Laos – Land of the Million Elephants #3


Luang Prabang

Monday, Nov 30 – Luang Prabang

In Luang Prabang, immigration is very strict when it comes to officially checking in and out of the province. So we first go to the immigration office to get the in-stamp in our passport and then have breakfast at the Khem Karn Food Garden. A beautiful garden restaurant with a nice view on the Nam Khan river. Ken has a hot noodle soup for breakfast, I prefer bread with butter and jam.

Now it’s time to look for a better place to stay. We check a few guesthouses in the sidestreets of Thanon Photisalat, one of the main streets in town. I decide to take a room for 9,000 Kip in Si Khoun Muang Guesthouse, just round the corner from Wat Nong Sikhunmuang. Ken is undecided yet, maybe he will come around later.

The large room has two big windows in different directions, so there is always fresh air coming in. The view down to the Mekong is nice. The room is very clean and furnished with a comfortable French bed. I immediately feel at home here. If you go there, say hello from me to Louis, the friendly owner. I relax for a while, listening to R.E.M., writing this travelogue and watching cargo boats go upstream.

As I get hungry again, I walk down parallel to the river and find a restaurant with a nice veranda to the Mekong. It’s a bit cloudy today, but suddenly the sun comes out and the scenery is put into a warm, golden light. I head southwards and reach Wat That Luang. On my way back on Thanon Wisunalat I take some good pictures of playing children, a whole family riding a bicycle, shopkeepers offering their goods. The light between 3pm and 5pm is really fantastic for that purpose.

There seems to be no internet available here. In a small computer store they had a sign at the door “No Internet, no E-Mail”. I leave a message for Lucia at the Viengkaeo hotel, in case she will come here in the next few days. To get an overview of the city, I climb the stairs to Mount Phou Si, passing the Tham Phu Si temple. The entrance fee is 2,000 Kip. At the hilltop is located That Chomsi with a large golden stupa. Maybe a dozen people are here, the Austrian girl from the bus is here too. Some of them are waiting to take pictures of the sunset. Unfortunately, there are too many clouds now.

In the evening, I meet again Dennis and Chris in a restaurant opposite the Rama nightclub. Ken moved to the Rama hotel. After eating a very hot version of a chicken salad with rice, I slowly go back to my room, taking the road along the Mekong. A guy sits in front of his house, playing acoustic guitar, everywhere around it’s absolute quiet. I stop and listen to him while watching the stars and the moonlight reflecting in the river.

What a peaceful night.

Tuesday, Dec 1 – Luang Prabang

I wake up after sunrise, it is cloudy and still quite cold in my room with glassless windows. While having breakfast in the guesthouse, I talk with the young Canadian couple from the room next to mine. They plan to leave for the Plain of Jars, but are still undecided which route to take.

I start my day with a brief visit of the Lao Royal Palace Museum, once the residence of King Sisavangvong. The building was constructed during the early French colonial era in 1904 and converted into a museum later, when Crown Prince Sisavang Vatthana and his wife were exiled to northern Laos. Portraits of the last King and Queen hang on the wall. In the throne room, I’m fascinated by intricate wall mosaics on a deep red background. When leaving the museum, the sky is blue and I feel the strong sun on my skin.

I decide to make a trip to the Kungsi waterfalls. Yesterday I saw the meeting point where jumbo pickups depart. I walk over to the parking lot opposite Phousi hotel. Hmong women sit by the roadside, sewing red and blue geometric patterns. Two guys from Slovenia are already waiting there for more passengers to show up. We wait another 20 minutes until two Germans (Udo and Gabi) arrive and then share the 30km ride south. We pass small villages lined at the dusty road.

We reach the impressive falls after 90 minutes. The water is tumbling over limestone formations into turquoise-green pools. Bathing in those pools is not allowed, so we follow the steep trail to the upper pools, where I jump in (not too cold, but very refreshing) and find a small cave right behind the falls.

We spend about two hours at the falls and return to LP. We make an appointment for dinner at the Phousi restaurant, which is located close to the museum. Now, it’s again the right time to take some pictures in the warm afternoon sunlight.

My termination point is the same as yesterday on top of Mount Phousi. This place magically attracts people when the sunset is near. Today, I’m well prepared with a bottle of cool Beer Lao. Ken and the two sweet Japanese girls from Kyoto are there too. The sunset is perfect and we stay there talking for a long time. It’s almost full moon, so there is at least a little light when I walk down the steps. With Gabi, Udo, Nirit and Aaron (the latter two are from Tel Aviv) I enjoy an excellent dinner at the Phousi restaurant.

That was my second day here in this relaxed, friendly and tranquil city. The former capital of Lan Xang, Kingdom of a Million Elephants, still possesses a noble mystique. Wats are on every corner, monks wandering through the streets, palm trees line the narrow roads. Time seems to have a different meaning here.

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