Land of the Phou Si

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Luang Probang was the capital of Laos till the 1957 revolution, and managed to avoid any direct bombing from all the wars that happened, so what you have is a perfect time capsule of a French Colonial town. Unlike most towns in Laos, where there is a smattering of old French houses mixed with modern monstrosities, the architecture here has been preserved. They obviously have strong preservation codes, which have created a very laid back charming river town. Based on the junction of the Mekong River and Nam Khan River, which creates a peninsula where most of the old city resides. Sadly we did not have as much time as we would have liked to explore this beautiful town. The clock was ticking to get to China by a certain date, so we always felt pressure.

With no prior planning what so ever, we got off the bus and wandered towards town and found a great old villa with wood floors and a nice balcony over looking the garden. It was the most relaxing place we had been to in a long time, and possibly the first with hard wood floors. Very feng shui. We were in the middle of hundreds of old buildings, and surrounded by some amazing Watts.

Wat’s that you say? Ha ha, ok the joke never gets old to me, and Yvonne fell for quite a few times. The other joke in this town that I never got over was that we were on Phou si street, near Phou si hill. I’m sure you can understand how that is pronounced, and all westerners get a kick out of it. In Japan the casual greeting on a phone is Mushi Mushi. In German it means, well, Pussy Pussy. This always sent my German friend Christian into mad giggles.

In the middle of all these historic section are some really impressive watts and palaces. Some examples would be the Haw Kham Royal Palace, Wat Xieng Thong temple, and Wat Hosian Temple. They are incredibly ornate, with Nagas going up the stairs and thousand of mosaic tiles covering every square inch of the place. Its weird, you see these incredible buildings everywhere, you actually start to take them for granted. The tile work, carvings, and grand multi-tiered roofs pop up everywhere.

Most people think Mount Phou si is the best sunset spot, but unless you like large crowds and scrambling for a rock to sit on, amongst piles of garbage, I suggest you go to the riverside cafes. There you can watch the very same sun over the very same river set while having ice-cold beers and spring rolls. There are huge riverboats for the tourist that whip up and down the river, and when they turn it looks like a car skidding out. Plus as an added bonus you can see the kids frolicking in the water and people fishing in ways that they have been doing for thousands of years.

If you are into shopping, and really want some beautiful handcrafts, this town has it. They close the main road down every night and line it with stalls. 100’s of stalls, all selling carved pipes, tapestries, hand made paper, preserved animals, paper lamps, skirts, and moonshine. Besides that, they have everything else you could imagine. Its just wonderful to wander down the lanes, have a little moonshine here, buy a gorgeous puppet there, and why not top it of with a hand pressed paper lamp shade. Everything is negotiable here, and they see your money coming a mile away. So have fun with it, in the end, you will take home a valuable treasure for a fraction of the price you would get it elsewhere.

One thing I would not go out of my way to see is the 6 am morning monks ritual, now I know this is a timeless event, in which a long roll of monks get their morning donations, but it’s not so timeless when you have loads of tourist snapping pictures in their faces. Yvonne gets furious at them because they don’t respect the Laotian ways, or the monks. Now I had my telephoto on and chilled out across the street, snapping my pictures, doing my best not to have some westerners in it. Me personally, I would rather be snuggled up in bed snoozing still.

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