We had breakfast across the road above the banks of the Nam Khan river, then strolled to the end of the peninsula for our first site of the Mekong in Laos. I was very surprised to discover the streets were narrow and neat and clean, for all the world like a prosperous Sydney suburb, and the peninsula itself is very small in scale. It began to dawn on me that Luang Prabang is not quite as exotic as I expected it would be!
We checked out Wat Xieng Thong, a very nice Buddhist temple area, and another wat nearby, and as we strolled down the main street, and the shops, bakeries, restaurants and bars began to proliferate, it became obvious that this part of Luang Prabang is like Hoi An in Vietnam: a slightly Disneyfied tourist area. Which, I must admit, was disappointing, and contrary to everything I’d read about it. I don’t travel to foreign lands to be surrounded by shops and restaurants that cater to me, or be in places surrounded by other tourists, and it’s a shame to see such places becoming more and more common. Still, I can completely understand the desire of locals to keep all the tourists in one area where they can be contained, overcharged, and where they don’t bother people trying to go about their day-to-day lives!
We stumbled across the office for the Elephant Conservation Centre that we had been researching, and with the help of two young French staff, booked a two night stay there. We’re both really looking forward to that. We get to help elephants work towards being released back into the wild, and hopefully spend some time relatively near them. It was very important to us they we don’t give any money to any organisation that keeps elephants for the amusement of tourists.
We had lunch at a nice restaurant called Bamboo Tree, and then returned to our room for a rest.
Just before sunset we headed out again and climbed 300 steps to the summit of Phu Si, the hill in the centre of town, to watch the sun set with a scrum of other tourists. Note to self: avoid well-known sunset spots. Back on street level, a big chunk of the main street was suddenly packed with about a kilometre of floor-level stalls selling tourist pap. We weaved our way through this and found a street-side bar where we could have a drink, but not only was it stupidly over-priced, but they charged me for two beers (with a small discount), when the glass they gave me for the first beer broke.
Annoyed and frustrated with the tourist fakery, we returned to our hotel, which is up the quiet end of the peninsula, and had dinner on the riverfront. We’re trying to plan the rest of our trip, but we’re a bit stymied by our limited time and the fact that overland travel is difficult and time-consuming in Laos. Hopefully we can discover some of the real Laos in the next few days.