Love is a beautiful thing in Luang Prabang

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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
January 21st 2020
Published: July 8th 2020
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A person’s stripes are inside; those of a tiger are outside… ~ Lao Proverb

Today we were arriving in the calm and alluring township of Luang Prabang.

After another full day on the Mekong in a long wooden slow boat (we’d pushed off the riverbank at Pak Beng about eight hours earlier), we arrived at a berthing area for slow boats just outside Luang Prabang in the early evening. We clambered onto the riverbank, struggled up a particularly steep set of stairs to the roadside and jumped into a waiting minibus – we were heading to Legend Hotel, our comfortable accommodation in Luang Prabang for the next three nights.

In the lead up to this trip, I found time to read A Dragon Apparent – Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by Norman Lewis. Lewis travelled through Indochina in early 1950 during the so-called ‘twilight’ of the French colonial regime. He witnessed the three countries as they were before the devastation of the Vietnam War. I was fascinated by Lewis’ musings as he travelled through Laos, and I was particularly fascinated by his physical reaction to the climate. Lewis described the heat-based lethargy he experienced in Luang Prabang as ‘a wasting away of the energy, and a seeping paralysis of the will’. Lewis hailed from Wales, and he served as a spy in the Intelligence Corps during the Second World War. I imagined him tough and resilient, and his travel writing is littered with stories that only someone with significant nerve and mettle could endure. So if a hardy Welsh soldier wilted in Luang Prabang’s heat (which he termed a ‘special kind of heat’), how on earth was I going to cope?

It was the following paragraph – more than any other descriptive text from Lewis – that squirreled into my thoughts as we jolted through the streets of Luang Prabang in the minibus.
Quite suddenly my strength had gone. I could only walk slowly and welcomed with relief the hour of the siesta. The siesta was slowly eating into the day, and now tended to last all the afternoon. It was as essential as eating and I could never imagine that I should be able to discontinue the habit, even in England.

Maybe, just maybe, this could be a good thing. An all-afternoon siesta – every day. With cold beer and a comfy lounge. I was beginning to love the atmosphere and ambiance of Luang Prabang…

We dropped our packs at Legend Hotel and walked to Coconut Garden – an impressive and airy restaurant located in the heart of the historic city. The walk required endurance, but not because of the heat – the evening was cool, and dusk was falling around us. Th Sisavangvong (Luang Prabang’s main drag) was heaving with locals and tourists, all of who were roaming the Night Market – an endless stretch of street stalls that offered little in terms of product variety. The pace was slow, and I was hungry. Really hungry! It was such a relief to escape the madding crowd and settle at an outside table at Coconut Garden.

I ordered the mok pa nin (steamed Mekong fish cooked in a banana leaf with ‘different kinds’ of herbs), while Ren opted for the or lam sin moo (pork stew with ‘slightly’ bitter edible leaves). The meals were sensational, and my Beerlao was incredibly refreshing. Ren ordered a Maitai, and it was potent. The Laotians certainly don’t hold back on spirits in their cocktails.

We were falling for Luang Prabang. Its bohemian atmosphere was slowly enshrouding us, and its laid back charm was countering the mayhem of Th Sisavangvong. We wandered out of the city centre and settled at a table in our hotel’s open air courtyard. The hotel bar was offering two-for-one cocktail deals, and we were more than happy to take advantage of the special deal. With a couple of Long Island iced teas in hand, we relaxed with a few travel companions and talked into the night. It had been a remarkable travel day.

We woke early (5:30am) the next morning and worked on our travel notes before heading down to the hotel’s diminutive dining area for breakfast. It was a fairly basic affair, but nice enough. I enjoyed cut fruit (mango and dragon fruit), muesli with milk and yoghurt, omelette, sweet toast, orange juice and tea. It prepared us for the day ahead.

We embarked on an orientation tour of the old city area at 8:30am. We walked passed the National Museum (the city’s former Royal Palace), then navigated the narrow lanes of the Day Market, which was far more interesting than the Night Market due to the proliferation of produce rather than trinkets. We ambled along the narrow and bustling Th Khem Khong (which runs parallel to the Mekong), stopping for a while on the riverbank and watching as people were transported across the water in long wooden boats from small villages on the other side of the river. We then turned back towards the city centre, visiting a local silversmith’s workshop (Thongsavath Many) on the way. Our last stop was Wat That Luang, and the serene gardens of this Buddhist temple were very welcoming after walking in Luang Prabang’s morning heat.

We made our way back to the hotel and gathered our thoughts before jumping into a minibus and heading 30km out of town to Kuang Si Waterfalls around 11:30am. For some reason we decided to eat in the tourist precinct at the entrance to the waterfalls – a decision based on convenience more than anything else. If only we’d eaten in Luang Prabang.

We settled at Carpe Diem (oh please!) Restaurant a little after midday, and while the setting was quaint, the touristic-focus was beyond belief. And we were trapped, because there was hardly anywhere else to eat. To rub salt into the wound, the service was painfully slow, so our limited and precious time in Luang Prabang was haemorrhaging before our eyes. What did we eat? Chicken larp (finely minced chicken with local herbs) served with sticky rice. Was it good? I can’t really comment (or remember), because my objectivity had well and truly bolted. I was trapped in touristic gaudiness! On a positive note, the lime juice and homemade iced tea were very refreshing.

We FINALLY left Carpe Diem Restaurant at 2pm! I’ve never felt more determined to seize a day in all our travels!

As we walked along beautiful lush forest tracks towards the waterfalls, we passed a small enclosure where Asiatic Black Bears were roaming. The bears didn’t seem to have a lot of room to move, but at least they were safe. These bears are classified as ‘vulnerable’, which means they are ‘under threat of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.’ With this in mind, a caged enclosure in beautiful surrounds with dedicated care is FAR better than a cramped poacher’s cage with no care at all. However, putting aside the logic and necessity, it is always heartbreaking to stand outside an enclosure and stare at beautiful animals through wire mesh.

We continued walking on open dirt tracks through lush green forest until we arrived at the Kuang Si Waterfalls. I was carrying some basic swimming attire in my shoulder pack, but I felt no desire to slip into any of the crowded pools. The lush surrounds were beautiful and scenic, but the place was very crowded. Incredibly so. Still, we were able to walk freely in the forest, which was relaxing.

As we made our way back to the minibus, we passed another enclosure housing more rescued black bears. The enclosure itself was much bigger, and the bears themselves were much bigger than the ones we had seen earlier. We arrived at feeding time, and the volunteers were talking to the bears as crowds of tourists watched on. And then, out of nowhere, there was an extremely distressing incident. One of the bears attacked another bear – one of his enclosure mates. It was horrible to watch. The thing that I couldn’t stand (and the thing that stayed with me for a long time) was the brutish bullying of the attacker and the palpable fear of the victim. It was all too human. The attacking bear stared down its victim, magnifying the terror it had fostered in the assault, while the victim bear retreated to a safe place and audibly cried. Waves of sadness and empathy coursed through our bodies as we bore witness to this attack, because we knew how closely the bears resembled us. I wanted to jump the fence and console the victim and remonstrate with the attacker. I hate bullying and I particularly hate bullies, and at this particular instant in time, I hated the attacking bear. But bears, like us, are part of the animal kingdom, and this was archetypal animal behaviour.

It was time to return to Luang Prabang, so we clambered into the minibus and set off. The attack had deeply affected both of us, and it lingered in our conscience for the rest of the day.

On our return journey we detoured slightly to visit Laos Buffalo Dairy, a ‘socially responsible social enterprise’ (to use words from the organisation’s website). I have a lot of time for social enterprises, and there is more than enough evidence (in Australia alone) of their impact, so I was looking forward to the visit. Given the escalating afternoon heat and my continuing anguish from the bear fight, I was also looking forward to sampling some of the enterprise’s buffalo milk ice cream (which is sold at a roadside stall just outside the farm). My ginger ice cream was great, and all was going well until the Australian-born CEO, who happened to be serving at the stall, offered to give us a brief overview of Laos Buffalo Dairy.

From the moment she informed us the enterprise was the result of a mid-life crisis, her words simply washed over me without landing. Her website goes into a little more detail. The enterprise, it seems, resulted from ‘a mid-life crisis with a purpose rather than a Porsche.’ How astonishingly appropriate for a social enterprise. We listened quietly as she whinged and whined about how difficult everything had been (and still is), and how no-one in Laos (or anywhere else for that matter) truly understands how to implement a social enterprise – except her, of course. I couldn’t help but wonder why she hadn’t chosen a more conducive country to have her mid-life crisis in. At least then we would have been spared the self-pity. There are those that roll with the punches, and those that complain about the rules. Our mid-life maestro was from the latter school.

We jumped back into the minibus and headed back to Luang Prabang, arriving at our hotel in the late afternoon. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish we hadn't left Luang Prabang in the first place, and had stayed and explored the city all day. But there was no time for retrospection. We walked to That Phu Si, a 100m hill in the centre of the old city. My father always needed to climb to the highest point of any place he visited, and I’d been eyeing this hill ever since we’d arrived in Luang Prabang. The 300+ step ascent was arduous, but dusk was falling, so we weren’t climbing in the searing heat of the afternoon sun. Even so, it was still fairly hot, and the climb was difficult (to say the least). Dad would have bounded up without drawing breath, because he was a lot fitter than me.

For some reason I’d visualised the gilded stupa (That Chomsi) as the main attraction at the summit, because it was visible from most parts of the city. How wrong I was! When we eventually reached the top of the hill, we were greeted by throngs of people crammed shoulder to shoulder, scrambling to get a photo of the sun setting over the Mekong River. This was clearly a photo destination, not a spiritual one, and I could see why. The panoramic views of the city below were amazing. Dad would have been beside himself. I was initially horrified by the volume of people on the tiny summit, but I realised we had to adapt to the situation, so we decided to capture the Instagram madness that was playing out in front of us. It was the only way we were ever going to get a shot of the sunset, and in the end, our photos were much the better for it.

It was a sensational vista, and it was a privilege to have experienced and enjoyed it with everyone around us. We clambered down the opposite face of That Phu Si and walked (at a quickened pace) back to the hotel. After a very hasty shower, we headed back into the old city centre for dinner. We were dining at Khaiphaen (a training restaurant for marginalised youth), and we were celebrating the birthday of one of our travel companions. I ordered the Mekong river fish and coconut laksa with prawns, rice noodles and banana blossom, while Ren ordered the grilled duck larp with snake beans, shallots and toasted rice. Both meals were absolutely sensational! I refreshed with a Beerlao, while Ren enjoyed a Daiquiri.

We walked back to the hotel, ordered a couple of Long Island iced teas from the bar and settled at a table in the open air courtyard with a few travel companions. We talked late into the evening, and it was such a relaxing way to end the day. On retiring to our room, I caught up on my travel notes with a glass of home-distilled rice whiskey I’d picked up from a tiny village on the Mekong the day before. It wasn’t long before I was asleep…

Our slow boat arrived at the dock in Luang Prabang at 5pm. We were now officially in the Lan Xang Kingdom – ‘the land of the million elephants’.

Again as in Huay Xai (where we started our slow boat journey on the Mekong), I was surprised at the condition of the concrete pier and the ad hoc nature of the whole operation. Our boat jostled for position for a few minutes with a number of boats that had arrived at the same time, and finally pulled in at the very end of the pier… but not quite ON the pier. So instead of stepping onto the pier, we had to jump off the boat onto a narrow patch of ground full of rocks and rubbish. It was manageable, but not the safest way to disembark a boat… especially for Beth who was an octogenarian! However, Beth proved many times that age is but a number, and she was amazingly up for anything. 😊

We faced an extremely steep climb to the road, but thankfully we had porters to carry our luggage up the steps. I was surprised at how winded I was after the climb, and Andrew kindly told me it was because the humidity was very high (fairly sure it was more to do with the extra kilos I’d piled on recently). An old tourist in front of me was dragging up two massive suitcases, and looked like he was going to have a heart attack or pop a vein in his neck. I’d normally have offered to help (read: volunteered Andrew’s help 😉), but he was extremely rude to the porters… so we left him to his own misery!

We caught a minibus to the Legend Hotel. Our hotel was small and elegant, with traditional architectural features which we loved. However, the best thing about it was its location – only minutes from the vibrant old city centre, but far enough to be on a quiet local street. After we’d checked-in and had a quick shower we headed out to get our bearings and check out the famed Night Market. To me, cities are like people, and I generally know straightaway if we have a connection or not… and I felt an immediate love for the UNESCO Heritage-listed Luang Prabang!

We walked past the main city fountain and into the thick of the city centre. One of the main streets closes down at dusk every night and hosts a Night Market. The length of the street turns into four rows of undercover stalls which leaves just two very narrow paths to navigate through the space. I had heard a lot of about this Night Market, but judging by our quick walk through that evening – I probably won’t be shopping at it.

We kept walking on to our dinner reservation at Coconut Garden. We sat in the courtyard lit with fairy lights, lanterns and lights in rattan baskets. Naa (our group leader) had booked the best table in the house – under the lone coconut tree that gave the restaurant its name. It felt quite enchanted and was the perfect first night in a new city.

I ordered the or lam sin moo (pork stew with bitter greens) and Andrew ordered the mok pa nin (Mekong River fish steamed in banana leaves). We actually liked each other’s dishes more, so we swapped. As with most meals in Laos, both our dishes came with khao niao (sticky rice), but it was a purple sticky rice which I liked much more than the standard white one. My Maitai cocktail hit the spot, and Andrew was happy with his Beerlao. We finished the lovely meal by sharing a banana pudding – basically a bread and butter pudding laced with masses of banana. We both love bread and butter puddings in winter, and I will definitely make this version when the weather turns cold at home (but probably with the addition of a butterscotch sauce).

This was our first real chance to practice the limited Lao words we’d learnt on the boat – sabaidee (hello), galunaa (please), khawp jai (thank you) and khawp jai lai lai (thank you very much) – with the hope of adding more words and phrases in the coming weeks.

On our walk back to the hotel, I had to again remind myself that they drive on the right-hand side of the road in Laos! I must have been tired and just couldn’t remember to look in the correct direction before crossing the road! I really need to stop walking around on autopilot.

Back at the hotel we settled in for two-for-one cocktails at our hotel bar with John, Dave, Pete, Susan and Carole. Andrew and I had Long Island iced teas – which weren’t brilliant, but more than adequate for a nightcap. We had a very enjoyable evening discussing the world’s problems, and despite our different backgrounds and viewpoints, we all agreed that the human race wasn’t very nice. In an attempt to give us a good news story, Carole mentioned that Welsh numbers were increasing… to which both Susan and I exclaimed in unison ‘that’s not good news!’ (we meant an increase in population size was bad news, and we didn’t have anything against Welsh people in particular). Turns out Carole had said ‘whale’ numbers are increasing! I think those Long Island iced teas were stronger than we realised. 😊

I meant to do some writing that evening, but could barely manage a shower before I crashed. I seem to be writing that sentence quite a lot on this trip! Sigh. That probably means it’s going to take us a long time to catch up on our travel notes and blog posting when we get home.

We slept really well that night, but were wide awake by 5am. I used the time to update our Facebook posts before heading down to breakfast. The breakfast buffet was a mix of non-conventional western food and interesting local food. I was intrigued to see spaghetti carbonara in the buffet and of course I had to try some – it was surprisingly as good as any we’d get in a mid-range Italian restaurant in Australia!

I have tried congee (rice porridge) in many Asian countries, but have never been a fan. Turns out the key is in the combination of condiments added… and fried shallots, coriander leaf and chilli oil worked for me (although I was a bit too heavy handed with the chilli oil). My next choice was an omelette with a fresh baguette, before finishing with slices of mango, watermelon and cantaloupe. It was all quite delicious! Even the tea and the fluoro-orange drink were tastier here.

Keo (our local guide) took us on an orientation walk of the city after breakfast. He was particularly excited, as he was very proud of his hometown. We walked back to the main street (that had been closed down for the Night Market). We walked through the gardens of the Royal Palace and the tiny Wat Ho Pha Bang temple that’s beautifully flanked by coconut trees.

We exited the Royal Palace complex and walked into the Morning Market. I love produce and food markets, and this market was extremely interesting. There were breakfast stalls selling everything from pancakes to grilled innards. The produce stalls had the freshest fruit, vibrant vegetables and chillies in all imaginable sizes. The fish stalls contained fish so fresh that I couldn’t smell it, but the butchery stalls were very noticeable by the bloodied ground and the cats and dogs gathered near them.

The market was relatively small and we walked through in a matter of minutes, but I really wish we’d had more time to explore it properly. Or better still, it would have been great if the activity had been more than just a walk through. I would have loved more information on the unfamiliar fruit and vegetables, and to have a taste of the very tempting looking breakfast food. The tiny sweet coconut pancakes (khao nom kok) cooked in a cast iron pan with half-moon indents caught our eye. We both made a note to buy them next time we saw them, but we never did. We’d broken one of our travel policies – ‘if you like it, buy it then and there!’ 😞

We crossed down to the Mekong and walked along its banks. The shops and restaurants were far less touristy than I’d imagined it would be on the waterfront, but I suppose we were walking away from the town centre. We cut through a small side street and visited a silversmith workshop. There were a few men working on decorative silver bowls, but the shop was closed. Keo advised that we visit the shop later that day, but the products didn’t really interest us.

Our last stop on the orientation walk was Wat That Luang near our hotel. It was a quiet local temple, and a good place to sit in the shade and have Keo explain the basic tenets of Buddhism to us. Although I have to admit, I was quite distracted by a young novice monk (who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old). He was sitting on the steps of one of the buildings, and looked very unhappy. In Buddhism, the act of a son becoming a monk is seen as a blessing for the family, and it earns them merit in the next life. It’s not always a lifelong devotion, and can be undertaken for as little as a couple of weeks. Keo told us he embraced the monkhood for a month when his grandmother died, in order to give her soul merit. I wondered at this young novice’s life and how he was coping with living such a strict life away from his family.

We regrouped at the hotel a bit later and left for the Kuang Si Waterfalls by minibus. We were supposed to have lunch in town but Naa suggested eating at a restaurant called Carpe Diem near the falls. Not knowing any better, we all agreed to it. It was pretty enough with tables on platforms overhanging parts of the cascading waterfalls, but it was a tourist trap and the most expensive meal we’d had on the trip so far. I wouldn’t have minded if the food had been outstanding – but it certainly wasn’t. And I was served a warm mango juice! We both ordered the chicken larp (minced chicken salad with toasted rice powder, herbs and lime) which was okay, but definitely the least impressive of the larps we’d tasted so far. However, what was most annoying about the place was that the meals took ages to come out, and then took even longer to get the bill. This delay really ate into the time we could have spent exploring Luang Prabang, and I resented it very much.

We finally left for the Kuang Si Waterfalls. Just after we entered the gates, we saw the Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre which is run by Free the Bears. It houses many rescued Asiatic Black Bears (Moon bears). Apart from habitat loss that threatens wildlife around the world, these Asian bears also face threats from the illegal wildlife trade. Many of the rescued bears had been saved from poachers, exotic pet owners, or from use in traditional medicine (horrendous bile farms in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam service the repulsive Chinese medicine market).

The enclosure we saw had eight or so young Moon bears. While a couple were quite relaxed and sat around in the small pool or on the raised platform, a few of the bears were exhibiting stressed and anxious behaviour. They paced along the fence line or along the front of their concrete enclosure. One came along to us and stood on its hind legs begging for food, which made us realise that visitors had been feeding the bears despite the very prominent signs asking us not to. I know the bears are better off here than in small cages having their bile extracted (so some revolting man can feel manlier!); but it was a depressing sight nonetheless.

There was another enclosure at the exit to the Waterfalls which held older / larger Moon bears. I had never seen these bears up close before and was eager to observe them. While this was a much larger enclosure that the first one, the bears were again not as relaxed as I would have liked to see them. I wondered why they were all lined up along the viewing gallery and looking expectantly at us… and then we witnessed a family blatantly throwing balls of sticky rice into the enclosure! I couldn’t stand by and watch without saying anything, so I pointed to the ‘Do Not Feed’ signs, as did a young man who seriously told them off!

I don’t know if it was resource guarding behaviour caused by the food being thrown into the enclosure or some other issue, but as we were about to leave, one of the younger female bears savagely attacked an older male bear. It was harrowing to watch. The old bear wailed and retreated to hide behind a tyre swing, and he kept crying for a while after one of the keepers had broken up the fight by yelling at the attacking bear. His sorrowful cry kept ringing in my ears for a long time afterwards. I felt so helpless. I know animal behaviour in the wild isn’t always pretty and bear behaviour can be quite savage, but a bunch of strange unrelated bears wouldn’t normally be in close proximity like this in the wild! My regard for the human race keeps plummeting more rapidly with each one of these rescue centres we visit. The Centre and its volunteers are doing excellent work, but faced with so many vile humans, their rescue task seems insurmountable. 😞

The Kuang Si Waterfalls we’d travelled 30km to see turned out to be a bit of a letdown. The forest setting, frothy white 50m waterfalls, and creamy green limestone pools of water gently cascading through the landscape were all undoubtedly very pretty… but the boisterous crowds, wooden walkways and park benches made me feel like I was in a Theme Park. I honestly couldn’t wait to get out of there. It reminded me very much of the Erawan falls in Thailand, and even though they were probably equally touristy, the Erawan falls were spread over seven different levels which meant we could get away from the worst of the crowds.

On the way back to town, we stopped briefly at a Buffalo Diary to taste their buffalo milk ice cream. I love Italian buffalo mozzarella and I liked the buffalo curd in Sri Lanka, so I assumed I’d like buffalo milk ice cream – but I didn’t. Andrew’s ginger ice cream tasted better than my apple pie flavour, which had a gross old milk taste and the texture was all wrong. The farm is a social enterprise co-owned by an Australian woman who gave us a briefing about their work. Their business model is different to a normal farm as they don’t own their buffaloes. They chose to rent pregnant buffaloes from surrounding villages, which gives the local farmers an income stream and free veterinary care during pregnancy. They milk the buffaloes in the morning, but still allow the calves to drink the milk in the evenings, so I suppose their milk yield is half what a usual dairy farm gets. They also run a buffalo milk diet program for local children with funding from the Australian government.

I liked the sound of what they were doing, but the superior attitude of the co-owner made me turn off from what she was saying. She was derogatory about the villagers, the local governments, the local NGOs and the Lao government. Apparently only she had all the answers and knew how things worked. Why can’t people talk about their successes without being disparaging about everyone else? I have come across a similar condescending neo-colonial attitude with expats in developing countries, and I thoroughly despise it! 😒

The minibus dropped us back at our hotel in the late afternoon. Even though we were quite tired, Andrew and I really wanted to see the sunset from the top of Mt Phu Si (which Keo had highly recommended). Plus, the day had held a few letdowns and some sadness, so I wanted it to end on a positive note.

We didn’t have much time, and walking to Mt Phu Si was hampered by having to weave around the Night Market stalls beginning to set up. The 100m high Mt Phu Si sits incongruously right it the heart of the old city. By the time we started climbing the 328 steps, the early orange glow of the sunset had already started. It was hot, humid and hard work climbing those steps. However, it was much hotter and more testing at the top of the mountain, because there were already hordes of people gathered and waiting for the sunset.

There literally wasn’t any space to move in some areas. The sunset was quite gorgeous, but I didn’t have a clear view, other than to stick my camera over my head and take a shot of it. Andrew is a lot taller than me, and he pointed out a rock that people were lining up at (to take Instagram-worthy photos). As beautiful as the red sunset over the Mekong was, watching the people’s poses was far more interesting! 😄

Mt Phu Si is considered sacred because a legend says it was once the home of the Naga (mythical serpent). There are a few temples dotted around the hill, and at the peak sits Wat Chom Si temple and the golden stupa that can be seen from most parts of the city. If it hadn’t been so crowded, I would have loved to have explored this temple and its surrounds at a leisurely pace. The 360 degree view of the city was fabulous – the Mekong snaked its way on one side and the smaller Nam Khan River framed the other… with dusky blue hued mountains rising above the peaceful rivers. We eventually started walking back down the other side of the hill, which had more steps (355) than the city side, and also more viewpoints. We walked through temples with clouds of incense wafting around us and monks going about their evening duties.

We hurried back to the hotel to get ready for a special dinner at Khaiphaen for Carole’s birthday. The restaurant belongs to the Friends International Group that run vocational training restaurants to help disadvantaged kids get a footing in the hospitality industry. The group has two restaurants in Cambodia (Friends and Romdeng) which we loved, and as soon as I tasted my very delicious lime and lychee Daiquiri I knew the standard would be the same here too. My duck larp (minced duck salad with toasted rice powder, herbs and lime) was seriously delicious, as was Andrew’s seafood laksa. We both agreed it was the best meal we'd had on the trip so far. I really wanted to try their desserts, but the group had contributed towards a cake for Carole. The cake was a delicious chocolate mousse cake, so my inner sugar monster was duly satisfied.

Back at the hotel, we gathered for a nightcap with Carole, Susan, Philipp and Christina. Susan generously shouted us all cocktails with which to again toast Carole a ‘Happy Travel Birthday’ – which in my opinion are the very best kind of birthdays. 😊

Even though it was only midnight, it felt like a very late night after a very long day! I had no recollection of having a shower, but I’d clearly had one. Andrew said I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Next thing I knew, it was 6am and the alarm was going off.

We have one more highly anticipated day in Luang Prabang… and it involves elephants!


8th July 2020

Laos Travels
Hey guys, glad your travels are going well! We enjoyed your blogs of the days on the slow boat and your first days in Luang Prabang. The bugs in the room and the Bob Marley bar brought back (good?) memories of Pak Beng. The trip up the steep hill in Luang Prabang was made more treacherous for us by a torrential downpour that timed itself perfectly for our arrival. Me with both our bags and Nanci just doing her best to not slide into the river. Your description of the old tourist guy could have been us. Luang Prabang was the nicest place we stopped in Laos. We spent more days than you, but probably did less. Good memories of Lao Beers around the hotel table in the evening and cool morning walks through the market. We look forward to your further adventures! Nanci and Dave
8th July 2020

Re: Laos Travels
Hi Nanci and Dave - so good to hear from you! Wow that would have been quite a way to arrive in Luang Prabang, but I doubt very much that you would have yelled obscenities as the porters Dave...? :/ I don't know how I would have coped with that added degree of difficulty! Our time in Luang Prabang was much too short, and now that we know we love it - we are very keen to go back. Hope you are both keeping safe and well. Cheers, Ren :)
8th July 2020

HI, professional photographers
Apart from your detailed description of the journey making us live your adventure, I must say your photographs are enchanting. Can't help but looking at them again and again, those waterfalls are just a dream, I hope they will stay in your mind forever. Keep travelling and sharing your lovely adventures.
8th July 2020

Re: HI, professional photographers
Thanks Frank for your lovely compliment! I've found that when we love a place our photos tend to be better ;) The waterfalls could have been enchanting... if only I'd had a magic wand to make those loud groups of people disappear! Hope all is well with you and your parents in Colombia :)
8th July 2020

Luang Prabang ...
Ok Ren - you have shamed me into it and given me a challenge. Watch this space! (but, give me a little bit of time. :) :) Jan (PS Have enjoyed your blog, by the way. :)
9th July 2020

Re: Luang Prabang ...
Yey Jan! I'm so happy to hear that! It'll be a challenge to write it up five years later.. but I'm very much looking forward to reading it :) x
9th July 2020

Long overdue blog(s) ...
Thank goodness for trip diary daily journals, Ren :) :) Jxx
9th July 2020

Re: Long overdue blog(s) ...
That's good news that you've got a travel journal Jan. My short term memory is shocking and I'd be lost without my daily notes to jog my memory (and the photos help too). The pressure is now on :) x
9th July 2020

Overdue blog(s)
I'm up to the challenge, Ren. Hope I don't disappoint. :) Reading your blog last night, we do have a lot of similarities - seeing as it was the same trip, not surprising, I suppose but, it will be fun to compare notes with the lapse of five years in between. :) Jx
9th July 2020

Re: Overdue blog(s)
I noticed a couple of minor differences when reading your blog Jan, but it looks like the trip has largely stayed the same :)
9th July 2020

Loving Luang Prabang
This is an easy country to love and especially Luang Prabang. It looks like it has grown a great deal since we were there 13 years ago. Loved the French influence and the foods. We got massages every day after walking and touring. Love the fragrances in the air.
10th July 2020

Re: Loving Luang Prabang
Laos really is a very easy to love, as is Luang Prabang! This was a short trip for us, so we didn't have much down time...and unfortunately I didn't get a chance to experience a Lao massage. Next time! :)
10th July 2020

Re-reading the slow boat blogs and this one has been very bad for my itchy feet and travel frustration. With no travel possibility for a long time, what can we do? I may have to call Intrepid and chat about this trip for early next year. You guys may want to start getting a commission from them for increasing business!
10th July 2020

Re: Wow
Haha Brodie... we get inspiration from lots of other travellers, so I think the 'commission' evens out. It was a well structured trip and a good introduction to Laos, so we certainly recommend it :)
11th July 2020
wat ho pha bang

Your photos are spectacular guys, I feel like I'm there with you every step of the day! So many people have said nothing but the best about this place.
12th July 2020
wat ho pha bang

Re: Stunning
Thank you for your lovely comment Josie! I don't think I've heard anything bad about Luang Prabang either - it's such a charmer :)
14th September 2020
kuang si waterfalls

Had to check if we went there too
I wasn't sure if we made it to Kuang Si Waterfalls when we were in Laos so I had to check our blogs. Well, we went there too. It is a beuatiful place. /Ake
15th September 2020
kuang si waterfalls

Re: Had to check if we went there too
From memory I think you had a nicer experience there than we did. We found it to be a gorgeous location that was ruined a bit by there being no crowd control. We had all gone with the intention of spending the afternoon in the water, but the large crowds plus groups of screaming teenagers didn't quite work for us :)

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