Luang Prabang - Part 1     Last Updated: 04-Nov-01 

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A smooth ride (with almost no traffic) brought us to a very easy check-in at Bangkok Airport (where we got marked with conspicuous stickers), and we swept right through immigration and customs. The airport was still quite empty. We found an Internet spot, and uploaded version 1.0 of Bangkok and checked email.

The security people once again did not bat an eye at our backpacks full of electronics, and we marched to the gate, where there were only four other people waiting, and no plane. We expected to see something like a Cessna 182, or else hear an announcement that they were going to drive us to Laos. They told us that it was time to board, and we descended the gate's stairs to a waiting van. Let me say that again: van. For the six of us. It drove all around the airport to a cluster of twin-prop ATRs, and dumped us into a colorful one. Inside, we saw that it could seat about 80, but there were only six of us. Shortly thereafter, a bus pulled up and belched out many more people. A flight, a cute meal, a landing in the middle of a plain, and they ushered the six labeled people onto one bus, and everyone else onto another. The airport was very cute, but they held us in an area with complimentary drinks, reading material, immigration people, and guards. We had no clue what was going on, but it did not bode well. We thought that they were holding us since we needed to get Loatian visas upon entry.

The VAN  Boarding the colorful airplane  80 seats for 6 of us? 
Thailand's  central planes, covered in water (fields and rivers)  Landing in land that is still very flat and wet 
Waiting Area 

After a bit, they politely had us reboard the bus, and took us back to the plane. Had we been rejected? "What was going on," we asked? It turned out that we were in Sukhotthai, Thailand, and still had another flight leg. Our passports had been examined because we were about to leave the country. OK. So, another flight, another cute meal, and a landing between many mountains, approaching above a town swarming with palm trees. This was what we expected for Luang Prabang. After getting the visas and passing through immigration, our hotel transfer guide met us. On the 10-minute ride to the hotel, he explained what we had already read in the books.

Finally getting into wooded mountainous area  And shortly before the landing we also see the Mekong River (seems we flew up the river valley since we couldn't see it from either side of the airplane) 
The river is app. 700 m above sea level, the mountains reach up to 2200 m  Parts of Luang Prabang  Old Town and Nam Khan River (Mekong behind)  

Villa Santi was the home of a Lao princess, and is now a precious boutique hotel. It has French Colonial character (Yolanda, you'd love it), and a gracious style. The beds are surrounded by mosquito netting (rather romantic, actually), and the airconditioner works when the power is on, which seems somewhat intermittent. (Older guide books caution that there is power only in the evenings, but that seems to be old information.)

Sign  Main Building  Second Building (we are in room 22) 
Entry Way  Main view (Scott holding a 10-Baht piece for reference)  Room with a view to backyard of the elementary school 
Sitting Area  Vanity  Bathroom - has all the basics, plus a gecko 

After freshening up, and making reservations for the "Royal Dinner" at Princess Restaurant in the hotel (cooked by the daughter of the ex-chef to the prior king). We set out to explore the town. Luang Prabang was the ancient capital of Laos before the current capital of Vientiane. It is a UNESCO Heritage site, and is considered by some to be the best preserved gem of SE Asia. It has many temples in various states of conservation, an active monastery, and a small, but growing tourist trade. Luang Prabang lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Nam Khan and the larger Mekong, both of which are within 150 meters of our hotel, one to the West and one to the East. Added to the active religious mix is a history of French occupation, which has left behind architecture, language, and baguettes.

We strolled along the Nam Khan, watching fishermen in long boats lay their drift nets out into the muddy river. The high point in the center of town is a hill called Phousi (but spelled in at least six ways that we've seen so far). We climbed along a seven naga stairway to various shrines and holy places. These included several Buddhas (one seated, one reclining), Buddha's huge footprint, a monastery (which charged us 8000 kip (about $1) to continue, and, at the top, a stupa and a sudden crowd of about 50 tourists from many nations. They were taking pictures of the sunset over the Mekong (and several of them doing it with their flashes going off).

Nam Khan - a tributary of the Mekong  Farms on the shores - flooded during the monsoon season  Laying fishing nets 
Reclining Buddha and Standing Roswitha  Naga on stairway to Wat Pa Ke  Another Naga 
Door Detail  Shooting the Nam Khan  Seated Buddha at Wat Pha Phoutthabat 
Nam Khan  Monks enjoying the View  Tourists enjoying the sunset 
Frangipani Blossoms  Recycled planters  Moss-covered walkway to Mt. Phousi 

Heading along the Mekong to our hotel, we passed through the night market, where (mostly) women were selling grilled meats (ALL the parts!), sautéed vegetables, and various rice objects. Past that was a residential area (people sprawled out watching the latest episode of Martial Law dubbed in Thai), a tuk-tuk fueling station, and a boat landing. We stopped for a refreshment at a riverside restaurant, and did some more window shopping of local handicrafts and the three or so shops along the way.

Fish on sticks  Small Fry  A Monk's education seems to include the Internet 

Luang Prabang Meals:

31 Oct.

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