After having a great time in Chiang Mai we took a (1)hr flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos. We did not opt for the (1) day bus and (2) day boat trip from the Thai border as we had previously spent (7) days on the Mekong in southern Vietnam on a past trip. Luang Prabang is a small, peaceful town with a remarkably well-preserved combination of Lao and colonial French architecture, which led to UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1995. The town is dominated by the Phu Si hill. On its slopes several wats can be visited, and it is peaked by a 24-metre high stupa, That Chomsi.
The town only has a population of approx 26,000 and time here is best spent chilling with the Monks/Novices and going on one day treks, elephants camps, and visiting nearby caves and waterfalls. We stayed (4) nights @ View Kemp Khong (killer Mango shake and massive breakfast). Unlike its neighbors to either side of it, Laos is very expensive in comparison for food, accomodation and tours. LP is extremely peaceful with basically a half dozen main streets which come alive with the morning and night markets. The handicrafts being sold
at the night market are legitimately made by the locals , as evidenced from our visit to several rural and isolated villages. Unfortunately for those that like to get on a scooter or motorbike and set out on their own to see the countryside this is not possible. Motorbike transportation is limited to renting tuk tuks or taxis. The alternative is to walk around the town, which is easily done or renting a pedal bike for approx $1-$5 depending on the type you choose. The good thing about limiting tourists to pedal bikes is the fact that the noise pollution is limited and by 10:00pm the place is extremely peaceful. There are a number of good places to eat in town, especially along the banks of the Mekong. Unlike the southern part of Vietnam where from sunrise to sunset you see people living their daily lives and hear the longtail boats going up and down the Mekong, there is very little boat traffic on the Mekong here. A trip up or down the Mekong is extremely peaceful and very relaxing here and is highly recommended. We did a (2)hr boat trip up the Mekong to see the beautiful scenery and
the terracing on the banks that enable vegetables to be grown at this time of year.
We really chilled out here with most of our time spent at Wats/Temples speaking to young Novices/Monks, drinking mango shakes and going for massages. It was great to be able to sit down and talk with the young novices and the more experienced Monks. We learned a great deal about the process of becoming a Monk and their daily lives at the temples/wats. The ages of the novices ranged from 12 - 16 years of age and were attending study for a variety of reasons. We really enjoyed the couple of hours spent talking to them over the course of a couple of days and certaintly feel more educated about the process of becoming a Monk and studying buddism.
On our final day we did a (5 1/2)hr trek through the countryside and several villages, ending up at the waterfalls. This trek/hike was awesome and summed up what people rave about Laos. We walked through hillsides and through rice fields stumbling among local villagers living their daily lives. We ran into (3) other gringos during our (5 1/2)hrs and at no time
in any of the villages were we approached to purchase items or had children begging. This was a true "untouched" tourist experience. It was a real treat to be able to walk for hours in the country side and not see a single tourist and witness how people live without the impact of the tourist all mighty dollar. No doubt this will change, but for now the only real impact the outside world has had is the presence of a cell phone - go figure!
Our last morning was spent watching the Monk/Novice procession at 6:00 am which is definetely a must when staying in LP. The procession is when the monks/novices receive offerings from the locals, such as sticky rice.
LP was a great stop and we are now off to Siem Reap, Cambodia where our schedule is certain to become a wee bit busier......
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