By DEEPIKA SHETTY
IN LUANG PRABANG WITH...Richard Neo
Occupation: Hotel manager, Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel
Length of stay: Two years
Historic temples, waterfalls, untouched beauty, the Mekong river - the Unesco world heritage city of Luang Prabang in Laos is a postcard-perfect holiday destination.
This former royal capital of Laos, located 425km north of the present capital of Vientiane, has rustic charm, yet has everything a culture buff could ask for.
Mr Richard Neo, hotel manager of a boutique hotel Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel, which is managed by Singapore-based Angsana Hotels and Resorts, arrived there after working in Singapore, Bintan and Ringha in Yunnan province, China.
The best way to get around Luang Prabang is...
Either on foot, bicycle or tuk-tuks, our local taxis.
The best way to explore Luang Prabang is by...
'Jalan kaki', a Singaporean term meaning 'on foot'. Or try cycling, a clean and green way of getting around town.
The best time to visit the place is...
Through the winter/spring season which lasts from October to March. The weather is really pleasant. However, the most colourful time is during summer. Festivals such as the Lao New Year, Buddhist Lent and the Fire Boat Festival are celebrated during this time.
What's the weather like?
A lot like Singapore. Hot and humid. It often rains so it's best to carry an umbrella.
Which places really excite you?
Taking a long-tail boat along the mighty Mekong, visiting the many quaint villages on both sides of it and seeing the locals and minority ethnic communities living in harmony.
Must one know the language to get around?
If you cannot speak it, hand gestures often help. Laotians are extremely friendly and will always try to help you. If you speak conversational Thai, that can easily help you get around.
|Wat Xieng Thong
The entire city is a Unesco World Heritage site and has so much to offer, where does one start?
At the Wat Xieng Thong, which is one of Luang Prabang's most beautiful historic temple. Also make time for monumental stupas such as Pha That Luang in Vientiane and Wat Wisunalat.
Your favourite cultural stop is...
Ban Xang Kong, a cultural village just outside the city. You can see many art forms and experience the city's cultural heritage.
|Kuang Si Falls
One can't leave without visiting...
The Royal Palace, Pa Ou Caves and the Kuang Si Falls on the outskirts of Luang Prabang.
Any key festivals to work into one's travel plans?
The Lao Pee Mai, which is the Lao New Year and is celebrated from April 14-16. If you can't make that, put Oct 14 and 15 in your diary. This is the time for Boun Ok Phansa, which marks the end of the Buddhist Lent. Women dress in ethnic costumes and a full moon rises over Laos' second most populated city. The night is filled with fireworks. Monks illuminate their wat (temples) with candles and lanterns. This also signifies the end of the rainy season when monks, who were ordained for a three-month fasting and retreat, leave the temples and rejoin their families.
The best bargains are at...
The night market and the numerous shops along the town's bustling main street.
The richest variety of products can be found at...
The Dara market, which is a row of shophouses in the heritage site, and the night market.
You can spend anything from...
Three dollars to a few hundred, depending on what you buy.
Don't leave Luang Prabang without...
Trying noodle dishes such as pho, kow piak, kow soi and kow poon.
The best breakfast is at...
The Kowpoon noodle shop which is diagonally opposite the Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel in Rue Chao Fa Ngum Road.
The best brunch is at...
The Chanthanom Coffee shop in Phuvao Road. This serves the best beef noodles in town. It is opposite the BCEL Bank.
The best dinner is at...
The Elephant Blanc Restaurant at my hotel (tel: +856 712-54609). Try the Local Lao BBQ or the Prince Menu which offers Lao cuisine such as deep-fried Mekong fish, spicy pork salad with herbs and lime juice, stir fried buffalo meat with ginger and spring onions, and spicy hot Mekong catfish soup. For a change of cuisine, go for French food at the Arisai restaurant (tel: +856 712-55000). This is along the night market street, just 10 minutes away from my hotel.
The best drinks are at...
Pak Luck Bar (tel: +856 712-54839) along the night market street. They serve the best cocktails and if you like your drinks really strong, this would be the place for you.
What's the one must-try drink in town?
The Lao Lao, a potent Lao whisky served in many bars here.
What's the coolest place to chill out?
Dao Fa near the Talat Chin, or Chinese Market. The best time is after 11pm. The DJ spins the latest Western music with a mix of Thai and Lao dance hits. And expect to take a walk down memory lane with some disco hits from the 1970s and early 1980s.
The one place you always take your friends to is...
Dao Fa Night Club and Disco. I like the ambience. You meet many travellers and exchange some memorable travellers' tales.
Your favourite drink is...
The Vintage, a concoction of vodka, bacardi, soda, coke and lime juice served in a balloon glass. You can get it at the Pak Luck Bar (tel: +856 712-54839) at the night market.
Is there a Clarke Quay equivalent?
Not really. We don't have as many nightspots as Singapore and they are all a little spread out.
What's there to explore?
Go trekking to far-flung villages and hill tribes or visit nearby provinces such as Pakse, Xieng Khoung and Savanakhet.
Any other sites that would appeal to Singaporeans?
Luang Prabang will appeal to any Singaporean traveller on the lookout for something unusual. It has a unique old-world charm, is steeped in history and almost every little walk you take is like a history lesson. The people are very friendly and helpful. Make this the place to go to when constant deadlines get to you. You learn to appreciate life in all its natural beauty.