Packed into a car with eight other people and a driver resembling a crazy midget from a Monty Python movie we headed through the lush jungle mountains of Laos towards a Unesco World Heritage Site: Luang Prabang. Staggering cliff edges- tremendous heights- roads resembling wet card- board and the looming danger of tigers in the jungle made for an interesting and uncomfortable six hour drive. Lonely Planet states Luang Prabang as a “Shangri La” and possibly the best city in South East Asia due to its somewhat perfect nature: I beg to differ.
Luang Prabang sits comfortably on the ‘The Giver of Life’: The Mekong River. With its French- style houses from French rule and the old Laos Kingdom Palace that sits at the heart of the city it makes for a beautiful place.
We arrived in the city in time for the boat festival. Once a year colorful home- made boats are paraded through the streets to a Buddhist Temple. They are lit up with hundreds of candles illuminating the streets with the many somewhat dangerous fireworks exploding around you. It’s a colorful parade and one that brings the people of Laos out for their favorite past- time; karaoke.
Luang Prabang has a great night market that mostly has goods imported from China. There are also products such as paintings and fabric works from local orphanages and villages. They line the main street from 5. 30pm-9. 30pm with their red stalls and colorful paper lanterns lighting the roads. The majority of prices are somewhat inflated contrary to what Lonely Planet states and the same products can be bought much cheaper in neighboring countries. I believe this is due to the sellers seeing the wealth that comes to Luang Prabang and pushing for that extra dollar.
However behind the fancy exterior the poorer surroundings and the true nature of Lao being one of the poorest countries in the world shines through. Yes it’s a beautiful place; but for a place to be a “Shangri La” its people have to happy and comfortable with the ‘perfect’ world they have. The majority of the native people of Luang Prabang are extremely poor.
This was highlighted when we met up with an Australian- Andrew B one morning. Andrew runs Lotus Villas in Luang Prabang yet supports Luang Prabang Deak Kum PaOrphanage. He began supporting Luang Prabang Orphanage in 2009 when it only had 50 children. Two years later it now has 500+ orphans and there’s are still 1000 orphans in Luang Prabang Province yet the orphanage is full.
We visited the orphanage and here’s a short summary:
-The children live in rooms of up to 50+ more children lying on wooden bunkers
-They have a diet of eggs- rice and vegetables
-There is an on sight school with 40 teachers for the 500+ children
-All the boys share one bath and all the girls share one bath
-They are all educated as if they are not educated they never leave the orphanage
-There is an on-sight nurse
-On weekends the children cook for themselves- even the six year olds (they always make rice) in dangerous conditions
Always in need of donations you can donate at the link below knowing that 100% of your donation will do directly to the orphanage.
To summarise Luang Prabang is a pretty little city perched on the Mekong River. But nothing more; there are far nicer cities throughout Indonesia for it to be the best city in South East Asia.
The best thing about Luang Prabang was the all you can eat buffet of local dishes for $1 at the food market. It was always full of tourists and made for a unique experience.
A nice weekend away- nothing more- nothing less.
By Andrew Greenlees