Tales from the road: Luang Prabang
Sisavong Road seems to be the main street in Luang Prabang, Laos
Mid-afternoon traffic on Sisavong Road in the centre of Luang Prabang.  Most cafes and bakeries were located in this neighbourhood.
It was late afternoon by the time our boat reached Luang Prabang.  We could see a few brightly coloured stupas from some of the wats rising up above the trees and actual vehicles on the road at the tops of the riverbank.  Several dozen boats were tied in clusters along the bank.

As we pulled up to the shore, several men came down to help us with our packs and to get us across the plank out of the boat.  Getting the 20 meters up the riverbank must be a serious challenge in the height of the rainy season.  As our fellow passengers wandered off in a variety of directions, Carol and I headed out in search of the Heritage Guest House.  We found it on a quiet street about three blocks away, an old French colonial house, a small room with a hard bed (I think theyíre all hard beds in Laos), but a good hot shower for $10 US a night.

I had never heard of Luang Prabang until we started looking at overland routes from northern Thailand through Laos to Vietnam.  For several centuries the capital of the Lao kingdom (Lan Xang), the town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.  People back in Chiang Mai told us, "Oh itís just like Chiang Mai was 20 years ago."  In many ways they're right, but this town has much more.

There are virtually no cars here, and not many trucks.  Lots of tuk-tuks and motorbikes, but with only 16,000 residents, crossing the street is no longer hazardous.  Rush hour happens in the afternoon when school gets out and Sisavong Road fills up with bicycles.  The French colonial influence is very evident.  Luang Prabang has bakeries with baguettes, croissants, bagels and cheese!  Itís ironic that occupation by a distant colonial power should generate such charm.

The town is small enough that you can get most places just by walking.  A couple times we caught the sunset at the top of Phou Si hill, a lovely view, but sometimes crowded with tourists and a few young Buddhist monks looking to practice their English (or French).  Actually, it doesn't take many, thereís not a lot of room at the top.  Later, we would get together for dinner with some of the folks we had met on the slow boat from Huay Xai.  It was fun, establishing new friendships and planning a few excursions with people from all over.

A curious group of kids in Luang Prabang
Lao kids were friendly and easy going.  We found this crew playing a sandal-tossing game at Wat Thammo.
Staff at the Fresh and Healthy Bakery, also known as the Canadian Cafe. October 15 -- Any time you spend a few days (or months) in a place, you begin to develop favourite spots, places to hang out.  Often, and not intentionally, they're associated with comfort foods.  In Bangkok it was the woman who made banana pancakes on the corner down the street from our hotel, in Chiang Mai it was the woman on Thanon Loi Kroh a few blocks west of the Night Bazaar who made these yummy smooth fruit shakes with yogurt, a mid-afternoon treat.

Here in Luang Prabang, our favourite spot is the Canadian Café, about two blocks from our guesthouse.  Itís become our breakfast hangout, the best thick, rich yogurt with fruit and granola, a bagel with egg and ham and cheese, and big dark cups of coffee.  It's apparently owned by a Canadian from B.C. but the staff are all Laotian.  Yesterday when we dropped in they were playing a Sara McLachlan CD.  Every day they teach me a new phrase in Lao.  Today it was "Pop khon mai" which means "See you later".

The Canadian Café, by the way, is also known as the Fresh and Healthy Bakery.

This afternoon we took a tuk-tuk out to the Kuang Xi Waterfall, about 30 kilometers southwest of town.  It was good to get back out into the countryside and up into the mountains.  On the way out we passed dozens of kids walking or biking home from school.  Coming back at sunset we met people hauling home bundles of firewood, or baskets of goods from a nearby market.  There were almost always people along the roadside.  Again I feel a little overwhelmed by all the great photo ops, and worry a bit that I wonít have enough film to get through Vietnam and Cambodia.

The waterfall was multi-tiered and quite beautiful, with little pools for swimming, but they were all occupied, so we just hiked around and explored.  We found a tiger (Phet, rescued three years ago from a poacher) in a dark corner of her pen and hard to photograph.  Our friend Germaine got some wonderful tiger photographs when she was out there last week.

On our way out we met Nikone, a 19 year old local woman who ran a little thatch-roofed roadside café.  Her English was pretty good.  Nikone came from a nearby village that still didnít have electricity, and getting to high school in Luang Prabang had meant an hour long bicycle trip each way.  She said she's turned down a numbers of marriage proposals, as she wanted to establish a career in Luang Prabang as a guide.  In the meantime, she was running a tasty little café and managing to get into town about once a week to check her e-mail.
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Here's the staff at the Canadian Café in Luang Prabang:  Jenny, Teep, Outh (the manager) and Noi.  Besides a great breakfast, they taught us new phrases in Lao each day.
The Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang, Laos
The Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang, seen from the top of Phou Si Hill.

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