21 August 2002

14. - 21 AUG: Luang Prabang by bike, traditional dances, local music

Full day around town by bike. It is a pleasant and easy town to savor at leisure. Some traditional Lao houses on stilts still stand in the historical center. Just before sunset I walk up the steps of the hill of Phou Si monastery, from which one can enjoy a spectacular view over the whole valley and the Mekong.

In the evening an interesting show of traditional dances at the Royal palace museum. Virtually all the public is made up of tourists. I sneak to the front to take some good shots of the adolescent dancers who lightly move across the stage, backed by the rythmic music of middle aged drummers sitting on the side. A Frenchwoman complains that I am in her way and she has paid extra for a front seat! Oh well... anyway I try not to déranger la madame and keep shooting. Especially the girls are very photogenic, their gold, blue and red costumes moving elegantly as their hands and backward-bent fingers draw delicate loops in the air.

­Dinner at a local restaurant. Loud anonymous modern music... I ask for Lao music and get some sort of very un-Lao pop cacophony which clearly aims at imitating Western equivalents. Disappointed, but should not have been, this is the music of Laos today, why do visitors expect to listen only to the old music? As if visitors to Italy refused to accept anything beyond “Oh Sole Mio!”, ie traditional Italian music from over a hundred years ago. In fact when we see that music offered in Italian restaurants, it looks rather pathetic, it is not Italy…

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