So frequently it happens that visiting a place which you had enjoyed many years before, you are disappointed when returning to find the masses have discovered your once much less trodden haven, sapping its former wonderful atmosphere and cultural authenticity.
Before returning to Luang Prabang recently I feared the worst after having read many comments online about how much things have changed. It’s about 10 years or so since my last visit, and I must say, that sure things are different but on the whole I still had an amazing time. The old part of town remains a sleepy slice of cultural heritage with pretty monasteries sprinkled amongst a fabulous mix of restored French colonial and traditional Lao architecture.
One of the most profound visible differences I found were the growing number of upscale boutique resorts occupying beautifully renovated old buildings, with classic luxury vehicles standing ready to ferry around well-heeled guests.
I’ve never been one to visit every tourist attraction out there, preferring to sit and enjoy some local food whilst soaking up the ambiance of a place – Luang Prabang is simply perfect for this. I wandered aimlessly through the temples just enjoying their spectacular beauty enveloped by the light scent of lingering frangipani.
Kids hunt for the healthiest of snacks in the quiet streets by using large bamboo poles to jab away at fruit hanging high in the treetops as monks drift by, their dazzling saffron robes adding vibrancy to the lush green surrounds. Of course, these days there are many new activities for visitors to get involved in, but the majority of these seem to be quite culturally complimentary with a definite ecological slant – the cooking school and weaving centre are two that immediately spring to mind.
While relaxing with a cool drink on the banks of the mighty Mekong or Nam Khan river, as the sun dips lazily towards the horizon, is the perfect way to end the day.
Possibly one of the most influential factors on how much you enjoy your stay is your choice of accommodation – I enjoyed being in a more local part of town, which was still just a short bike ride from all the action. Although Luang Prabang has definitely grown, and is a little more polished than it was 10 years ago, it remains one of the most charming outposts in Asia.