Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Luang Prabang.. up the Phu Si

I have to say that I did like this UNESCO heritage city very much. Unfortunately, because my trip to Laos was such a short one (merely one week) I could spend only about two to three days at Luang Prabang. What this meant was that I didn't have the time to explore the very popular attractions out of Luang Prabang, like the Pak Ou caves or the famous Kuang Si falls.

Quite close to Choum Khong Guesthouse (highly recommended, 55000 kip for a double room with the cleanest shared bathrooms on earth) where i was staying there was a travel agent organizing tours to the caves and the waterfalls. After much bargaining I still felt that the prices quoted were just too much for a basic half day tour. So I went around asking at some of the other tour agents around the city (and believe me there are so many) and the price range was all around the same, which exceeded my tight budget. The friendly elderly couple manning the guesthouse told me that I could just go to the boat pier myself the next morning and try to bargain a deal independently with the boat guys or songthaew drivers. That's what I thought I would do and went to sleep, exhausted after a long bus ride.

The next morning, I woke up, and I felt incredibly lazy and very rested. The very idea of bargaining seemed so tiresome. Even the mere thought of sitting in another crowded and bumpy songtheaw for a long journey made my bones ache a little. Then i went outside and the weather was simply wonderful, it was sunny, but not unbearably hot with a breeze in the air. So it took me all of 5 seconds to decide to forget all about the caves and the waterfall and just do what i enjoy doing best, which is taking aimless long walks.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made on that trip because after about an hour of walking out of the center, I suddenly realized that there wasn't another tourist to be seen. There weren't any western cafes or tour agents and what a relief it was! Even a cup of Lao coffee was so much cheaper! For the first time I truly felt like I was in Laos, not because of the absence of tourists but because of the absence of tourist culture. Plus, I was in Luang Prabang during peak tourist season and that could have contributed to the fact that there were moments I felt like I was in France and not in Laos because of the people around me. It is a beautiful city, like i said, but there were times when the whole place just seemed too damn touristy and yes, I'm aware of what a major hypocrite I sound like when i say this since who am I but another foreigner. But sometimes we travelers are often slightly selfish, are we not? We crave for original experiences untouched by the business of mass tourism, we often try so damn hard to get off the beaten track, we turn our noses down at things deemed 'too touristy' but it is us who are perpetuating all these in the first place. The irony of it all.

But I'm digressing on matters entirely out of my control. Back to the point, after a wonderful day spent walking about and exploring the city and its numerous, gorgeous Wats, I walked up the highest peak in Luang Prabang that evening, Phu Si Hill. Just in case it sounded impressive, let me tell you that Phu Si is only 100 meters high. There are steps leading to the peak, if I'm not mistaken it was about 300+ steps.

Halfway up

A temple halfway up

the same temple, in brighter light

pretty branches!

view from the top

Also from the top, but from the other side

Luang Prabang is so green

Multiple Buddha's for different days of the week


A cave with Buddha's footprint in it (you can see the toe indentations very clearly). Buddha apparently has very big feet as the footprint was about 1 meter long.



Another picture of Luang Prabang because I like the way it looks

Dragon lined stairs up to the peak from Buddha's footprint

And again. This time, gold dragons.





Night market during the day, just setting up