Nestled in a viridescent valley reminiscent of a masterpiece painting, the ancient town of Luang Prabang is located in Northern Laos at the confluence of the Mekong river and the less imposing Nam Kahn river. The cobbled sidewalks embellished with a chevron pattern (be still my designer heart!) and an abundance of vegetation lining the streets; huge trees, their leaves swaying in the wind like lace, certainly added to the irrefutable charm of this picturesque town.
Luang Prabang was the former royal capital of Laos up until 1545 when the reigning king decided to move the administrative section to Vientiane (the present-day capital). Thanks in part to its wonderful blend of traditional and French-era colonial architecture, complete with crumbling flaxen homes topped with a mosaic of pretty tiles the color of cinnamon, Luang Prabang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as recently as 1995. Known for its royal palaces clinging to their former glory and no less than 33 wats (temples) dotting the townscape, centuries-old Luang Prabang continues to attract, and seduce, even the most seasoned travelers.
But it took me a while to appreciate this wickedly lovable town due to reasons completely out of my control: incessant heavy rains and unusually cold temperatures mostly kept me in my room seeking refuge (fully clothed) under my faithful blanket. Not expecting such unruly weather, I didn’t have the appropriate clothing to keep me sufficiently dry and comfortably warm. (I’m sure many vendors made more money during that time than the rest of the year as an inhabitual number of travelers purchased tacky “I BeerLao” sweatshirts to keep warm but I refused to sink to that level – *wink*).
Each day, I braved the dreadful weather to momentarily step out to eat (only because I HAD to if I wanted to stay alive) and, each day, I was teased with glimpses of Luang Prabang through a curtain of pouring rain. After grabbing a bite to eat and routinely trying to avoid a myriad of puddles, I rushed back to my damp sanctuary void of any source of heat. (Though I must say the guesthouse I stayed at was impeccable and the friendly owner was very accommodating).
Removing my wet clothes which clung to me like cellophane, my only consolation was knowing there was an endless supply of hot water. And so I took more showers than needed just to alleviate the numbness from my hands and feet. For 5 days straight, the sky was covered in a dull grey veil fit for an evil witch. Not wanting to miss out on visiting Luang Prabang, I stubbornly endured the dampness seeping through my bones and waited
patiently for the rain to pass. And it paid off.
As is often the case, after the seemingly endless rain the sun appeared and shown through white-ribbon clouds. *raises hands towards the sky in gratitude*
As soon as the sky cleared, I headed outside and just started walking, my heart racing with excitement. I marveled at how unbelievably pretty Luang Prabang was. Despite the array of restaurants with French and Italian banners and well-appointed shops many of which were owned by foreigners, the timeworn yet well-preserved exterior of each establishment made me feel like I had stepped back in time. Luang Prabang somehow managed to keep its authenticity in a way I’ve rarely seen in developing countries. The whole historical center brimmed with such vibrancy it was contagious!
With a ravenous curiosity that had built up over the course of almost a week, I wondered around aimlessly taking in everything around me. Luang Prabang was undisputedly one of the most photogenic places I had ever been to in South East Asia (alongside Hoi An in Vietnam)! I was so captivated by Luang Prabang that I walked with a permanent smile plastered on my face (I was by myself so I might’ve looked slightly nutty).
I was hopelessly enchanted at every turn and I anticipated with glee what lay ahead: a half-wilted bougainvillea tree, an inviting house adorned with cute blue shutters, an empty street overflowing with lush greenery, vintage floor tiles beckoning buyers to shops – my eyes couldn’t get enough!
I was drunk with delight.
I felt a sudden surge of happiness followed by a moment of contemplation; I found myself thinking I could actually live in this enchanting town. Tingles ran through my body, a rush of allegria. Perhaps it was the relief of finally stepping out into the sunshine after being cooped up for so long. Or perhaps…..
That was the day Luang Prabang cast a spell on me.
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