February 13

I arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos, on the late side and did a little hustle to find a place to stay. I knew there were dozens of guesthouses and I just wanted to check out the neighborhoods before committing.

What a delightful surprise Luang Prabang has turned out to be and due in large part to its UNESCO World Heritage designation.
I picked my place and then I heard some singing. What was going on? I walked down the hill to find this performance for a Taiwanese tour group underway.
They are so lovely!
This small group had a similar sound to a Balinese gamelan orchestra.
Behind the musicians are a couple of rows of women of all ages singing along. It was plenty touristic but I enjoyed it anyway.
February 14

Where the heck is Luang Prabang? Here you go...town, country, region.
I'm still not too sure how I feel about all this, it being the first really tidy place I've been in for a month, since back in the Way-Back days of Singapore, with a touch of Colonial Williamsburg, a place preserved for visitors.

There are also tons of temples, monasteries, and monks. More about them tomorrow.
It is nice though!
No dust storms or smoke clouds, sidewalks for walking, no buses allowed inside UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This is the Mekong side of the finger of Luang Prabang and...
...this is the confluence with the Nam Khan. Check out that cool bamboo bridge.
The young monks are down at the beach filling huge bags with sand and then...
...carrying them up! The sand is for a construction project at one of the monasteries.
It's Valentine's Day (Happy Valentine's Day my dear ones!). Chinese New Year is also around the corner so red is a theme but just a few bits around here, not like the blanket of red that has covered more Chinese dominated cities.

The banks of both rivers are full with restaurants on the river side and guest houses across the street.
I went chasing after a better view but there was always something in the way.
Here's a glow from the sunset more to the left.
February 15

I got up at 6am to get out on the street in time to see the monks do their silent walk for alms.
People are lined up along the street with baskets of rice that they hand out in small balls to each passing monk. Notice the donors are all wearing a shoulder sash. I don't know the meaning.
It's a smaller procession that the one in Mandalay, and so early in the morning, but that doesn't stop all of us from wanting to get a good picture.

At least I can say I stayed across the street but had only a short time before it was too crowded to get a shot off.
After the procession had passed some ladies came and gather up all the baskets and carried them somewhere - it's a formal procedure and I don't know the rules.
There are so many temples around. I wonder if I have become incapable of taking a picture of a temple?
There is also this, many many flags of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.
Another handsome guest house.

What UNESCO says about Luang Prabang: "Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions."
So many websites have used this exact quote I don't know which to ascribe here. But I like it and I'm using it too!

"Established in the 14th Century, Luang Prabang sits majestically on the banks of the Mekong River. This charming and much admired city was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1995 and is considered one of Asia's best preserved ancient capitals. To wander its quiet, timeless lanes is to enter a living museum of life, architecture and serenity."
None of these are actually good pictures but I hope you are getting a feeling for the town.
A walk up to a temple and a view that I didn't take because it was getting on to 1p and time for me to get out of the sun.
The Royal Palace Museum.
I so wonder what's with this.
Setting up for the night market of tourist souvenirs and crafts for sale. All the booths are run by women, many booths sell the exact same product that I thought to be clearly mass produced, and yes there are plenty of hand-crafted items too. All the goods came loaded up in these exact bags.

I saw many references on the internet saying it was the largest market for handcrafts in the country and indeed it's large - two aisles shoulder to shoulder more than a kilometer long.

I'm thinking a few big operators run this market and hire the ladies to set-up, sell, and break down the market.
I went for the food!
February 16

Across the street while I was waiting for my tuk-tuk to take me on a morning outing.
This is the tuk-tuk and driver that picked me up. Tuk-tuks come in three and four-wheeled varieties and many of them are elaborately painted with murals of the sites they want to take you to visit.
Here's a three-wheeler that's recently painted.
We're heading out to Kuang Si Falls and Kuang Si Butterfly Park.

I heard from a couple of chats around town that the country is proud of their efforts at reforestation from the huge loses in the later part of the 20th century. I saw myself miles of planted forests, and these trees might even be teak.
Once inside Kuang Si park it was a beautiful walk through gorgeous landscape to...
...a fantastically pretty waterfall. This is the dry season and I think that can be great too because you can clearly see the individual shelves.
I really liked it. I liked it so well...
...I asked someone to take my picture.
There are many scenes like this along the river.
And more.
The Kuang Si Butterfly Park put together only a year or two ago by a couple from the Netherlands.

It was charming and very well done with a young volunteer who was also charming and informative.
The volunteer was so charming and informative I was slow on the photos and then had to get back for the next phase of the day.
So not so many butterfly pictures but there were clouds of them.
Another one though. They planted a lot of that lantana because butterflies love it. I need some too, and it grows really well at my neighbor's.
I wanted to spend some time on the Mekong and chose a sunset 'dinner cruise'. It was relatively expensive, everything be relative, and the dinner was plentiful but not so great, still, we were only eight people on a boat that could accommodate 20 in a push so we were all comfortable.
There was a lot of action along the shore in this part of the Mekong which is probably true near any town.

Following are three phases of our sunset:
The early glow.
The streak on the river.
The fading light.
After the sunset and after the dinner we pulled up alongside a pier where a dance troupe was set up for our entertainment.

We had several young girls in different costumes and a couple of adult women singing and playing instruments.
I think this older woman might have been the teacher or the mother because she lead with the drum and gazed up at the girls with such delight.
The walk up from the river and back into town.
February 17

It's my last day in delightful Luang Prabang and I'm going on a tour out to a rice farm where you get to learn about The Fourteen Steps to Rice Perfection beginning with choosing the planting grains and ending with dishes to eat.
They had two groups of ten running at the same time - this was our guide and he was lovely.
I am not going to be able to share his Fourteen Steps to Rice Perfection but it was a fun way for them to structure the tour.
See the guide in the front of the line. He was about my height but 50 pounds lighter and notice how the mud is already up to his knee.

I was thinking yes-no-yes-no and since I was hesitating the young woman next to the guide asked me to hold all her things(!) because it was so awkward to walk. Ok, fine.

Those hats work amazingly well by the way, for keeping the beating sun off your face and neck.
The guide pulled up grains from plants that were in the ground 1 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, etc. for comparison.
Anyone who wanted to, and everyone in my group wanted to, could walk in a circle through the mud with the water buffalo.

All along the way they had hands on opportunities and everyone was loving it.
I don't remember how old the seedlings were before they transplanted them to the paddies, not very old actually.
They also have a rather extensive vegetable garden of what they called 'European vegetables' that they sell to the restaurants in town. They have 'local vegetables' in another area for their own consumption.

They don't sell any of the rice but rather it is consumed by what they call the community of families that run this farm.
We had a chance to make some toys from bamboo.

It appears I didn't take a picture of all the various preparations of rice that we got to try and then it appears I just went back to the hotel and packed to leave.

But no, I had, for the third time here, one of my favorite dinners: grilled whole fresh fish. I tried three different restaurants along the riverside with three different preparations and the meal was delicious all three times.

Also I didn't take pictures of the two people I shared meals with here - the young Japanese student who was my seat mate on the flight over from Chiang Mai, and an interesting woman from England who had for years painted the sets on Dr Who, but I want to make a note of them so I won't forget. Luang Prabang is the kind of place where you run into people.

And another thing I want to remember was that wave of affection I felt for SE Asia this very night, walking back from dinner, when I thought I might not see these countries again. And then I though, oh, why not?

Goodbye Luang Prabang, it's been great!
HomeAsia • Laos • '15 Feb: Laos

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