Luang Prabang is a beautiful city. It was the capital of Laos during French occupation the overall look and feel of the city is certainly multicultural. The architecture and many of the small alleyways are very European feeling, while the temples and markets retain the feel of Southeast Asia. Liz and I stayed in a wonderful guesthouse that had teak floors and ceilings with a wonderful little common sitting area out front to enjoy the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. We were in a popular tourist district, on the edge of the old town and only about a block from the night market, which put almost all of the sights we wanted to see well within walking distance.
We explored the city, did barefoot bowling at the late-night hot-spot that is the Luang Prabang Bowling club thanks to a brilliant recommendation from Ryan M, thoroughly loved getting to see Kuang Si falls in the hills South of the city (including the scramble up to the top) and met some incredibly clever students volunteering at an English practice session at Big Brother Mouse one evening.
The most memorable experience for me was visiting the UXO Information Center. I didn’t know anything about the US’s Secret War in Laos until I was in college, and in all the references I hear about US campaigns it is still almost never mentioned. I covered some of the basic stats in a previous post. I urge you all to visit their site for more information about the work they are doing and the very real current threat US bombing campaigns still present to the people of this beautiful country. http://uxolao.org/
Big Brother Mouse was really another highlight. Liz and I spent a couple of hours participating in their ‘Practice English with Native Speakers’ program. Their primary mission is to aid in overall literacy within Laos. They run teaching centers, publish books in Lao and English (or both) and also provide drop-in trainings in villages where they help teach and encourage children to read. During their Village visits they provide a book to each child (at the child’s choice) and also a number of the books for the village school or community as a whole to help improve overall literacy. Their secondary goal is to help in teaching English as a means for students to broaden their opportunities. The program we participated is in a part of that goal. We met a range of English students at varying levels from middle/high-school students to business professionals and even a monk trying to create more opportunities for themselves through learning a new language. For most of the students English is a third language (local/tribal language and Lao being primary) but many students also spoke some degree of French (French colonization ended in the mid 1950s) and many spoke some degree of Thai, Mandarin, Vietnamese or more. Many of the students were top in their classes at some point and had earned scholarships that allowed them to study at better schools from a fairly young age, but brought them far enough from home that they rarely saw their family or friends they grew up with. The Big Brother Mouse Non-Profit is doing a great service in helping to improve the future prospects of many Laotian children, if you are interested in learning more about them their website is: http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/
We really enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang and met some really cool people (travelers, students, locals) and hope that we’ll see it again at some point in our lives. Here are my photos, UXO information center pictures will be added later as they were all on my phone, and I didn’t take any at Big Brother Mouse.