During the heat of the day, from late morning until midafternoon, it is impossible to do anything outdoors, so we found shade along the Mekong or retreated for lunch at one of the city's informal but outstanding restaurants.
The green papaya salad, purple sticky rice, spicy fish soup and green curries we ate in Louangphrabang were consistently good. My favorite specialty was the Louangphrabang salad, served almost everywhere and made of a delicate watercress grown along the Mekong, sliced egg, cucumbers and tomato, covered with an egg-lime dressing.
Visiting wats was another way to avoid the midday sun. On our first day in Louangphrabang, Jack befriended the monks at Wat Nong, around the corner from our hotel, and for the rest of our visit they called his name each time he walked by or when they saw him during the morning procession.
At Wat Xieng Thong temple complex, Jack was impressed with the gold stenciling of elephants and dancing apsaras, nymph-like figures often seen in Buddhist and Hindu temples. We were pleased there were no hawkers, beggars, touts or souvenir vendors, which travelers commonly find at similar sites throughout Southeast Asia. Louangphrabang has been spared so far from becoming a tourist trap, and tourism hasn't spoiled the local culture.
The Laotians are hospitable and welcoming. No one sensed this as much as Jack, who, as well-traveled as he is, was more at home and engaged in Louangphrabang than in any other place we have visited. As strangers called out "sabaa-dii" (hello) to us along the street, he learned to echo the singsong greeting, customarily delivered with a smile.
After our first afternoon there he had three requests for the next day.
The first was to visit his "monk friends" at Wat Nong.
Another was to get an "after-school snack" from the roadside vendor at the elementary school around the corner from our hotel. The previous day we had sampled one of these treats — a wedge of rice with a dollop of coconut cream, wrapped in a banana leaf.
Jack's third request was to "go to the weaving store," a reference to the OckPop Tok textile shop on Ban Vat Nong, down the street from our hotel. Laos is known for its cotton and silk textiles, and although most of those sold in Louangphrabang are woven in surrounding villages, this store had several looms.
On our first visit to the shop, Jack spent half an hour watching a weaver working on a simple, contemporary pattern featuring bright squares. When we returned the next day one of the owners was there and asked Jack if he would like a turn at the standing loom.
The next thing I knew, my child was expertly swinging the comb of yarn back and forth, pulling the heddle toward him to tighten each row, and working the pedals. I interrupted him when I realized he was cutting into the store's productivity.
Later that day we visited the Hmong village of Coair te Nung, about 10 miles away on the road to Vientiane. We had been told a festival was in progress, and when we arrived, we found hundreds of Hmong in their native dress — black with neon trim and elaborate tribal headdresses — playing carnival games. Unlike Hmong villages we had visited in Thailand and Vietnam, this is not a staged production for tourists. In fact, we appeared to be the only Westerners there.
Such experiences make Louangphrabang unique for foreign visitors, but I worry it may not last long. In this generally poor country, the government seems to welcome obvious signs of capitalism in Louangphrabang.
In the last four years, shop-houses, once devoted to processing rice, have been converted to boutiques, European-style pastry shops, restaurants and souvenir stores. We counted at least eight Internet cafes.
The city, long a mecca for backpackers, is catering to more upscale visitors, and well-heeled Western travelers are adding it to their itineraries.
Louangphrabang is a place to visit before it is overrun.