the tourist off-season, I imagine it would be hell in the height of the season.  After checking out the procession the tourists hop in their buses and zoom off for the next destination on their bus trip.

And speaking of buses I took the V.I.P bus back to Vientiane 380km south.  I flew to LP, 1 hour and USD80.  V.I.P bus USD 14 and a scheduled journey of 11 hours, local buses are a couple of hours longer.  We were lucky and it only took 9.5 - the roads are dry and we had no mechanical problems.  The "funniest" thing was watching the locals get carsick about 10 minutes into the journey and continued to be so for the next 9 hours.  An attendant would go along a remove their little plastic bags to a rubbish container somewhere.  When the bus stopped they would get off looking completely pale and drawn.  I don't think the bus went over 50km p/h the whole trip and it was really smooth.
  


Taken across the road, from a distance

2 comments:

  1. Jane and Tony JordanOctober 22, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    Good morning to you both from chilly Blenheim! It is sunny but oh so "wintry" Sarah is "freezing"!! She and I are going to a friend's for coffee so just a quick note. We are all well. TJ training hard for the Molesworth Bike race in 2 weeks time. Last weekend we had 2 nights in Kaikoura. TJ and 3 others played golf 2 days with a pro as part of their team. He enjoyed it. Tomorrow he is to play in a final of a Championship match at Awatere golf club. He has been to ChCh this week and next to Wellington and then to ChCh again! The following Saturday we are off to Sydney for 5 nights. TJ has 3 day course and we are adding on 2 nights. So life is pretty busy here. I have freinds who have lived in Laos so I was aware of some of your interpretations. Sarah hopes to see you both in Laos!
    Hope this fidns you well. love jj

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  2. Andrew - I note that the sign says it is important to be lower than the monks - has this provided you with any challenges?

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