Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Three-Day Nostalgia at Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, more than anything, feels a lot like home. It was strange that the city felt so familiar despite me being there for the first time. No, it wasn't deja vu, rather, the atmosphere almost completely resembled that of the city I grew in. Low land-to-human population, lots of trees, fresh air, having a small town feel despite being called a city, residents practicing a narrowed down lifestyle, good food, and the slow-laid-back pace is how I would sum up my observation after staying there for three days...or was it four? 

Although the view is without doubt miles better than my hometown; but if I closed my eyes, breathed the air and heard the gecko in the background, I could mistake the moment as being back home, aimlessly waiting for dinner to be served. Yep, it's the perfect contrast of a metropolitan life─the haven of those wanting to sit back and respite from any stress-related thoughts. Because how can you possibly think of work when you're hugged by sloping mountains and serenaded by happy chirps!? In a city two thousand kilometers away from home, I found my sanctuary. 

This is the recurring view around the city, orange tiled roofs below
and sloping mountain ranges out the distance. I witnessed one of the
best sunsets at this spot. It was right before sunset when I took the photo.

Taken on top of Mount Phousi. An easy climb up the stairs where a golden stupa
awaits at the top, and you will also get to see a 360 degree view of the city.
That's the legendary Mekong River on the left side of the screen.

One of the things we tried to make sure when we planned our Indochina trip was to include Laos in the list. The country is very much underrated because of her neighbors' booming tourism, thus often overlooked from the itinerary. I've seen posts of friends travelling all over Asia, but none seem to have bothered to go to Laos, and it is exactly because of that, that I needed to go─I could be the first in my circle of friends to go there! I wanted the mysteriousness of it all; the anonymity of expectations fueled the urge to get there. Plus, learning that that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Center made the idea only better. 

What can I say after three days? If Philippines could have a twin country, I'd vote Laos to play the part. Although the guide says they are mostly animists─what we were before we got endlessly colonized, that feeling of respect in nature could still be found in rural areas of the country. Food-wise, it's like Pinoy stir fried and saucy dishes, except that they love theirs covered in chili and lots-en-lots-en-lots of cilantro. Like seriously, I was practically on a look out for any food without cilantro on the third day. Imagine: batchoy with cilantro, pancit canton with cilantro, beef steak with cilantro, chopsuey with get the picture. Their sticky rice is something to look forward to─and their noodle soup, urgh, so good. 

Tucked in a small alley, this place offers a one-time-fill-your-plate-to-your-desire
feast for only 25,000 kip per person (roughly around Php150 only!) 

This is a delicious streetfood noodle soup that resembles a pho.
You can add as much mint. basil, chili, spring onions or cilantro as you want.

Iced coffee on the left, a bunch of street food in the center (roasted sweet potato,
sesame buchi-like bread, mushroom and vermicelli empanada and bread stuffed
with mushed up sweet potato,) and the last photo is proof that they do practice drinking
cola out of a plastic-bag-straw-combo and not just us Pinoys. They made it even
more interesting because they have handles and ice cubes in the bag. Sosyal!

Another thing, the sari-sari store thing...they have it here...only that they offer
Mars, Snickers, Ritz, Oreos and Pringles. Oh so sosyal!

One must-see "attraction" is the monks' morning ritual of going around the city with them carrying containers where residents could put in offerings in form of food then they in turn receive blessings from the monk. I heard tourists would flock in an area where one of the big monasteries is located, taking close up pictures right at the faces of the monks who are in meditation...which is kinda rude if you ask me. This scene can be witnessed every morning where there are Buddhist monks though (also saw one in Bangkok,) and that is because it's the only meal they get to eat for the day, I read. Lines of orange robed holy men always makes for a good photography composition and subject. Most of the photos I took were blurred though─GRRR!

The monks' morning ritual of going about the city to receive food offerings.

Haw Pha Bang, located right beside the Royal Place.

This is where I saw young monks eating their breakfast and being schooled as well.

Wat Aham, one of the places I randomly came across one morning while walking alone.

The city boasts of old tiled roof buildings that look really pretty from most angles. It came to a great shock when I realized that Luang Prabang is presently the capital city of Laos because it really felt more of an old capital compared to other progressive capital cities I've been to. It's like a city halt back in time, and it wasn't entirely a bad thing. In fact, it gave it a charm that helped me find a sense of place. The roads weren't made of cobble stones, it was wide, flat, and almost entirely car-free─you can nap on one lane of the road and not worry about causing a traffic jam. There you will also see a lot of small temples and stupas scattered throughout the city, if not made of concrete is covered in gold.

Walking around the city center is encouraged because it's very safe and as Filipinos, we can easily blend in as locals. I realized that when they kept conversing with me in their dialect (I was many times in confusion trying to decipher the English they were saying only to realize that they were speaking Lao!) and a lot of encounters insisted that I look like a local. Some lady vendors couldn't help but ask where we were from and was amused when I said I came from the Philippines. They replied with amazement because apparently we are rare tourists around their area, in fact we never encountered any Filipino tourists there, just one Pinoy who worked there as a teacher and was on a field trip with his students at Kuang Si Falls. 

This is the shot that reminded me so much of La Carlota...I don't know why.

One of the streets where old cafes and souvenir shops align...kinda reminds
me of Vigan, less the cobble stones.

Right along Sisavangvong Road, the red car out front seem more like a mascot
as I've seen other photos of it still just parked there, unmoving. This is a guesthouse,
I'm only guessing more expensive than others.

A nice pretty alley that looks so nostalgic...I could have stared at it a little
longer if my companions weren't so far ahead of me.

They have a night market specially catered to tourists. Lots of souvenir items being sold, and you can even haggle for better bargains. They sell from local stuff to some imported ones from Thailand. Night markets close pretty early though, but some food stalls linger on for that street food fix. My only concern is that they have this thing wherein they don't use gloves or utensils to prepare your food, they use their bare hands...and it's something to ponder on especially when you see it being done in front of you. I'm speaking of sandwiches being handled by the same bare hands that is used for holding money. 

Another view of Haw Pha Bang, the colorful tents below are those
of the merchants of the night market. It clears out by day.

Some of the items they sell. There are mostly elephant designs in their patterns.

The street food I was talking about. I ate the cheese crepe on the upper left,
while my friend ate the sandwich on the upper right. They mostly have imported
ingredients for their cooking, mostly from Thailand.

Scorpion wine and cobra wine...would have bought one for my brother, but since
we had two more countries to get to, I opted to pass the occasion.

I really really really wanted the lamp...especially the one with pressed flowers,
but I also gave it up for the same reason I passed from the wines. It's a really
beautiful idea though, and the warm effect makes it perfect for a patio. 

One of my biggest frustrations was getting my period during our stay there, thus being unable to dip in the pools of the Kuang Si Falls. When you traveled thousands of kilometers away to get to a place of beauty, where the waters flows in hues of cool aqua, and you find yourself having bloody hormonal issues then it becomes a bitter experience. And it is because of not getting to submerge myself in the cold rivers of a cascading Kuang Si that I swore to be back someday...some day. Plus I really loved my days spent there as I wrote an ode of having seen one of the best sunsets on top of Mount Phousi─EVER.

Kuang Si Falls...I shall be back for you. Some day.

We stayed at the Chan Savang Homestay, a real comfortable home with warm
hosts. It's actually an old house-turned-inn, and that is some major plus points
to those wanting to experience the local vibes. I recommend this place for the
location (right beside Mount Phousi) and for every other good reason.

I was walking along some street alone the second morning, exploring the city on
my own, when I saw the sun rising behind the old ramshackle house. That was
one of the more memorable moments I had on the trip.

This was kinda epic...I kinda wish it was me there...but these people never left
the spot, so...WHATEVER!