I had a 140 km journey to Luang Prabang, the historic cultural capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage City. It was apparent that I was no longer traveling through the hinterlands. I wasn’t riding on a small twisting road going up and down mountains and passing through tiny villages of thatched huts. Instead, I passed through some fairly sizable, yet not big, towns of concrete houses and buildings. There were guesthouses and markets. There were warehouses and other signs of industry. The road did not unexpectedly turn into mud or gravel.
I came to the first major crossroads since I entered Laos. If you look at Google Maps, you will notice that there are not a lot of roads in Laos, and hence, few crossroads. The road I was on goes all the way back the way I came to Vietnam. The road going north goes to China. And the road I would be taking goes to Thailand. The town there was a real cultural crossroads. There were signs in Lao, Chinese, and Vietnamese. I saw a bus that goes all the way to Kunming, China.
After I turned south I was on a more major road. There are not “real” major roads in Laos, so this was still a simple two-lane highway. But there was traffic and towns. There were still some good views of the river and mountains. Even though the road seemed bigger, there were still stretches where the pavement was gone and the underlying gravel was revealed.
The final approach to Luang Prabang was through bleak industrial towns. But once I entered the historic core it was nice and scenic. I checked into my private room in a hostel, which is very nice, albeit expensive. Then I walked to a cafe for cake. I remember hanging out in the same cafe on my previous visit more than a decade ago. I wish I remembered more details about that visit.
I walked around town. Monks were beating a drum, so I took a look. Tourists were mobbing the monks with their cameras. They would get right up in the monks’ face. It was disgraceful. I walked down the main street past the charming French colonial architecture. There are more fancy restaurants, cafes, and spas than I remember.