Virtual meanderings

Simply Laos!

          I’ll start with something that seems obvious. Blog posts are never an accurate account of reality. When writing about a place or a happening one strives to bring out its essence – using whatever literary tools and talent one commands. This is a process of discriminating and stripping out details. Little wonder then that a picture “is worth a thousand words” – as it preserves much more. Yet, we’ve all taken pictures and everyone knows how often they pale in comparison to the real thing. The magic in the air is so not transferred into the pixels on the screen. Struggling to render the magic, well, you are back to words.

          Laos is one place where there does not seem to be anything exceptional…. Its mountains are not the tallest, its temples are not the most beautiful, its landmarks are not the awe of the world. Except that every non-exceptional detail combined makes the place absolutely captivating and unique. There is a word for this – “harmony”. Only when you are in Laos you will feel it. Photos simply can’t show you how everything just fits here.

      Being landlocked and somewhat isolated has been both the country’s curse and the country’s blessing. It is what helped the Lao people adapt so well to their environment without ruining it. It is what enabled them to develop and maintain a cultural tradition similar to their neighbors’, yet unmistakably distinct. It is what helped them integrate and add a distinct Lao flavor even to French colonial influence, rather than simply imitate it. Laos is a socialist country (still), but  – again – it is socialism “Lao style”, not some copycat imported version.

Luang Prabang - Lao Neo-Fauvism Exhibition

Luang Prabang - Lao Neo-Fauvism Exhibition

     It took the turbo-propeller under two hours to cover the distance between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang. If I’d gone by land, it would have perhaps taken me three days (mountainous terrain, multiple bus changes, etc.)

       Laos is truly a country with untouched beauty. And what better way to get introduced to it by flying over and landing in – of all places – Luang Prabang. From the air the second largest town of Laos looked more like a big village (a very nice big village, mind you). It was surrounded by spectacular green mountains, hills and rice fields. The weather was sunny, the sky was intensely blue. The town itself fit its environment perfectly– no pollution, no high-rise buildings, no ugly construction. Its streets – following the natural terrain and the curves of the two rivers. Greenery was everywhere. To complete the perfect sight some white cirrus clouds were passing by projecting their moving shadows over the terrain.

Luang Prabang Aerial View

Courtesy: (simply a perfect shot)

Laos - Luang Prabang Airport

Laos - Luang Prabang Airport

      When the plane stopped, we simply got down its staircase and walked up to the arrivals hall – plain and simple. Entry-visa was issued upon arrival ($30 to $40 depending on country, most visitors having to pay $35). There was also an extra $1 to pay “because it was Saturday.” I am not making this up. A note said that it was an overtime fee for the officers, who had to be working rather than having a well-deserved day off.

       The guy from the hostel was waiting for me at the exit, holding a cardboard sign with my name – and he’d spelled it all wrong. We jumped on the Lao version of a tuk-tuk and headed towards town. As we were nearing, I saw for the first time in my Asia trip the hammer and the sickle painted on the wall of a building – a clear sign that this was no Thailand or Cambodia anymore.

Some Government Building Some Government Building

        My “aerial” impressions from Luang Prabang were now fully confirmed on the ground. A very clean and relaxed place.

Luang Prabang Garbage Bin

Locals are serious about keeping it clean.

       People on the streets were minding their own business. It almost felt like a village in the French South – but with many more palm trees.

Luang Prabang Main Street - afternoon

Luang Prabang Main Street - afternoon

       Laos was once part of French Indochina and nothing reminds this clearer than the dozens of buildings preserved around town. In recent years as the country opened up for tourism the enterprising Lao people had renovated and converted many of those into family hotels welcoming the descendents of their former colonizers (and collecting their money this time around).

     Such a French-style house was the home of my hostel – Spicy Laos Luang Prabang. While it looked just like a house in a French village, the building, it turned out, had been originally a residence of one of the Lao princes, and was built in the 1920s. It was nationalized after the socialist revolution, and eventually became the home of a famous Lao physician, who had recently lent it to Spicy.

     My room was on the first floor. The walls had issues with moisture, unsurprisingly. Laos is no France – its climate is hot and wet. Traditional Lao houses are made of bamboo and provide a perfect environment for the climate. Ergo – the prince and the dignitaries had their high status homes, but I truly doubt that they were completely happy about it deep in their souls.

      Spicy Luang Prabang was more basic, but it had everything one needed – including a billiards table in the courtyard and a fridge with cold drinks. It was in the central area of the town and cost about $3 per night.

Luang Prabang 'Spicy' Hostel

Luang Prabang 'Spicy' Hostel - Random baby on the Pools table. Look, Ma - no shoes!

    The hostel also offered free wi-fi and Internet – unfortunately, the slowest Internet connection I have experienced in my life. To simply check one’s email one had to spend about half an hour. But, like most things in Laos, this seemingly bad situation actually had a big upside – the Internet room, which featured a nice wooden terrace with floor mattresses and tables, was the place to socialize, have a beer and chat with the other hostel guests.

     For what little I’d seen so far, I was already in love with Laos. Remember the opening paragraphs for this blog post – they are the key to everything Lao.

Luang Prabang_Main Street

Another shot at Luang Prabang Main Street (Sisavangvong Rd) - the beginning of it


2 responses to “Simply Laos!

  1. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

  2. Pingback: Calling abroad | China style « mastercopycat

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