Don’t miss this place. Laos’ former capital, nestled in the hills halfway up the country, is a Unesco World Heritage site. Several years back, when we were in Viet Nam, we visited Hoi An. The two towns share many characteristics. Both had been Regional capitals and had been major stops situated on important waterways. Hoi An died when the Mekong River decided to divert itself. LP went dormant when the Communists took over the country in 1975. Both cities share a longstanding affiliation with arts and handicrafts. And both cities experienced a renaissance thanks to UNESCO. Since 1995’s designation, traffic from tourism in Luang Prabang has increased dramatically.
Wood carvers, metal workers and chefs have rediscovered their chops (particularly the chefs)
and the generational hand downs of techniques and skills has resurfaced.
The town is shaped by two rivers, the Mekong and the Nagan, who confluate at the western end of town, creating a narrow peninsula.
As a former home to a French governing precinct, a plethora of beautiful French Colonial buildings line the boulevards. Some are private homes, used by residents for themselves or netted to guest houses and rented out to travelers. Other former administrative buildings and schools remain and have been repurposed as state government agencies.
There are also as many temples here as cacti in Tucson or criminals in Washington.
Monks, in traditional saffron coloured robes that I am just wild about, roam the street, serve in the temple and receive offerings from the local populace in the form of sticky rice, the national dish boiled with coconut milk and absolutely delicious.
The monks leave the various monasteries at 5AM and head to the streets where they silently promenade down the promenades. They walk in a slow and orderly fashion; not at all an alms race.
A two night, three day visit was planned. In retrospect, not nearly enough time to experience all that LP has to offer. Sharing a minivan into town with 6 other tourists, the van arrived in the town center, which was visibly recovering from the previous night’s New Year’s festivities. When all the other passengers disembarked, we were told to remain on board. I thought to myself, I guess that we’ve booked in the hoity-toity section of Luang Prabang. The driver got back in and drove us for what seemed an eternity away from the town’s main intersection. 15 minutes later we were jostling and bouncing our way along the first dirt road that Lori and I had seen since our arrival in Laos. I had booked ourselves into the Sunset Villa. When the van stopped, surrounded by half clothed children chasing their pet chickens, local mamas grilling what was probably yesterday’s house pet over charcoal, the local no goodniks sitting around the local saloon half toasted on BeerLao, I assumed the driver had made a mistake.
The freestanding, four bedroom building was part of a larger hotel/guesthouse.
The room itself was lovely.
Situated fifty meters from the banks of the Mekong,
swimming pool, floral loveliness, etc., we decided that the quaint loveliness of the hotel was enough of a positive offset from being a twenty five minute walk, or a ten minute ride by tuk tuk to where the action was.
I should have realized from the first omen that our assumption was nothing more than desperate blind optimism.
The S had fallen off the building’s main entry.
in much the way that the scrambled Fawlty Towers letters previewed the upcoming episode, I should have realized the the ‘unset Villa would have it’s own set of peccadillos.
|BeerLao cartons welcoming in the New Year|
Let’s start with the bar. There was none. A person can find BeerLao absolutely anywhere in Laos. Probably in kindergartens and prison lunchrooms. In fact, the beer is so prevalent, its containers form part of the national culture.
Unset Villas is, I believe, the only place in the country when no alcohol is served. Perhaps it is owned by the only Buddhist Mormans in Laos. We had eaten a late lunch and had taken an afternoon nap. We tried to nap for a few hours despite the unending pounding bass music emanating from a cafe full of drunks 100 meters up the pathway. We eschewed dinner and went to watch some telly. The television was probably located in the bar.
Lapsang Souchong is home to a curfew. All music and loud disturbances are supposed to end by 10:30 PM. Our neighbours across the dirt
had cranked up the music to a level that would have deafened Studio 54’s DJ. We figured that since it was 10:15, we would only have to endure another 15 minutes of noriega-esque audio torture. At 12 it was still blaring. At 12:30, pissed off and tired I went out to survey the situation. A dozen and a half drunken men and women were partying their asses off. When I motioned politely to turn down the sounds, the drunken leader of the pack showed an incredible level of compassion and respect by cranking the music up louder. I cranked up my voice to match the music and was slightly less conciliatory in my requests. Something like TURN THE FUCKING MUSIC DOWN!!. By now I was greeted by about 3 or four of the revellers. It was hard to count how many since they were unable to walk in a straight line and kept weaving back and forth. They became aggressive. My first thought was that I could probably handle three or so of these little people. But my mind then flashed to all the Jet Li and Bruce Lee movies I’d seen. Neither Bruce or Jet seemed much over five feet. OK- plan B. By now I was accompanied by the father of a family staying in our place. He let me know that the same situation had occurred the previous evening. Our minder from the hotel, Nun, a veteran of three months at the hotel, and a native Thai holding a work visa, was our interlocateur. He explained that the drunken Laotian have no regard for foreigners or anybody else, that they do what they want and get away with it. Nun had called his manager and was told that nothing could be done about the situation. I suggested the police be called. Nun was advised that the police only respond to issues in the center of town. One of the drunks was wearing military fatigues. Turns out that he was a Laotian soldier, at the party getting hammered in the company of his wife and two young children. Nun figured to give it a chance. The soldier replied that if Nun didn’t crawl back into the hotel, he’d call a few of his soldier buddies and arrange to have the Thai houseboy deported.The blare went on past two and I guess our neighbours eventually passed out.
By 8:00 the next morning I’d booked alternate accommodations. The manager came by to apologize and credited me the remaining two nights. Which was a good thing. I had originally planned a four day, three night stay. Lori wanted to get back to our Vientiane family a day early so our flight dates and hotel dates didn’t synch. I was trying to think up a way to weasel out of the extra night. Thanks to the voluntary cancelation the dirty work was done for me.
Stay tuned for part two of ‘Lovers in Luang’ tomorrow on these same stations.