Saturday, January 21, 2012

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is ready to whisk you away from the dirty road and riverside poverty you witnessed on your journey to this French Colonial capital. The charming streets are well laid out along the Mekong and connecting rivers. Bursting bogunviallias and elegant, aging, two story buildings converted to cafes with rooms above line the streets near the river. The smell of fresh croissants tempt tourist for a European break during their South East Asian adventure. Sit at one of the riverside restaurants and eat a fresh, organic, green salad, and steamed fish. Luang Prabang's modern use is like a theme park of beauty waiting for European dollars to buy the pizza, the hand made bag, the died textile, and the over priced room. The formula has worked, and you can see the dollars circulating rapidly in this magical facade. I certainly gave them plenty of mine.

This post sounds cynical, but truthfully I enjoyed the city. I did all those beautifully indulgent things and took in a few temples for good measure. I drank wine, ate bread, pizza, mojitos, coffee cake, and gelato. I bought beautiful, cottage industry, hand made things from the night market. I peddled along the lanes on a vintage push bike taking in the flowers and the river scents. We ate giant baguette sandwiches on the sandy banks of the Mekong and watched monks tend organic gardens in the fertile soil. I bathed in the cool, green, calcium rich waterfall outside the city. Then the spell was broken and I boarded the night bus

Authentic when looked at through a modern anthropological context, the city juxtaposed to the rest of Laos hints at the difficulties in the post-colonial state. The city prospers on a tourist economy thanks to the French influence of beauty, food, and pleasure. These are hardly gifts of sustainable development. The bus ride to Vientiane, the modern capital, reveals a more true impression. It takes 13 hours to travel just 250 kilometers along rough paved roads over mountains and through dusty towns. Are the tourists suppose to be so charmed by the fresh baguette that we would look away from the poverty, the rotting infrastructure, and the con artists? I did not have the time or energy to discover the real story. I'll have to be satisfied with the glimpse for now.

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