18 February 2015

Settling in in Luang Prabang

Before I forget, here's an article from the Vientiane Times about the Elephant Festival.

I spent three nights and almost three full days in Luang Prabang. I could've stayed three weeks!

After checking into the guesthouse, I took a shower. It was during that shower that I figured out that the on-demand water heater is unable to keep up with the full volume put out by the piping, so you can have a cold shower at full flow or a warm shower at half flow. I chose warm. If I'd figured it out a day sooner, I could've had a warm shower in Sayabouli, too.

Walking into town, I stopped for a late lunch and a beer. Then, to familiarize myself with downtown Luang Prabang, I walked. And walked... occasionally stopping into a shop to look around.

LP's Night Market takes over their main street every night and features hundreds of individual vendors with a huge variety of products, most of which are Chinese-made crap. Sorting through the chaff to find the good stuff takes some doing and some knowledge. My first suggestion is to walk through once before stopping to look at anything. This will take 30 minutes or so and will allow you to see that many of the pieces you thought were locally-made are not. If more than one vendor has similar or identical items, pass them by... unless you need a new mass-produced in Việt Nam bag to carry your multitude of purchases home to Việt Nam.

One vendor I did stop to talk with had a product over which I almost cried and about which I will always feel heartbroken.

I do admire their attitude of making lemonade from lemons... I wish them well. They are, unfortunately, not the only vendors with these items. We dropped 2.5 MILLION TONS of bombs on Laos including over 270 million cluster bombs during the secret war we waged on them in the 60's and 70's, so these peaceful people have plenty of raw materials.

Though I didn't buy anything (and recommend you DO NOT USE an aluminum eating utensil of any kind), I did apologize for the atrocities suffered on their people by my country and donate 100,000 kip.

The next (first full) day I walked through town and visited six or seven of the Wats; a fraction of the total number found in the vicinity. The most difficult to access was Mt Phou Si and That Chomsi,

the top of which is reachable only via 328 steps (according to the guidebook; I didn't count them). It's a nice view from the top...

The temples were each, in their own way, impressive...

As was the temple at the National Museum.

Once they started to blur together, I headed for the cafés...

While in LP, I had a cup of tea and a small bite to eat at a number of places. Tangor Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge was by far and away my favorite. It's at 63/6 Ban Xiengmouane, Rue Sisvangvong, a copule blocks east of the National Museum on the opposite side of the street. My first visit I enjoyed the cerviche appetizer. The second day I spent a few hours sitting on the porch, writing for my blog, watching the world walk past, and occasionally chatting with those seated near me, some of whose names' escape me, so I'll forego mentioning any. I was completely blown away by Tandor's Goat Cheese Salad and ate two of the warm goat cheese rounds on sliced bagette topped with a slice of partially rehydrated sundried tomato before I remembered to take a photo for you.

When you go to LP, go to Tangor and order the Goat Cheese Salad. You will thank me!

As I walked from my guesthouse to town the first day, I stopped in a wonderful little shop called "Kōpnoï—made in Laos" (Phommathat Road, five doors in from the intersection of Phou Si Road) in which everything is fair trade and made in Laos. I was lucky to get away without buying out the whole shop. They have hand-made clothes, blankets, jewelry, pillows, handbags, and many other items on the ground floor and original artwork on the second floor. The two artists featured are very talented and I came within millimeters of purchasing a two meter long piece that would look great in the house I just rented. They ship internationally with DHL; I may yet own it.

I did purchase a set of four roof tiles painted by the same artist and they will look great framed and mounted on the wall.

Just around the corner from Kōpnoï on Phou Si Road is a gallery/studio of another talented Lao artist, Kok Po. This is the sign above his shop.

I found five wonderful pieces there and returned on my last day to purchase two of them. These photos don't do them justice, they're the best I can do with my iPhone.

In addition to the Old Bridge, there is a bamboo foot bridge crossing the Nam Khan and I recommend trying it. It's only 5,000 kip per person per day... keep your ticket for multiple same-day crossings.

A few more observations... the papayas, bananas, and watermelon I've had here are less sweet than the same fruits in Việt Nam. In Việt Nam, many people wear face masks to help filter out the pollution. Here, they are either not available or people cannot afford them because everyone I see who's trying to keep something out of his/her lungs is covering the mouth with a jacket or a sleeve or a hand.

People in both countries park their motos across the sidewalk blocking it so people have to walk around them or out into the street; they make a LOT of noise very early in the morning or very late at night; is "how do my actions affect others?" a question people in SE Asia ask themselves?

If you drink tea, bring a strainer with you. About 90% of the tea I've had here comes with the leaves still in the mug and it's a chore to dig them out.

When I come back to Laos, it will be to Luang Prabang. I will hang out at Tangor and eat Goat Cheese Salas every day. I will also find a way to have an occasional Satellite Burger.

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