1 It is a UNESCO heritage site.
The houses are really pretty and well kept, colourful bougainvillea and exotic trees to add a special touch. It is a charming town. Well kept, clean and with perfect pavements. It is known as the jewel of Indochina and the name is well deserved.
2 Fabulous food
I guess it is because of the French influence, but the food is just amazing. The best and most consistent I have eaten in Asia. OK, yes, by now I am a little tired of Asian fare and rate a Greek salad or a quiche as number one on my list. Even so my first night I had the most delicious fish with galangal. Menus have two parts, Asian food and international food. It is all excellent.
There are a number of temples which as you would expect, are all beautiful. The difference for me was that they were not crowded, only a few monks going about their business, children playing around a tree and a couple of westerners here and there. In the rest of Asia, temples are bustling with activity. Here it was peaceful. Bliss.
4 Physical activities
If you are so inclined there are plenty of activities available. The main road is filled with offices offering tours that range from kayaking, trekking and cooking to how to become a mahout. There is a gym and yoga. And when you have had enough, you can sit by the Mekong river and enjoy the vista. This is the perfect town to chill out and do nothing. And with stiches on my leg that is exactly what I am doing…
5 Caves and waterfall
The Pak Ou caves are OK I suppose, filled with Buddha statues rumoured to have been hidden here so they would not be destroyed. I enjoyed far more the journey on the boat to the cave. There are a few places that are evocative, instantly giving a sense of mystery, exoticism, adventure and times long past. I feel like that when I hear about the Congo, and the Mekong has the same effect. I was thrilled to be in the small boat thinking…”I am on the Mekong river…”
My son gave me a book for Christmas. I did not want anything that would add weight to my luggage and certainly not books. He insisted and wrote a few lines for me: “For the next leg of your travels here is one of my favourite books, not least of all because I see this story as one about travel as a religious experience”. I knew then that it was important where I start this book. Some of the hotel rooms I stay in are noisy or gloomy and I wanted to find somewhere deserving of so much thought. I have had the book in my suitcase for over two months now and never found the right moment. The day I set off for the Kuang Si waterfall I took it with me as I suspected this would be it. I was right. It was beautiful. I walked on the road and suddenly, out of nowhere, the main cascade was there. Lush green trees with purple flowers and the greenest of waters. I found some quiet space by the main lagoon and sat down. I have never read Somerset Maugham and here, in this perfect setting, I started reading The Painted Veil. After a while, I looked up and all the crowds had vanished, and for the briefest of moments had the bridge to myself…
6 Catch it while you can!
The town is perfect but for how long…
The vendors do not harass as they do in other places, in fact, for the most part, they leave you alone. A tuk tuk ride is $2, you can easily walk almost anywhere as it is a fairly small town but it is hot and it is easier to get one. Massages cost $5 though the parlours are quite basic and you may not be alone…I spotted a spider as big as my hand on the wall one day as I was getting up. I felt quite sorry for the French couple next to me who were just starting their massage and who were shrieking at the sight. I am not sure I could relax knowing that was lurking about…
Luang Prabang is what I imagined Siem Reap would be like and I fear that with time it might become as touristy. So get your passports ready and visit before that happens!