Truly a beautiful place, with a serene atmosphere. Apparently it was peak season, but even then it felt like there was really no-one around compared to all the other touristy towns I have been in. My mood was helped a lot by getting in my morning exercise and meditation, then getting up early to wander the main street and see the incredibly photogenic old town and wats (temples), then on to the river, and vegetable gardens. And later on to the markets etc. The combination of French colonial and buddhist-inspired Laos architecture set amongst a spacious and tuk-tuk free town centre was quite enchanting.
In the evening I climbed atop the hill in the centre of town to watch the sun set with other sun-worshipping tourists (many of them Australian). I say sun-worshipping because it was remarkably similar to a religious ceremony. Dozens of people, crowded closely, holding and staring at objects above their head, then drawing the object down to look closely at it. I wasn’t the only one who thought it was funny, or thought it even funnier when most people left before the sunset actually started to get really good.
A delicious evening meal at the night markets, good nights sleep, meditation and exercise then indulgent (expensive) bowl of muesli and yoghurt for breakfast followed. The muesli was a bit disappointing, so I stopped at a street stall for a local omelette, which once again proved the locals eat where they do for good reasons. The real highlight of this day was exploring the two cultural exhibitions which should have really been my first port of call. One, led by a French couple who seem to be driving much of the town’s sustainable development (and who own one of the fancier bars and bookshop), was an amazing example of how to educate tourists and ensure they have a great time. It contained exhibits and advice on everything from local customs, to food, to how to choose products that are really made in pre-industrial Laos (not factories in China, or Thailand). The second cultural exhibit (an ethnology museum) contained more costumes of local minority people, and was actually useful in helping me understand some of what I saw in southern Yunnan, in Yuangyang.
Actually, the main thing I remember after perusing both exhibits was wanting to scream at some of the younger, Australian males in the night-time souvenir markets “don’t buy that fucking beer shirt you ignorant f*&@wit“. Beer shirts are not made in Laos, even if the beer is, and are such a crap choice of memorobilia from a place with such an incredible diversity of crafts, ethnicities, history and natural beauty. Seriously, a bloody disgrace.
I had booked a massage (very popular for tourists here) at the local Red Cross (proceeds to charity), which was nice, but didn’t quitte hit the spot (I’d been hanging out for one for months!), then headed to catch the bus towards Thailand.