Slowing down the pace a bit more... what better place to do that than Luang Prabang?

Laos' flag
Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
July 13th 2013
Published: September 6th 2013
Edit Blog Post

After two days on the Mekong we finally got to Luang Prabang. We both enjoyed the cruise down the river, however by the end of the second day, we were quite anxious to get off the boat already. I thought we would be dropped off at one of the boat piers in town, but it looked like they had to let the tuk-tuk drivers earn some money as well as the boat finished its course a few kilometres before Luang Prabang. So there was no other way to get to town but to take one of the tuk-tuks. It was pretty funny system as we had to buy tickets for the tuk-tuk at some small ‘ticket office’ right next to the pier and only then we could get on the tuk-tuk. Not sure if they were doing some kind of statistics here or what as paying directly to the driver would’ve seemed more logical. Maybe they wanted to make sure the tuk-tuk drivers didn’t cheat on the fares? Naaah… Doubt that….Anyway… There were a couple of guys standing around with guesthouse offers, we had a look at a few of them and decided to check one of them out! They had a couple of rooms there – starting from very budget ones (5euro for a double room!) which unfortunately were pretty damp, medium ones (8 euro with aircon and TV) and 12 euro ones (with additional balcony). We didn’t really need balcony so opted for the 8euro room in the end. Apparently the prices were twice as high in high season, looked like there were some advantages of coming here in rainy season after all. 😊 Since we had to freshen up a bit after a long (and pretty hot) trip, it was dark outside already when we left our guesthouse. We went in search of some restaurant straight away as after having a few beers on the boat we were in desperate need of food now. We didn’t really have to go too far as our guesthouse was pretty close to the main street. We got to one of the first restaurants and I ordered my personal favourite… yep! red curry, guess I was still on Thai food zone! And pizza! 😊 What can I say? Sometimes you just have to satisfy all your cravings… at the same time! 😉 After dinner we headed to a night handicraft market which was located just a bit further down on the main street. Lots of lovely stuff on sale – beautiful paintings and drawings, some cool baggy pants and other backpacker-style clothes, as well as some traditional clothes, bags and lots of other things, a few of them quite unusual – like bamboo guns or all sorts of items made from unexploded bombs? It was definitely the first time I was seeing things like that. After seeing the latter we were reminded of where we actually were! The most bombed country in the world… Sure we would have a chance to learn more about the effects of the Vietnam War on Laos in the next days. After all we were only starting our adventure in this country…

The following day we decided to explore Luang Prabang a bit (or its centre at least). When we left our guesthouse we had beautiful blue sky over us. Unfortunately it didn’t last long as while we were waiting for our breakfast some heavy clouds started coming our way and soon after it was raining. Ah well… Guess it was going to be a slightly longer breakfast than planned then. As soon as it stopped raining we left in a search for an umbrella. Way too hot and humid to be wearing raincoats! In one of the shops they were trying to sell us a small foldable umbrella for 80,000 kip (8 euros!). Are you kidding me? In Ireland I could get one for 2euros! No way we were going to pay this money for a silly thing that would probably break straight after. There was a little market nearby so we got an umbrella for 2euros there. Still way too expensive I’d say, but slightly better… Of course as soon as we got the umbrella, the skies were clear again. Ah well… At least if it started raining again we were all prepared now and we wouldn’t have to hide anywhere anymore. We visited a few temples around and decided to go up the hill to check out the views of town and the Phou Si temple up there of course as well. Apparently it’s best to go there for sunrise or sunset. Well, it wasn’t really close to sunset yet and seeing how the weather was changing it was unlikely we were going to experience any sunsets here at all and as for the sunrise… Well… That would require waking up very early I guess. 😉 Naaaaah… Someday maybe… There were quite a few steps to climb to get to the top! And with this heat and humidity the walk up seemed endless. I already looked as if I took a shower and we were only half way up! First we stopped to check out Buddha’s foot… There were a few very young monks sitting close by to the relic… having a smoke! Not very holy like I’d say! Almost sure they made a few comments seeing us all sweaty as the moment we walked in they shared a few laughs… Hmmm… And as for the Buddha’s foot? Well it looked like a normal piece of rock to me with some kind of shape in the middle as if created by water… But I was willing to open my mind for a moment and look at the rock through Buddhist eyes… Let it be Buddha’s foot then! Then there were some more steps and a few Buddha statues and we got to the top. I have to say that the temple itself wasn’t exactly anything special – it looked more exciting from the streets of Luang Prabang rather than from close-up. But the views were something else… Now I did understand why it would be worth it to come here at sunrise or sunset… I doubted we were going to climb up here again so this visit would just have to do. Really nice view! There were a couple of kittens at the temple as well which were providing a bit of entertainment chasing one another or just jumping around like rabbits. Pretty funny sight actually! And that was it with temples for that day! It was time to have something cold to drink. And what’s better to cool off than a cold beer? 😉 We found a nice spot where I even treated myself to mango sticky rice. Yum! I know mango sticky rice and beer doesn’t exactly sound like a perfect combination… Let me tell you… You’d be surprised! 😉 We made some new friends during our little beer break – two cats got very cosy on our bags! I was never a big fan of cats as they are just way too unpredictable for me, but I have to say that Asian cats are surprisingly very friendly! Saying I’m starting to like cats might still be a bit of an overstatement, still I definitely can tolerate their presence around me now. 😊 In the evening we watched a very decent sunset by the Mekong and for dinner treated ourselves to some… Indian! So far, after having typical dinner in Pakbeng, Lao food didn’t seem too exciting for us… Sure we would give it a try eventually though! 😉

Once again we had to wait through the rain a bit in the morning but once it became clear (or clearer actually) we rented bikes and decided to do a bigger loop around Luang Prabang. We thought first of maybe going to one of the waterfalls but the bikes weren’t exactly the best and looking at the landscapes around it could get hilly past Luang Prabang so decided to leave the waterfalls for the next day instead. We checked out the map and it looked like there was a bigger market a bit outside of town so we headed there. It seemed as if we found ourselves in China as everything around us was in Chinese! I have to say that seeing the Chinese writing put a
bamboo guns??? what the hell???bamboo guns??? what the hell???bamboo guns??? what the hell???

the guy demonstrated us the power of the gun... Well... it definitely works!
big smile on my face. Memories… The market turned out to be nothing special at all, we didn’t have to get closer to see that there was a lot of crap for sale there actually… Ooops! Sure some people find these things useful? Ah well… Not my kind of stuff for sure… Again it looked like it was going to rain any moment so we thought it was best not to go too far in the end. We cycled around some other temples and headed back to the main street in town as it was starting to rain pretty heavy by now. It was time for lunch anyway… We found a nice café called Joma (apparently there was another one in Vientiane and Hanoi as well – maybe we could have a snack there as well?), a bit pricey but damn they had some nice looking cakes in there! Later on we cycled to another temple Wat Xieng Thong, close to our guesthouse actually. I had to dress up a bit of course. I took a long sleeve shirt with me but totally forgot about long pants, thankfully Grant had some in his backpack though… 😊 I have to say that I liked this complex of temples the most so far, not only some of the paintings on the walls were stunning, but in one of the temples they had a huge chariot (12-metre high) which was used for royal funerals. Really impressive! There were lots of Buddha statues in this temple, some old pieces of furniture and beautifully painted walls as well. At least it was worth it to sweat in additional layer of clothes to see all this stuff! 😉 Later a quick visit by the Mekong and we decided to check out the old bridge nearby. I was surprised to see that this bridge was for bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians only. We slowed down the traffic a bit on our bikes, actually one local woman in front of us did, but made it across. We cycled a bit on the other side of the river where traffic and life seemed to have picked up a pace a bit, not too much though... That night I decided to give Lao food a try and ordered some local chicken soup. Not bad but comparing to all the incredible Thai flavours it still seemed very plain unfortunately. Ah well… Sure we would find some nice dish here eventually, Lao dish that is… The soup didn’t really satisfy my hunger so a little bit later we walked around looking for a snack. What better place to have a snack than a market? They had a whole row of buffet tables in one of the side streets. And for the ultimate price of 10,000 kip per plate (1 euro) well… there was nothing to think about but to take the plate and try it! There was plenty to choose from so we packed our plates and sat down at a table to consume our meals. I have to say it looked much better than it tasted though as despite the variety of dishes, all tasted exactly the same. Still a full plate of food for 1 euro? That would definitely do for me!

Next day we booked a tour with one of the tuk-tuk drivers to take us to a nearby cave and waterfall. He seemed to be the most honest of the ones we came across and his price was almost half of what the others were asking for, so why not? Straight after breakfast we met our tuk-tuk friend at the main street and took off in the direction of the Pak Ou caves. When we were talking to this guy before and trying to bargain the tour price a bit, he said it was the absolute minimum he could go for as he had to pay not only fuel but some fees on the way as well. We didn’t really know what he was talking about then but found out soon enough as on the way to the cave we stopped at some boot by the road and our driver went to some guy that looked like a policeman to show his papers and make a small ‘donation’. Was it a road fee or maybe a tour fee? Or maybe some other ‘fee’? Hmmm… After a bit of driving we got to a little village from where we would need to take a boat to cross the river to the cave. We were ‘attacked’ by little kids straight away, or more like Grant was! They were all holding little doll key chains and all of them were saying one thing over and over again ‘Buy one from me?’ I just passed them by, but Grant was
at the night marketat the night marketat the night market

a bit of multitasking - selling goods at the market and taking care of the baby... lots of women with their kids at the market!
caught in their little trap. He stopped to check out what they had in their hands and soon enough was circled by all the kids. He said he would buy something once we came back, so most of the kids gave up but one little sneaky girl followed us all the way to the boat trying to get us to buy one key chain now and later another one. Nice try though! We found a boat straight away. Our boat ‘captain’ couldn’t have been older than 10 though! His granny was sitting in the back of the boat and helping him out a bit by pushing it away from the shore. Two minutes and we were at the caves. We paid the entrance and went to explore the lower cave first. There are more than 4,000 Buddha sculptures in Pak Ou Caves. Most of them were made of wood, but you can find some made of bronze, ceramic or even animal horns as well. Many of the statues date from between the 18th to 20th centuries. Really interesting place! Then we headed up the steep steps to the upper cave. This one even had a proper entrance gate. It was totally dark inside though so had to rent a flashlight (yep! the lady in front of the cave sure knew how to make money as she had a couple flashlights ready …). I have to say that looking at some human-size statues coming out of the dark once you pointed flashlight in their direction freaked me out a bit. Really don’t like dark places like that. You never know what lurks in the dark corners around. Another impressive collection of Buddhas though… It was even more humid in this cave so after a quick look around we decided to head back. Our boat was waiting for us at the pier and soon after we were on the other side of the river and were bombarded with ‘you come back me!, you come back me!’ from the little sellers again. Actually Grant was bombarded to be precise as he was the one who promised to buy something from them… Strangely they didn’t forget? 😉 No way he would get away from the kids without buying anything… And so he became an owner of 7 doll key chains (7 kids? I thought there were 6 only? It looked like one of them tricked him a bit. 😉). With a backpack full of key chains we headed back to our tuk-tuk and soon we were on our way to the waterfalls. We picked up a rather unusual hitchhiker on the way… An old, very tired-looking granny with some heavy basket was walking along the road and when she saw us coming shouted something in the driver’s direction and soon after we had another passenger on board! 😊 Two minutes after she was asleep with her body leaning over the back of the tuk-tuk. I seriously thought she was going to fall out any moment! Since I was sitting right next to her I had my hands ready to catch her just in case. When she opened one of her eyes and saw that I was looking almost panicked in her direction she gave me one of the biggest smiles I’ve seen in a long time and showed me that she was holding onto the tuk tuk’s rails pretty tight. As if this would help once she fell into a deep sleep, her hand would’ve just slid away! Sorry but I wasn’t convinced that would be enough so was still keeping an eye on her while she was sleeping only to get more wide smiles when she opened her eyes here and there. 😊 Such a sweet lady! We dropped her off in Luang Prabang and headed further to the waterfalls. Once we were getting closer to our destination it started raining like crazy though... Hmmm… Guess it was time to eat something first then. Thankfully it stopped raining when we were having lunch though. I wasn’t aware that they had a bear rescue centre in here so it was a nice surprise to see some Asiatic bears playing around in their enclosure. They definitely looked like they were well taken care of. After a visit to the rescue centre it was time to check out the waterfall. It sure did look very pretty as you were walking next to smaller cascades first until you got to the main waterfall. Still the beauty of this place was totally disturbed by the amount of people around. We thought first we were going to jump in and soak in the water for a little while, but with this crowd around it didn’t seem that tempting anymore. People were queuing to jump in from the rope, screaming and shouting all around… naaah! I thought I would pass… Guess we came here at the wrong time of the day, maybe mornings are more quiet? Anyway… It was still worth it to see it as in general the place was really fairy-like (if you erased all the people from your picture of course). It seemed that we came back a bit too early to our tuk-tuk as it was all apart when we showed up at the agreed place. Well… Not totally apart, one part was missing actually, but what an important one – we sure couldn’t head back to Luang Prabang missing one of the wheels? Our driver appeared soon after with his hands black from digging in the car. Well, we weren’t in a hurry so didn’t mind waiting for the car to be fixed. Still on the way to Luang Prabang I was having this uneasy feeling that maybe he hurried too much once he saw us and forgot to screw something back together? Or maybe not… as we got to town in one piece in the end. Later on we just wandered around the main street, had dinner and that was it for the day! We were waking up at 5am next morning to see the collecting alms ceremony, so some proper sleep was badly required.

Waking up at 5am wasn’t too easy but had to be done. I would be quite disappointed if I left Luang Prabang without seeing the alms collection. After freshening up a bit, we thought that probably it would be best to go to the main street as the monks would definitely be going through there. And we weren’t wrong as there were a couple of tourists here and there already and some locals were lining up with the gifts for the monks on the side of the street as well. Straight away we were surrounded by a couple of women trying to sell us some food for the monks. Sorry but we were only going to observe the ceremony not take part in it. Besides I’ve read that many times these people sell some bad food to tourists and monks get sick afterwards. Probably whatever is left one day still is attempted to be sold the next day... Well I surely wouldn’t like to be responsible for making some monk sick. We waited a couple of minutes and more and more people started showing up on the street and suddenly many tourists started getting closer to the locals participating in the ceremony… I guess the monks were coming… Seriously if all the observers were standing on one side of the street opposite to the participants, everybody would be able to see the ceremony. But once some people started moving closer, they were followed by other ones and soon everybody was moving around to get the best view and a chance to make some pictures. I was hoping to take some pictures as well of course but not for the price of disrespecting the monks for sure! We just stayed on the other side of the street and were observing from there while some tourists had no decency at all and were basically shoving the cameras in the monks’ faces and flashing them straight in the eyes. Seriously have some respect people! Or maybe buy a better camera so you won’t need to come that close? Anyway… I wasn’t expecting to see so many monks at all. When the first long row of monks passed us by I thought that was it, but there were a few more groups passing us by afterwards still. While on one side of the street there were people with the gifts for the monks, a little bit further on the monks’ route, just around the corner, there were a couple kids kneeling down on the street with baskets in front of them, awaiting monks’ gifts. I have to say I didn’t see many monks throwing stuff in the kids’ baskets though… Maybe people are less generous lately so the monks had barely enough for themselves? Then on the other hand it’s not good to get the kids used to begging though… I did feel sorry for the kids seeing their baskets almost empty, but then they really shouldn’t be there in the first place right? Hopefully they would have a better future… Eventually there were no more monks coming our way. It looked like the ceremony was over. It’s amazing that the alms ceremony is still being pursued these days. Let’s just hope that the influx of tourists won’t jeopardise this tradition though…

Our bus to Vientiane was leaving in the evening so we still had a whole day to chill in Luang Prabang. We left our backpacks in our guesthouse and just wandered around for a while. We had a good look at the food market that morning. While it’s best to buy some things at the market as they surely are fresh, the choice of veggies and fruit was plenty, some other stuff didn’t look that appealing at all. Meat and fish sections were basically overtaken by flies… I definitely wouldn’t like to buy my dinner there – but then you never know maybe that’s where the restaurants where getting their supplies from? Better not to think about that too much though… It was the first time I saw frogs being sold at the market – some of them were pretty much alive still… Naaah… Another thing that would probably never find its way to my shopping basket. In the end we got some fruit for the road and for the rest of the day just relaxed.

I have to say that I really loved Luang Prabang. Nice laid-back atmosphere, some lovely places to eat around, cheap and very decent guesthouses, friendly people, we sure could’ve stayed here a few more days but we were curious what other parts of the country had to offer, so it was time to move forward… Next stop: Vientiane!

Additional photos below
Photos: 108, Displayed: 38


Tot: 2.432s; Tpl: 0.123s; cc: 14; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0314s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.5mb