I'm in Luang Prabang and had a few questions:
1) The night market here seems to be a higher caliber than the ones in Chiang Mai I've seen, but it also seems really expensive. The larger woven blankets seemed to be about $55 USD, and the beautiful wooden bowls/platters were about $25USD. For the wooden tableware I could probably get that at that price in America - am I missing something?
2) I am both simultaneously enchanted by this city and repulsed that it seems to exist solely for tourism. I've been disgusted with the number of tourists walking around sticking their cameras in the monks faces as they do their ceremonies. Also, I can't walk 10 feet without a tuk tuk driver asking me if I want to go to a waterfall. It seems like every single person I see is in the tourism industry and it makes me feel like the city's primary purpose is to be a tourist destination instead of being a city in its own right that happens to have tourists. Does anyone else know what I mean about that?
3) I'm trying to figure out what else to do here - I've walked all around the city and seen lots and enjoyed that a great deal. Now, when I think about the rest of my time in Laos I'm conflicted because every place that seems to be a go-to destination I've also heard people say that its not really worth it. Phonsaven (plain of jars), I've heard, is fantastic for an hour or so and then very repetitive (and its 8 hours there and back). Vientien I've heard is just not that interesting of a city. I'd be very into doing that 7km cave boat trip, but that seems far away from everything. I've done trekking and all of that in Thailand so I'm not in need of kayaking or hiking - are there more cultural things to do that I'm not aware of? It seems silly to spend a few days in Luang Prabang and then leave Laos.
Thanks all! Really appreciate the help.
#1 TheNewGuy8 has been a member since 8/9/2010. Posts: 35
De gustibus non est disputandum.
"I am both simultaneously enchanted by this city and repulsed that it seems to exist solely for tourism". "it makes me feel like the city's primary purpose is to be a tourist destination instead of being a city in its own right"
Yet you are one of the tourists. There are a lot of Laos that live there, including monks. The monks are not there for tourists, they are there because of the temples.
I assume you visited the temples. Did you look at the Palace, the French colonial architecture, the small craft shops? Did you take a trip down the Mekong?
"The night market here seems to be a higher caliber than the ones in Chiang Mai"
Interesting; I have always thought the night market to be somewhat tacky. I know others like it, but it appears to have a lot of Chinese tat for sale.
" Phonsaven (plain of jars), I've heard, is fantastic for an hour or so and then very repetitive."
I love the POJ and am planning to go back again shortly. If you are remotely interested in history and culture, it is definitely worth a visit.
"Vientien (sic) I've heard is just not that interesting of a city."
I have lived in Vientiane for 5 years now and am not bored yet. There is a lot to see and do, and the food is excellent.
Do not listen to what "others" have to say. Surely you can make up your own mind. As I said in my opening, taste is not a matter to be argued about. Personally I find Disneyland incredibly boring, yet some people love it.
I guess it depends on what is interesting for you. I am sure my friend Mac on this site would agree with you, just as I would probably find a number of his choices of travel destinations boring.
1. A high-class of tourists means high prices at the night market. I'm sure you're already bargaining, but I found I got slightly better prices by going early when they were just setting up. For things like Beer Lao tshirts, souvenir tea, etc. the prices in Vientiane are much better.
2. Agree 110%. It was like that when I was there 4 years ago, and it was even worse when I was there in February this year. The more UNESCO World Heritage Sites I visit the more I feel that this status turns a place into a white-washed tourist destination, removing the culture that made it deserving of the status in the first place.
3. The easiest thing to do from Luang Prabang would be to head north -- Nong Khiaow are Muang Ngoi really pretty pretty, laid-back places, but more for kayaking/trekking than cultural experiences, though trekking to a Lao village would definitely be a cultural experience. Though they're set up for tourism, they're nothing like Luang Prabang.If time isn't an issue, you can continue north from there to really isolated towns where you're sure to get a more authentically Lao experience.
Have you considered volunteering somewhere? Pick up a copy of the "Stay Another Day" guide which should have some interesting suggestions.
Thanks for the response Rufus.
I don't at all begrudge LPB for the tourism - as you point out obviously I myself am a tourist here and engaging in that part of the city. But my larger point was that (and you rightly mention aside from the temples) from what I've seen the vast majority of the activities taking place in the city are solely for tourism. There does not seem to be much independent business between the Lao people here. In the ways that Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai or other towns in Thailand obviously had lots of tourism services but also had lots of local activities taking place that had nothing to do with tourists. In Chiang Mai I felt like a tourist in a city that clearly catered to me but was not solely in existence for me. Does that make sense?
Yes, the night market is tacky (especially the 2nd time through, as I saw last night - I'll never understand these markets where every 3rd stall sells the same t shirts or bags or scarves as the one before it). That said, I was just indicating that the goods sold seemed to be of a higher quality than most of the cheap dreck that I saw in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (obviously there are exceptions).
Good to know your perspectives on PoJ and Vientiane. I understand your point about drawing your own conclusions, but when travelling that's not a luxury most people have. I can't go everywhere and decide for myself what is worth seeing and what isn't. I need to read and listen to others' experiences and decide what i want to give a shot. So I value every opinion i get, and make my decisions from there.
#4 TheNewGuy8 has been a member since 8/9/2010. Posts: 35
from what I've seen the vast majority of the activities taking place in the city are solely for tourism.
on this site http://hobomaps.com there are 4 maps for LPB.
most tourists spend most of their time in the area covered by this map:
compare the area covered by the above map to these:
in short, there's a lot more to LPB town than just the tourist areas. & tourist areas are naturally full of stuff catering/linked to tourists & the tourism industry.
In the ways that Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai or other towns in Thailand obviously had lots of tourism services but also had lots of local activities taking place that had nothing to do with tourists.
CM & CR were already cities before tourism took off there. they had other industries & trade links. 'pre-tourism' LPB was far from a city on the same scale as 'pre-tourism' CM e.g. in 1997 some major roads in LPB town were still unpaved.
night market prices - for some items, it's cos the stuff is handmade e.g. for textiles - pure silk/cotton instead of synthetics, hand dyed using natural dyes instead of chemical dyes, handwoven instead of machine spun, hand embroidered instead of computer-controlled machine embroidered (have helped out in such a factory before ). Laos still doesn't have a manufacturing industry to match that of Thailand, Vietnam or China. when it does perhaps LPB night market will have a lot more of the factory mass produced items like the CM night market.
for CM & CR night markets quite a bit of the handmade 'ethnic handicrafts' (or just the parts of them that required the most craft work) come from Burma where labour costs are lower. won't be surprised if some of the mass produced stuff also comes from Thai factories staffed by illegal (read: underpaid) Burmese labour. maybe that is one reason why things are cheaper there?
also, costs of various things are higher in Laos than in Thailand, cos many things (incl fuel) have to be imported (via a transport network that is still relatively slow with less-than-ideal infrastructure), & inflation can be quite high. Lao people in Vientiane find it cheaper to cross the border to buy stuff like university uniforms at the hypermarket in Nong Khai.
For something cultural you might try taking a Lao cooking class which could be fun and have future benefit when back home. The Tum Tum cooking school is on the Hobo Map and has been there for a while so it must be reputable.
#6 LaoNow has been a member since 14/5/2010. Posts: 38
I spent a few days in LP at the end of the slow boat trip in early 2009. Sure it attracts tourists but that doesn't detract from the intrinsic beauty of the city. I live in Sydney so enough said. I have visited a number of UNESCO sites in recent years and agree that many are cashing in on their nominations. Some so much so that I ask this question. Does money change hands to obtain a nomination?
We chilled out after the slow boat trip. Visited the waterfalls and were privileged and surprised to see the Tat Kuang Si Asiatic Bear Sanctuary at feeding time. So little publicity and so brilliant a set up. We also spent a day at Big Brother Mouse talking with young Laos people. Another worthwhile experience. So enjoy LP for what it is - tourists and all
#7 robmacca has been a member since 16/7/2009. Posts: 27
Tourists are a funny bunch. Many seem to enjoy huddling together in relatively small areas. So it seemed to me in Luang Prabang . The area very close to the night market was packed. However, it was surprisingly easy to find places of relative solitude - even further up main street, or on the streets overlooking the rivers. Further out than that and very few tourists.
I have to agree on New Guy's take on the tourists showing no respect for the monks, though. We got up at dawn to make our way to the main street. We had seen the signs to not get too close and to not stick your cameras in the monks faces. On our cycle ride in the dark through town, we saw a small number of monks receiving alms from old ladies. We stayed a good distance away. At main street, though, all hell seemed to break loose and many tourists (predominantly Asian) seemed to have no qualms about photographing from a couple of feet, or touching the monks to stop them. One guy set up his camera to film himself doing some stupid dance with the monks passing a couple of feet away (Is this some sort of YouTube thing ???). We found the whole experience rather depressing; the monks we were told were considering leaving Luang Prabang because of this daily spectacle. Tourism at its worst.