Luang Prabang I: Prelude and Hmong Market

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 02 Oct 2009


Main street, downtown Luang Prabang. Lunchtime, hot humid and quiet, low season for visitors – just the way I like it. Looks like any typical boring street, but on closer inspection, the old shophouses are French.
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But first thing’s first. Gotta get the local dough called ‘Kip’. Locals accept USD with gusto, but their exchange rate is poor. Instead of the normal 8,500 kips to the USD, most traders like to round down to 8,000 kips. Being shortchanged by 500 kips is painful, even if it’s only worth about RM0.20! We soon realise the Lao Kip is almost at par with the Indonesian Rupiah.
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In line with the World Heritage Status, even the humble ATM machine is dressed up appropriately. Thumbs up!
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With hundreds of thousands of kips bulging in my pocket, we stroll down the street and spot something interesting at a block of old shophouse.
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Yes, we’ve found ourselves halal chow. Local cash, and now halal stuff – great start, Luang Prabang!
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Next to the only halal eatery in town (possibly in the province too), I gawk at a major wat – Wat Mai – arguably the best-looking in Luang Prabang. Built late 18th century, it was the official temple of the royal family, and residence of Chief Monk of Laos. In Luang Prabang traditional style, it has 2 porches and a 5-tier roof.
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The elaborate Lao style roof in full glory.
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Of course, admiring the wat’s elegance is one thing, admiring local handicraft is another.
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Across Wat Mai, a small stall starts business as a sinh-clad lady looks on. The sinh skirt is a traditional Lao costume, and it’s interesting because it ends way above the ankle. Practical for walking along muddy and wet paths in the days of yore?
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Nearby, the library, housed in another old French building, is not exactly a popular spot, even on a hot early afternoon.
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I stand at a major junction in Luang Prabang old town, deserted on this hot early afternoon, with a fruit and shake seller my only company.
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A couple of schoolgirls amble past. Note the school uniform – sinh skirt and blouse, ancient and modern.
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A small lorry delivers a mean-looking PA system, with a bunch of hangers-on, and Beerlao, the ubiquitous local concoction made from rice, is everywhere.
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Luang Prabang is synonymous with monks, mainly young apprentices, and at any time of the day, small groups can be seen running errands.
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The old town of Luang Prabang has some 16,000 inhabitants, with the monks comprising almost 10% of it. Visitors like us not counted.
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Ma’am is busy at a stall in the Hmong Market, selling Hmong handicraft, what else?
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Bedspreads cum quilt covers, it’s amazing how the Hmong tribe can produce such exquisite craftmanship.
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Cute pillow-shaped ‘brooches’, smaller than the palm of a hand. Creative stuff.
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Still foraging for goodies as a modern Hmong lass looks on.
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Haggling no barrier, when a big calculator is around. Language not needed, just punch in your offer on the calculator. Everybody understands numbers, and the Lao Kip with so many zeros is no hindrance.
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Sorry, I’m enamoured with sinh skirts, this time worn with matching T-shirts. :D
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Meanwhile, a Hmong girl quarrels with dad and sulks on the pavement.
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[MORE TO COME …]

3 Responses to “Luang Prabang I: Prelude and Hmong Market”

  1. SMZ says:

    those pillow-shaped brooches are only thumb-size big, or rather small. You can easily arrange 10 of them in your palm.

  2. Miguel says:

    Great photos and commentary! Thanks for sharing. I’m heading to LP in December and really looking forward to it.

  3. naim says:

    Enjoy yourself, Miguel. Go now before the place is over-commercialised like Siem Reap. 🙂

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