Not long after Southeast Asia was sold as the ultimate, exotic adventure, it began to be derided as trashy and tourist-saturated. Those who have travelled further along the road – or at least been on the road for longer – sneer at the 18 year olds finding their spiritual self in Phi Phi, drinking mushroom shakes on Koh Phangan, and slurping milk fresh from the coconut while traipsing about the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. Despite the disdain, there is still much to be loved in this part of the world: the landscape is a photographer’s dream, it is of course cheap, and the locals are – at least at face value – some of the most welcoming and warm people that you will ever find. With careful planning and an adventurous spirit it is still possible to find places that are un-spoilt.
Luang Prabang is one such place. With its glorious natural scenery and Parisian architecture, there’s a plethora of spots in this Laotian town that will convince you that Southeast Asia is still worth travelling to. Below are three of the best.
- Like the Nile and the Ganges, the vast Mekong River is imbued with a mystique and grandeur that compels those confronted by it to gaze into its meandering sprawl. Luang Prabang is nestled in between the Mekong and its tributary the Nam Khan River. Boats run up and down the former all day long, and for not too much money at all travellers can hop on one of these– often with only a couple of other people – and head up the river. Ideal photo opportunities will present themselves at each turn of the Mekong and with the right gear – have a look at the selection offered here – alighting on the bank to embark upon a spontaneous trek is possible.
- Mount Phu Si (pronounced in a way that will make the more adolescent amongst us snigger) is the 150 metre high hillock situated in the centre of the town. Follow the winding stone steps up the mount and at the summit you will find a 360 degree view over the town. Through a lens you can look down upon numerous sparkling gold temples and in the distance the Luang Prabang Range that rings the town. It is recommended to climb up Phu Si at sunset, therefore to avoid the crowds it is better you ignore this tip and go at sunrise instead. At this time of the day most foreigners will be taking pictures of the monks receiving alms from benevolent backpackers, so it should be relatively quiet.
- The Nam Khan snakes over the North East side of the city and on the far side of the river you can imagine what Luang Prabang looked like before it became part of French Indochina in the middle of the 19th century. Renting a bike or on foot, you can wander about the winding dust roads, lined with little houses with open doors revealing smiling inhabitants. Children are playing everywhere and the women rock in chairs, embroidering and weaving. The nature is of a luscious green and the atmosphere tranquil. With not a backpack to be seen, this part of Luang Prabang more than any other will compel you to return home and pronounce the claim that Southeast Asia really is the ultimate, exotic adventure that it was once said to be.