Lovely Luang Prabang

Trip Start Oct 16, 2009
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Trip End Nov 15, 2009


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Where I stayed
Nittaya Guesthouse (nice)

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, October 23, 2009

22nd October - Lovely Luang Prabang

It took a bus ride from hell but Luang Prabang is lovely!

Hellish bus ride
The bus ride between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is about 7 hours through heavily mountainous terrain. I thought I'd go for a VIP minibus because of the mountains and risk of motion sickness (a thing I'm prone to as it is).
Due to bad timing and being too timid I ended up in the worst seat of all. The one that folds open between the driver and the co-driver, has no head rest, and no leg space (and a stick shift where my legs could go). At first I thought, c'mon, you've travelled in Africa and basically sat on people's laps for hours on end, you'll be fine. But 7 hours was a loooong time. The annoying Korean guy in the co-drivers seat to my right apparently had a big ego and needed lots of room for his tiny Asian legs, so all the while we were fighting the quiet battle over what little space there was, him needing at least 3/4. I probably should've just said something but really didn't feel like it. Next time I will though, no, next time I'll make sure I have a better seat, especially if I paid extra for a more luxurious bus.

See some videos of the bus trip:
Video 1
Video 2

I have to say the scenery was stunning though. We went over very high mountains and had views of deep ravines and valleys, green greener greenest.

Not so comfy
After about 4 hours one of the Lao rich spoilt girls in the back started vomiting into a plastic bag. Someone else convinced the Korean guy to give up his seat in the front to her so that she'd get less sick. He grudginly agreed. The Lao girl didn't want my crappy seat (obviously). But she took up much less space so that was good, I finally had enough space for my legs. However, by this time I was very sleepy, which was helped by the warm weather, motions of the minibus and the beautiful scenery now becoming repetitive. I kept falling asleep, my head falling back and I hurt my neck a few times because I had no head rest.

Lovely Luang Prabang
But all good things come to an end so finally we arrived in Luang Prabang. Somehow Laos has decided that it's convenient for bus terminals to be at least 3 km outside the town centre, which is kind of a pain! This way a multiple hour bus ride can cost a few euros, but the tuk-tuk ride into town is just as expensive, and more hassle of course. It's like this in all the towns I visited so far so I'd better get used to it. Another hurrah for NS which stops right in the middle of cities!

Smiles
Luang Prabang immediately felt like a very pleasant, welcoming city (about 26.000 inhabitants). Its centre is situated between the Mekong and another river. It has beautiful colonial buildings, a mellow atmosphere, lots of guesthouses and tourists, but also very Lao markets and streets. Most of the tourists visiting this place are French or other nationalities elderly people, interested in the history and temples and it being a World Heritage site.
And the Lao people here smile again! It's so easy to tell what type of tourist has come before you. Over here: rich old polite ones who are interested in the people and their culture, and spend a lot of money.

Nice guesthouse
I followed a guy persuading me to see his guesthouse, but I also wanted to see a few others first from Lonely Planet and Travelfish.org. Those did not have the good rooms (with balcony / window) available anymore so I ended up in that first place that is not yet in Lonely Planet, and was actually quite charming, only 50.000 kip (4 euros) with private bathroom, except it had a construction site opposite so it was a bit noisy. But I should be used to that by now, what with all the renovations going on next door in Amsterdam. So I sleep through all that easily, with or without ear plugs. The guesthouse was in a nice location, slightly away from the main touristy hustle and bustle but just around the corner from Joma Cafe, a great little European-style place with amazing coffee. After lots of Thai / Lao food and drinks it's nice to touch home base every once in a while and get European-style decor and drinks / food.

Lively night market
That first evening I immediately stumbled upon the fantastic night market, which consists of a widespread food market, and flows into a touristy souvenir market further down. I just loved that food market! It had so many smells I could not place, and even looking at the foods didn't help much. I don't know what half the stuff is. I ate some barbequed fish I shared with a couple from Singapore (had some nice talks about how easy it is for them to travel all over Asia), and indulged in a baguette with Nutella. :-)

Click here for a video of live fish at the market.

A lot of things here are left over from the French colonisation: baguettes, good coffee, people playing petanque (jeu de boules), architecture, street names, hospital names. You also come across old people every now and then who address you in French, and I am able to have conversations with them in French. Those oldies speak better French than English.

The Lao people here are so sweet, helpful and mellow. Whenever I ask if I can take their picture (I always ask first), they always allow it and smile. One sweet couple even gave me an orange after I showed them the result, and wished me "lucky-lucky".

23rd October - chilling out

I rented a bike to get around on and went around Luang Prabang, just checking out some parts of the centre, some temples (I had dressed appropriately), cafes, the river banks, and the Phousi Hill (when pronounced - pussy hill - sounds a bit silly). It's a very pleasant town to chill out in. There are numerous nice terraces in town or on the river bank, and quiet gardens where you can have delicious fruit juices and food.

After climbing up the hundreds of steps of Phousi hill I had a good view of the city and there were also some monks up there. I also had a massage but this one was a bit disappointing. The girl clearly didn't feel like it and it seemed like she had not been educated to give massages either. It costing only so little though, I just looked at it as a good oil treatment for my skin.
That evening I had my dinner (yummie Tom Kha Kai soup) in a restaurant that also features movies. It had pillows on the floor and travellers were lounging on them, eating, watching the movie and using their laptops because there was also wifi. It sure would be nice to carry a mini laptop and be able to sort my photos and type my diaries on there instead of an internet cafe.
Everything in Luang Prabang closes at 10 p.m. (bars at 11.30 p.m.) so that's another reason it doesn't attract the horrible party crowd you find in Vang Vieng.

24th October - Kuang Si waterfalls

I got up at 6.30 hoping to see the monks. But my hotel owner told me I was too late, they were already gone. Hmmm, back to bed, another go tomorrow! :-)
I had some breakfast, used the internet to see if my lost blog entries had shown up yet (nope, that's why I'm rewriting now), and booked a trip to the Kuang Si waterfalls. That afternoon a minibus picked me up and a dozen other tourists. It was about 45 minutes ride out to the waterfalls, which were amazing! There were some nice people in that group, a few French speaking Canadian girls who were sharing part of their travels (one was going home soon, the others still had a year in Australia upcoming), and a nice English boy who was going to travel in Brazil after this.

Click here for a video of the waterfalls.

The waterfalls were really beautiful, and you could walk all the way up, past various pools that were good for swimming. It was funny to see how some pools apparently attracted the western tourists, dressed in bikinis and shorts, and other pools attracted Asian tourists from China, Malaysia, Thailand, and where ever, wearing sarongs and long trousers and t-shirts, or not swimming at all but picknicking in groups. This is why I soon covered myself up with a sarong as well. At the western pool though there was a rope and I swung from that one time.
That evening, hey why the heck not, I had another 4 euro massage. This one was another disappointment, again a young girl who wasn't into her job and used too much force. I felt I must have bruises afterwards. I kept telling her to use less force but she kept forgetting, she was very distracted and kept talking to colleagues. She got no tip.

25th October - early start to see the monks

Today I got up very early at 5 to see the monks going round the streets at 5.30 a.m. They collect food and alms from the religious Lao people. I had read that in the main street this can be a contrived experience with sellers of food harrassing you, but got trapped in such a scene anyway. I thought it might be rude to take pictures of the monks without giving any food, but as it turned out you're supposed to only give them something if it really means something to you, i.e. if you're a buddhist yourself. And lots of people take pictures of them. But the lady who had sold me some food to give out, kept harrassing me, telling me to sit down on her cloth and stay in one place, whereas I wanted to walk around to the quieter streets and photograph the monks.

Utter tourist
Eventually she gave up and I was able to do what I wanted. It was a beautiful ceremony to witness but I felt like an utter tourist photographing it... but oh well, what can you do. I just thought of the tourists in Amsterdam photographing everything.

Following a random sign

I had decided to take a night bus instead of a day bus, since I had already seen the scenery and was backtrekking the same route to Vientiane. This would also give me the extra daytime to spend in Luang Prabang. I spent a leisurely day reading my book in a quiet garden drinking mango juice, then went out to follow a sign I had seen the day before. It said, walk here to visit weaving villages, 500 meters. I followed the sign which led to a narrow path through tall grass and ended on the river bank, where an old man with some missing teeth stood waiting. He offered to take me to the weaving villages and to his home for 10.000 kip (about 80 eurocents). Some other old tourists had also followed me down, but decided not to join this man. I did. He seemed (and was) utterly harmless.

The toothless guy's home
He took me across the river in his boat, and up to his home. It was a stone house and quite big for Lao standards, but the inside was not decorated at all, just concrete, and things lying about randomly everywhere. It had no doors but faded curtains to shut the rooms off from the main living space. He made me sit down, and his daughter and grandson were there. His wife made me some noodle soup and even though I'd just had a big lunch I tried to be polite and to eat as much as I could. It was delicious but I was already quite full. His son came home and suddenly saw himself burdened with the task of taking the 'falang' out to the weaving villages on his motorbike. He didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about this task his father had bestowed upon him, but off we went. I was wearing my skirt that day so I had to sit on the motorbike sideways. It all went well and I didn't fall off.

Weaving and carving
The weaving village was another one of those places frequented by rich old French tourists who spend a lot of money and are very interested in the work and life of the people, so it was a pleasant enough place. I had a look at some women weaving away at their intricate machines, and some people carving wood. I didn't buy anything though because the prices were much higher than at the night market in town, higher even than in the Netherlands.

Videos of the women weaving:
Video 1
Video 2
Video 3

The sulking son took me back to Luang Prabang, this time by motorbike across a bridge rather than back by boat.

I had some dinner and went back to my guesthouse, showered, packed and was picked up by a tuk-tuk driver who took me to the bus terminal for my nightbus, leaving Luang Prabang behind with fond memories.

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Comments

Evelien on

You're pictures are beautifull! What kind of camera do you use? Greets, Evelien

cecilia74
cecilia74 on

Thank you! I used a Canon EOS body + Tamron 18-270mm lense.

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