Friday, April 20, 2012

Chom Phet side of Luang Prabang

Steep climb up the main road in Xieng Mene village
Taking the boat across the Mekong as you have seen on the video is an experience by itself. Of course it would have helped if I had read my book completely, since it actually pointed me to the much larger ferry boat. Instead I was sitting with a bunch of locals and their chicken in a small wooden boat, which barely stood out of the water. 

Landing on the other side of Luang Prabang, in the village of Xieng Mene, I met some Dutch tourists who told me about the ferry they had taken with their bicycles. We all climbed up the steep hill passing small wooden houses and other locals who made their way back to their villages. 

Local house in Xieng Mene
What a difference this side of the river was! No beautiful UNESCO protected structures, fancy restaurants and souvenir shops, but the real Laos! No restaurants at all, when I visited. No shops either and no souvenir stalls. Just people living and following their daily tasks. There was also no real street once I passed the short paved way along the river. 

Local transportation of goods
From this side of the river one gets the best view of Luang Prabang, with the river in the front and the mountains in the background. In the morning it was still a bit foggy and they say in the books the best view is really in the afternoon. My reason to visit though were the local temples and I timed my visit, so I have the sunlight on the temples rather then on the opposite side of the river.

Sandbanks along the Mekong
I visited a total of 5 temples, when walking along the river. In the last temple I met a bunch of young girls who where all excited to learn that I can speak some Thai language. With the girls talking in Thai to me they explained some parts of the temple, we took photos of each other in front of the Buddha statue and then they offered to show me more temples "down that way". As always in Asia, distances or time it takes to get somewhere, does not really mean a lot (except in Singapore). So I followed them through the dense forest, thinking the temple would come soon but it actually was quite a walk. 

Different housing style from Luang Prabang
The temple they brought me to was really nice, specially in the forest setting it was located in. The girls also brought me back to their parents house along the river and I enjoyed some fresh fruit before heading back down the steep hill to the boats which brought me back across the Mekong river. 

There is a price tag attached to all of the above though. People here support their living with some income from tourists. It is not expensive in our value system, but it helps them a lot. 

Bamboo bridges
When I visited Luang Prabang the water level was already starting to get lower, so there are bamboo bridges crossing some of the sandbanks and rocks which sit in the river. Crossing those will cost as well and the time for the boat to leave depends on your appetite for a fresh beer or soft drink, which will be happily provided by the same people who own the boat! :-)

Luang Prabang in the morning mist

The Mekong at its best

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