When I came back to Laos in October 2012 I moved into a nice guesthouse where I stayed for 4 months but I realized quite quickly that it would be nice to cook your own food every now and then instead of eating out every day. As there are no apartments in Luang Prabang the only option you have is to rent a house. Some people share big houses or you just get your own house. So I started looking around in November but it was a bit trickier than I thought as most of the houses I saw were either completely unfurnished (and you don't want to buy a whole set of furniture for a short time) or too dark and often in a pretty bad state or too big and expensive. After quite extensive search I ended up renting a house on the main street towards the end of the peninsula (so top location because in the center but in the quiet part of town). My house is approx. 100 meters from the Mekong and 10 meters from the Nam Khan river, surrounded by beautiful temples and looking out into my garden I get the feeling of living in the tropics.
One of the typical features of a Lao house is that it is very often pitch dark inside, with tiny windows - reminding you more of a cave than a room. This is most likely to keep the sun and heat out but we Westerners like light and bright rooms so this was quite a shock to me inthe beginning. Many houses (including mine) don't have glass windows. They either have only shutters or sometimes iron bars and shutters. I had to put in tons of extra lights so that I can see anything at all in my living room and kitchen. Another unpleasant fact is that many old houses were built with very poor material so having leaks in your roof in rainy season is almost guaranteed. You get very innovative about how to catch the water dripping to the ground. I was lucky that the guy who had lived in this houses many years ago was an architect and built some nicer furniture and also a "real" bathtub (Lao bathrooms either have no Western toilet at all (justsquat toilets) and showers are simply a hose coming out of the wall next to the sink so everything is wet on the floor after you took a shower). So after I moved in in February the 2 biggest tasks were adding a loot of light, painting some walls and getting the exterminators to get rid of far too many creepy crawlies (ants, cockroaches, rats). Oh, I almost forgot: the electrical cords are all not earthed here so getting "zapped" is also not too uncommon. I got a nice "bzzzz" running through my body when I changed a light bulb once and another one when pulling out a cord, so my nice oven and microwave have never been used by me as my predecessor also got electrocuted whilst using those kitchen appliances. Another quirky Lao phenomenon is that in the evenings your living room resembles more a garage than a home. All vehicles, motorized and non-motorized - are parked INSIDE your house at night (for obvious reasons of theft which is quite bad here). In the beginning I still parked my scooter in my garden ("Noo, I am NOT going to put that thing INSIDE my house, I don't want to live in a garage!")but after I heard all the other Expats' stories of things getting stolen I too switched to Lao mode and I have to say that now my Scoopy scooter has become part of the family and it strikes me as absolutely normal to have it int he middle of my living room very evening and morning. Funny how you get used to things so quickly.
I have to say that I feel really at home in my house now, I like its character, I spend most of my time outside on my verandah or in my hammock and having my little tiger-monster cat around me gives it a nice homey feeling too.
On my photos you can see some before and after photos although I didn't take too many pictures before I moved in. I will probably never ever be able to rent such a big house again in my life and I like that experience so I am enjoying every day in my Lao "mansion". Together with my mountain bike, my scooter. My cat. And the best neighbors and friends one can wish for!
P.S. cutting grass with my machete has been a one-time experience and I will need to resort to borrowing some better devices to get a grip on my garden-jungle! http://britagraser.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/my-home-in-laos/e/