Luang Prabang is the westerner’s fantasy of a perfect city. Peaceful, atmospheric, green, clean and abounding in restaurants, entertainment and culture. A small taste of Laos in civilized conditions. In this wild and non-commercial country, a tourist can feel good and safe among the hotels, French bakeries, English-speakers and infinite opportunities for spending money. This UNESCO historic heritage site is a sightseeing magnet because of the exotic setting with countless temples and orange-shining monks. There are museums, concerts, courses and craft galleries. This time, instead of complaining about such places being not entirely up our alley, we decided that when in Rome, do as the tourists do, and gave in to consumption.
We wandered among the temples and colonial architecture, along the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, splashing out in restaurants and cafes.
Visited an interesting mini-museum of ethnic minorities with a gift shop where you can easily spend a few days’ budget (which we gladly did).
We had a meal in the museum restaurant (closing soon), where we tried ethnic treats from various tribes. The idea is brilliant but the execution rather bland.
We went on a obligatory trip out of town to see the local bears, butterflies and waterfalls. It was beautiful and crowded – the paths beaten badly.
We took part in a cooking class. For the first time, we went to the market armed with a human guide. The school itself was set in a beautiful garden with a pond. For those who can cook it is much more fun than learning, but in the end it’s hard to call that a drawback.
We got up at dawn to see the monks’ alms procession. In the dim morning light, in quiet, the march of barefoot monks must be a mystical experience. But not in Luang Prabang, where the retarded tourists along with photographers circled around the monks like vultures, trying to find the best shot, flashes right in the eyes or putting tablets with dangling covers in front of monks’ faces. The more ambitious decide to buy rice and take part in the ceremony. Then they have a chance to fit themselves in the photo as well. This is probably one of the worst tourist experiences we had. After regaining our conscience at this early hour and seeing the nature of the event, we wanted to curl up and die, ashamed of the Western, picture-centered culture.
We tried some quite well-promoted specialties like the dried Mekong weed, local sausage, jeow sauce with buffalo skin and the bael fruit tea. Maybe we came too late in the evening, but the praised Cafe Toui that offers tasting platters of these treats disappointed us in both taste and freshness.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there even are any volunteers to try these “controversial” dishes? In front of another, nice looking restaurant where a lady in a white apron was grilling fish, we overheard a conversation: – What fish is it? – It’s from the Mekong. – Eeew, I don’t want it. So, if you’re looking for some Atlantic salmon in this hard to cross, landlocked country, we can give you a piece of advice: don’t bother.