I dreamed of visiting Luang Prabang prior to my visit. For me, it encapsulated everything I pictured about Laos - beautiful dreamy countryside, simple kindhearted people, a place devoid of tourists with monks walking the streets. This was perhaps Luang Prabang circa 2002 - now, welcome to, as another TA poster commented, the Laos disneyland. Perhaps, not quite as bad as that, but imagine my surprise when I discovered that Vientiane was far more interesting! The place everyone comments about saying, 'oh, don't bother with Vientiane if you don't have much time'.
Vientiane did not have as many tourists and it felt more undiscovered and unique. The main street in Vientiane is far more atmospheric and authentic than LP and more interesting at night. You can pop into a temple in VT without barging through a thousand others click-clicking and paying for the privilege. You can talk to ordinary smiling Laos people and drink beer without staring at other tourists.
Luang Prabang is undoubtedly beautiful and the sight of the monks on alms giving at 6am is humbling despite the frenzy of tourists snapping into their faces and disrespecting their ancient traditions. Luang Prabang is still magical. But four days is too long there - three days is more than enough time to see the town. The main street is full of tacky adventure tour shops, guesthouses and unauthentic restaurants. A lot of the town is geared towards the middle-aged traveller who wishes to spend exorbitant amounts of money dining in fine restaurants and staying in nice hotels.
I decided early on in my stay that LP was not the real Laos, but a tourist enclave designed to assuage the appetites of bourgeois Europeans looking for their ideal of the 'exotic'. How sad, but perhaps unsurprising given its UNESCO heritage status. All I hope is that VT is not spoilt in a similar way. Despite the above, I still enjoyed my time in LP - anyone interested in volunteering should check out the Little Mouse bookshop which arranges for English teaching and sending books to disadvantaged areas. There are still things to do off the beaten track such as cycling across the main bridge and discovering other temples.