Another in our OBT series. The next stop on our roving retirement tour of Southeast Asia tour was the ancient town of Luang Prabang Laos. The entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site.
We arrived in Luang Prabang Laos after quite a roller coast flight. On the flight I read the complicated instructions on the barf bag, just in case).
Laos was colonized by the French and Luang Prabang is filled with typical French provincial buildings. The buildings are only two stories high and Laotians are committed to preserving. One of our group mentioned an app with all of the UNESCO sites and she was planning trips to see specific sites. I thought that was a great idea. As of today, I have visited 6% of the UNESCO world heritage sites. Keeping track of and seeing these places is now one of my personal goals.
Luang Prabang is a pretty interesting small town where the people are really sweet and everything moves on “island time”. There is a great night market where I finally bought a pair of loose, Lao-style pants. I’ve gone native, but it is totally necessary for this heat. We also walked through a street food alley packed with vendors and customers sitting down to eat. However, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the market food, even though I saw a whole roasted fish on a stick that looked really good.
We opted for restaurants deemed safe by our tour guide but the kitchens throughout Southeast Asia seem to run randomly. The dishes for our table of 10 consistently came out when they were ready. It could be 10 minutes or more between the first and the last dish. We got so tired of waiting for everyone to get their food, so we just got used to eating when our own food arrived.
Typical Lao food is fried meat with spicy sauce and papaya salad. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the mango sticky rice, a Southeast Asian specialty served with a sweet coconut sauce. I had been on the lookout for mango sticky rice since Bangkok. I finally tried it in Luang Prabang and I can tell you it lived up to the hype. Boy was that good. We also learned about sticky rice, which is different than steamed rice. Sticky rice is a type of rice grown in the mountains, it is usually purple, and arrives at the table in a small woven box. I thought it tasted the same as regular rice but it is stickier and you usually eat it with your fingers.
History and the Countryside
Laos is a communist country and no longer has a monarchy. But they do have a royal palace, which is preserved as a museum complete with the former kings’ 1950’s cars including an Edsel. The country is landlocked and relies heavily on the Mekong River. So, naturally, we had to take a boat ride up the river to see a cave filled with thousands of Buddha’s.
The boat ride was pleasant and the views of the mountains as we traveled upriver were amazing. We saw our first monkey at the cave and lots of little kids trying to sell us stuff. Mike went back to the boat first and he was the only one who saw some elephants from a sanctuary on the other side of the river taking an afternoon swim, and here is the picture to prove it. On the way back downriver we saw concrete evidence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in the form of a train bridge very high above the Mekong River.
The next day we went swimming at a beautiful spring-fed waterfall and some of us let the fish nibble our feet, you really didn’t have much choice. It was a little startling when the fish lunged at you and took a bite of what we all hoped was dry skin but one of the guys had a small divot on his leg. Mike took advantage of a waterfall massage and the fishy pedicure all at the same time.
That evening we saw the first of several traditional Thai dance performances. This night, the Royal Phalak-Phalam Laotian ballet performed a chapter of an old and famous Thai fairy tale and a Monkey dance with full face masks of demons and monkeys. The costumes and masks were beautiful and we actually saw the same demons back in Bangkok guarding the Grand Palace. However, I must admit though that after an hour, I had enough of the music and dancing.
Traditional Thai dance is more like fancy walking to a beat and women who can bend their fingers backward in a most unnatural manner. We were amazed at how far everyone’s fingers would bend back (or not). Our tour guide told us that all children learn traditional dance in school. The girls worked on bending their fingers back from primary school. That certainly explains their unusual digits.
What UNESCO World Heritage sites are you dying to see?