Luang Prabang in a Cloud of Smoke    

Smoke covered mountains
Things did not look good as we descended through the mountains. The mountains themselves were beautiful-- sometimes the sharp limestone vertical peaks soared, other times more rounded mountains filled the landscape. The villages were picturesque as well-- with bamboo woven walls, animals wandering, children playing, and women sitting and talking. The houses lined the highway-- many with large satellite dishes in front. However, we soon started passing huge swatches of burnt land and the air became filled with smoke. I wondered how people could calmly go about their daily business with so much smoke in the air. I hoped when we got to Luang Prabang a wind from the Mekong would disperse the smoke. Instead, as we descended into the river valley, the smoke got worse-- so bad the mountains disappeared behind the haze.

House in a village
In town we looked at one hotel row-- a quiet looking street filled with guest houses-- none of which appealed to me. We walked up town through the Hmong Night Market which fills the main tourist street of the old town from 5-10 PM. Vendors had rich colored embroidered silk scarves, quilted bed spreads, and bags, hand woven clothing, embroidered pieces and much more. I really love Lao design. It is a fabulous combination of patterns, traditional techniques, rich colors and tasteful work. I could spend a lot of money. There is a richness and elegance to the silks and cottons that women seem to wear as everyday outfits.

Embroidered books at the Hmong Market

At one end of the market women make fruit shakes and sandwiches
The Hmong Market was started in 2000-2002 by Hmong women who came into town to sell crafts to tourists. There were some conflicts between townspeople and the village women. The town was going to close the market. UNESCO insisted they resolve it in a manner good for all involved. So they built toilets (one of the complaints about the villagers was they were soiling the area), and now the market is a bustling part of the town.

Cute little girls try to sell Tamia jewelry near the Hmong Market

Setting up for the Hmong Night Market
Luang Prabang architecture doesn't disappoint either. Elegant stupas of the Royal Palace and the stupa on Phusi were lit up and shiny gold. Delicately carved filigree adorns the wats. The streets also hold many French colonial buildings, traditional Lao houses, and buildings that merge French colonial architecture with Lao style.

French shop buildings on the main street of Luang Prabang

he French Cultural center

A colonial shop house

Bamboo bridge to restaurant and bungalows

Sunset on the Mekong

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