The river washed away the humidity of the wet-season. A soft breeze drifted over the waters of the Mekong Delta, granting some relief from the heat. Our little wooden boat putted further and further upstream as a wall of green closed around us. Civilisation seemed far away.
Only that morning I’d been wandering the chaos of Saigon. Before dawn the bikes start their chorus of horns. Even at that hour the streets are busy, and the place simply bursts with energy. It is a city totally alive – and totally exhausting with its humidity.
The sun rose as the rain fell. I could hear the heavy drops as they danced across the hotel roof and onto the wooden verandah. Everywhere else lay hushed. The street outside the room was empty, and beyond it the Mekong rushed by.
At least, I think it was the Mekong. Luang Prabang lies on a sliver of land running between the meeting of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Our hotel, the Xiengthong Palace, was the last residence of the Lao royal family. It rests opposite the revered Buddhist monastery, Wat Xiengthong, away from the bustle of the town.
A walk along the street, around the bend, and one river became the other. Both large, both brown, both soon to be in flood, but the Mekong was far the larger. I never even learnt the name of our street. Everywhere I travel, I steep myself in the history the place, and learn all I can about everything I see; but Luang Prabang cast its spell even as I was in the plane. Continue Reading →
Without warning the rain tumbled from the sky. From the safety of the verandah I watched as fat drops danced across the garden onto the road. Squeals of laughter filled the air as people dashed for cover. In a matter of minutes the streets of Luang Prabang were deserted. Once the tropical rains begin, few venture outside.
It proved a bustle of activity in an otherwise sleepy town. I learnt this at the airport, which was new and bright and shiny. Resplendent in traditional Lao style, the multi-tiered roofs reach to the ground, while the so faa, or roof finials, stretch to the sky. From the plane the gold decorations sparkled amongst the verdant forest. The heat and humidity engulfed me as I stepped onto the tarmac, yet unlike many a tropical city, the air smelt sweet, and clean.
Flying across Australia is vast, and mostly brown, save for that initial stretch along the coast with endless sandy beaches and a sea stretching to the horizon. The contrast to the tiny mountain kingdom of Laos could not be greater.
This is a land where green mountains rise to the sky, their impossibly steep sides covered with verdant jungle, their valleys hidden by mist. Small patches of cultivation bravely defy the encroaching forest. Rivers and lakes twinkle in the distance. Little wonder then, that in 1353 Fa Ngum returned to Luang Prabang from exile at the Khmer capital of Angkor to establish his kingdom Lan Xang Hom Khao – The Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol.