Asian riviera

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

The influence of French rule over Laos is very apparent in Luang Prabang. Sitting on a jungle peninsula surrounded by banana plantations and grazing buffalo, the old town principally comprises rows of shuttered mansions that would look more at home on the Dordogne than the Mekong.

A Buddhist influence is also apparent. Although the town transferred into Communist hands after the French departed, its religious monuments seem to have been spared the purge that took place elsewhere in the country. The French colonial buildings are interspersed with golden wats and active monasteries. The Phou Si temple, situated on a hill in the centre of the town, bears the supposed footprint of Buddha. Now, Buddha as we all know was not a god. Judging by the length of his footprint, (say 6 ft), he was quite a man.

Laos has been open to tourism for over a decade now and Luang Prabang’s local attractions are heavily marketed – there are some fantastic falls to the south of the city and caves further up the river (unremarkable in themselves but bearing so many religious icons they have the look of a Buddha boot sale).

In addition to the usual backpackers there’s a new kind of traveller here – the Gucci wearing, Versace carrying kind (and we are not taking about items inexpertly haggled over at Patpong market in Thailand either). Thankfully despite the tour companies, bars, hotels and restaurants that cater to this crowd, Luang Prabang itself retains an unspoilt charm – maybe in part because it is now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The government has taken steps to ensure a conservative culture prevails. (Can you be conservatively Communist? – I think in Luang Prabang you probably can.) A curfew ensures everyone is inside by 12.00. (Cycling up the silent lantern lit peninsula just before midnight will, I think, be one of the highlights of my trip.) Once inside, the guest house a sign bears some stark warnings – a few of which I have listed below:

  • Do not bring illegal things come into hotels, guest houses and resorts, it is not allowed include ammunitions except the officials who have the permission
  • Do not any drugs, crambling, or bring both women and men which is not your husband or wife into the room for making love
  • Do not allow domestic and international tourist bring prostitute and others into your accommodation to make sex movies in our room, it is restriction
  • If you do not follow this accommodation regulation you will be fight based on PDR law (sic)

I don’t want to ‘be fight’ and certainly not by the Laos government. So I’ve slipped compliantly instead into the town’s peaceful way of life. I start the day with a cup of locally grown Laos coffee and a croissant. I cycle through pineapple plantations, smiling at people from local villages before returning home for a buffalo steak frites with Mekong river seaweed salad, plus of course a nice carafe of red wine. Luang Prabang’s Asian / Gallic fusion is very seductive.

2 Responses to “Asian riviera”

  1. SteveNo Gravatar says:

    Great read Jane, am jealous. . .sounds like LP has changed a bit since I was there a couple of years ago. Glad you’re enjoying the water buffalo. Cracking photos again by the way.

  2. JeffNo Gravatar says:

    You’ll be mistaken for a local soon by the sound and look of things :-)

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