Luang Prabang lament

By Kathy Wilhelm
This item appears on page 56 of the August 2014 issue.
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I read with interest Fred Steinberg’s piece “Stepping Back in Time on a 4-day Tour of Luang Prabang, Laos (June ’14, pg. 44). I have visited Luang Prabang three times, in 2002, 2004 and, most recently, 2011.

While Mr. Steinberg found the town small and laid back, I felt it had changed rather too much from the misty, magical city I fell in love with in 2002, and I may not return. Certainly, if you have not been, it would be a good idea to visit before it is even more overrun with tourists.

I was particularly sad to see that the tourists no longer observed a modest dress code. Also, they tended to overwhelm the monks on the morning alms round.

If you’re going to Laos, I would recommend, at least, stopping in the capital, Vientiane, if not taking a river trip (slow boat, not speedboat!) up the Nam Ou, or heading south to Champasak, a small town on the Mekong. It’s a base for visiting Wat Phu, one of the oldest Khmer religious sites.

Farther south are several islands, the largest of which is probably Don Không, where you also can stay.

I took a boat to Nong Khiaw (Green Pond) as part of an Intrepid tour in 2002. You can take a short trip to the Pak Ou caves and its thousands of Buddha statues, but if you keep going, you wind up in the heart of rural Laos, passing small villages, an occasional fisherman and some excellent scenery.

The flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang are expensive because of a lack of competition. A cheaper route is the night train from Bangkok to Vientiane and a flight (or bus) from there. See www.seat61.com/Laos.htm#Bangkok%20to%20Vientiane.

In 2004 and 2011, I rode a tuk-tuk from Nong Khai to the border rather than take the shuttle train.

Also, there are plenty of budget and mid-range accommodations in Luang Prabang. On my last trip, I stayed in a very nice room at the Villa Senesouk (Sakkarine Road, Luang Prabang, Laos; phone 071 212074), where nightly rates run $30 for a double to $90 for a suite; I chose an upgraded room. The villa is opposite Wat Sene,

I did not eat at any of the restaurants mentioned in the article. I would add recommendations for L’Eléphant, which has been open since before my first visit in 2002, as well as Les 3 Nagas, Tamarind and Dyen Sabai, which you can reach by crossing the Nam Khan River on a pedestrian bridge. 

If Saffron Coffee’s Saffron Espresso Caffè is still open, don’t miss their coffee and delicious lime and mango pie.

It is a measure of how touristy L.P. has become that all of the places I mentioned have websites except for the very laid-back café/restaurant on the far side of the river, and it has a Facebook page!

KATHY WILHELM

Cary, NC

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I read with interest Fred Steinberg’s piece “Stepping Back in Time on a 4-day Tour of Luang Prabang, Laos (June ’14, pg. 44). I have visited Luang Prabang three times, in 2002, 2004 and, most recently, 2011.

While Mr. Steinberg found the town small and laid back, I felt it had changed rather too much from the misty, magical city I fell in love with in 2002, and I may not return. Certainly, if you have not been, it would be a good idea to visit before it is even more overrun with tourists.

I was particularly sad to see that the tourists no longer observed a modest dress code. Also, they tended to overwhelm the monks on the morning alms round.

If you’re going to Laos, I would recommend, at least, stopping in the capital, Vientiane, if not taking a river trip (slow boat, not speedboat!) up the Nam Ou, or heading south to Champasak, a small town on the Mekong. It’s a base for visiting Wat Phu, one of the oldest Khmer religious sites.

Farther south are several islands, the largest of which is probably Don Không, where you also can stay.

I took a boat to Nong Khiaw (Green Pond) as part of an Intrepid tour in 2002. You can take a short trip to the Pak Ou caves and its thousands of Buddha statues, but if you keep going, you wind up in the heart of rural Laos, passing small villages, an occasional fisherman and some excellent scenery.

The flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang are expensive because of a lack of competition. A cheaper route is the night train from Bangkok to Vientiane and a flight (or bus) from there. See www.seat61.com/Laos.htm#Bangkok%20to%20Vientiane.

In 2004 and 2011, I rode a tuk-tuk from Nong Khai to the border rather than take the shuttle train.

Also, there are plenty of budget and mid-range accommodations in Luang Prabang. On my last trip, I stayed in a very nice room at the Villa Senesouk (Sakkarine Road, Luang Prabang, Laos; phone 071 212074), where nightly rates run $30 for a double to $90 for a suite; I chose an upgraded room. The villa is opposite Wat Sene,

I did not eat at any of the restaurants mentioned in the article. I would add recommendations for L’Eléphant, which has been open since before my first visit in 2002, as well as Les 3 Nagas, Tamarind and Dyen Sabai, which you can reach by crossing the Nam Khan River on a pedestrian bridge. 

If Saffron Coffee’s Saffron Espresso Caffè is still open, don’t miss their coffee and delicious lime and mango pie.

It is a measure of how touristy L.P. has become that all of the places I mentioned have websites except for the very laid-back café/restaurant on the far side of the river, and it has a Facebook page!

KATHY WILHELM

Cary, NC