Day 19 (3 Jan 2010): Jewel of the Mekong [Udomxai – Luang Prabang]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: Excellent

Distance covered today: 194km
Distance traveled from Guangzhou: 2,223km
Distance remaining to Singapore: 2,881km

Fact of the day: Luang Prabang was the royal capital of Laos until the Communist takeover in 1975.

Like the first two days of the new year, the third day would be spent on traveling. Comparatively, the traveling time for the day would be a relatively short at six hours.

Udomxai bus station

I saw the three Frenchmen who had been with me from Sapa; we were going separate ways as they were heading north towards Luang Namtha. However, the French exchange couple would be on the same bus as me (50,000 LAK, ~6hours).

To show the extent of Chinese influence in Udomxai, Chinese characters are visible everywhere there.

My destination

"Ten thousand Elephants"

Off we went on the minibus.

Scenery along the way

I would describe the journey as uneventful. The roads were in pretty good conditions and I couldn’t recall any roadblocks along the way until….

OH NO!

The minibus wobbled to a stop outside a village. Luang Prabang would be roughly 35km away.

The village

All the passengers disembarked and the driver was trying to fix the problem.

Driver trying to fix the problem

The male half of the French couple asked me about my opinion of the situation. I thought it was obvious that the axle had broke and it was unlikely that the driver could fix the problem on the spot. One of the locals had already hitched a ride with a group of motorcyclists who had rode past.

Not wasting anymore time, the French lad waved down the next van which passed us. The van driver agreed to take the five foreign tourists on board. Besides me and the French couple, there were a Swiss lady and yet another Frenchman. The Swiss lady remarked that of all the transportation that she had taken in Northern Laos, the minibus that we took was the newest-looking. However she didn’t expect that it would be the only one which let her down.

It didn’t take us long to unload our stuff from the minibus’s roof and hop on to our new ride. We also had to share our space with other co-passengers.

A bird:)

Our benefactor dropped us at the Northern Bus Terminal as his vehicle couldn’t enter the UNESCO Heritage Site area (if I didn’t guess wrongly what he meant). He didn’t ask for any payment and was genuinely glad to help us. Laos was a welcome change from Vietnam as the Lao people seem gentler and friendlier.

Near where I was dropped off

Reaching Luang Prabang (KM 2223) represented a milestone. I was already a week on the road and half way through my travel in terms of time. The toughest region to travel in (between Sapa & Luang Prabang) was behind me. A week ago I was still in chilly Guangzhou. In a week’s time I would be back in places familiar to me. Passing through places in my journey so far made me wonder about how much I would miss if I took a 3.5 hour back instead.

Finding places to stay in Luang Prabang wasn’t difficult; finding one to match the cost and quality of the one that I stayed in Udomxai was next to impossible though. It was the high season and there were enough tourists to match the prices. After looking at several, I settled for a room with a double bed and no attached toilet for 70,000 LAK.

Luang Prabang is an alluring little town with plenty of charm. Moving at a languid pace like the Mekong River which it sits on, the town exudes the class and sophistication which only royal capitals are capable of carrying off.

Shophouses along LP's main boulevard

Peaceful

Regardless of Lao-styled temples adorned with ornate carvings or French-styled villas designed with a touch of Lao influence, the buildings were all gorgeous under the setting sun.

Villa Santi - A luxury hotel now

Lao Temple

More temple

One of my fav photo

As in Sapa, the tourists most probably outnumbered the locals in January but there was hardly any hard-selling seen or heard. I took a walk along the main boulevard before strolling along the banks of Mekong.

Plaque proclaiming French support of LP as UNESCO Heritage Site

The mighty Mekong

I would end this post with Luang Prabang’s beautiful sunset over Mekong.

Beautiful Sunset

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