Hanging Out In Luang Prabang

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
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Trip End May 02, 2013


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Where I stayed
Silikane Guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We thought the road to Vang Vieng was slow and winding, but the ride from there to Luang Prabang had tighter curves, higher mountains, and more dramatic scenery. The altimeter on Jason's watch showed the highs and lows, but could not depict the circuitous route taken to get from one to the other.  Our drivers pushed the minibus to its performance limit, squealing tires, braking abruptly and swerving to avoid collisions with vehicles emerging suddenly from around blind corners.  With no guard rails, one wrong move could prove fatal for many.  Even at the higher elevations, villages cling to the cliff-sides and we made a few seemingly random stops, including picking up a couple of dead squirrels in plastic bags and dropping them off at another village later on.  Our lunch stop overlooked rolling hills and valleys with notable bare patches.  Unfortunately most of the views were obscured by the eternal haze from a combination of the climate and slash-and-burn deforestation that is all too common here.

Our travel mates Dana and Tomer from Montreal made the trip up with us and after sharing a tuk-tuk into town with our busload we booked ourselves into the same guesthouse on arrival.
The whole town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It has some similarities to Hoi An in Vietnam, with French architecture, shuttered windows, tasteful signage on all businesses and of course a river runs through it.  The main street closes every evening for the night market, a long strip of handicrafts and clothing.  A couple of alleyways are designated for food stalls.  It's a nice place to relax and unwind while planning adventures in more remote areas and we spent our first morning doing exactly that.

The afternoon agenda called for several temple visits.  The first one wasn't planned but as we walked on to the grounds a group of novice monks asked Jason for some assistance with their English exercises.  He sat down and helped them work their own way to find the answers.

Moving on to Wat Xieng Thong we paid the entrance fee and wandered through several buildings at the site.  They were all very impressive architecturally and decoratively.  We then made our way up the hill in the centre of town to see a couple more temples and watch the sun set over the Mekong River (again).  A popular spot it was and our brightest star burned from amber to orange and finally red before fading over the distant hills.  That night Jason went out on a bit of a limb by ordering chicken curry spaghetti.  It was spicy and delicious!

The next morning the four of us rose early for the almsgiving procession.  The streets were lined with tangerine-robed monks receiving alms from all who were willing to give.  It was quite something to witness as these boys and men passed.  They come from all over to live in a monastery and study for short periods to lifetimes.

After a nap and a hearty congee breakfast we hired a tuk-tuk to take us out to Kuang Si Waterfall.  This site was truly spectacular.  It started with an Asiatic black bear rescue centre.  The adorable endangered bears dozed, played and bathed in the large enclosures where they appeared to be well looked after.

A short walk from there the sight of the river merged with its sound.  Waterfall after waterfall cascaded into bright light blue pools, many suitable for swimming.  We stopped at a larger area with a tree jump, rope swing and Jason even had the courage to take the first flying leap off the top of the waterfall!  It was an exhilarating experience.  Further upriver past a wide variety of waterfalls extends the main falls, throwing water hundreds of feet down to the pool below.  We hiked up to about the halfway point and took some amazing photos.  It's also possible to swim there.

On the one hour tuk-tuk ride back to town we passed a well-groomed golf course and Jason missed the game for a moment.  The PGA tour was also on TV later that night so Jason watched while Sylvia completed her research into the most enjoyable and ethical way to interact with elephants in Southeast Asia.  In the end we decided to skip it in Lao and wait for northern Thailand.

For dinner we chose an alleyway barbecue for whole fish (25,000 kip ~ $3) and fill-your-plate buffet for 10,000 kip.  Sylvia treated Jason to a bottle of Lao black ginger whiskey which tasted fine on another walk through the market, bumping into fellow travellers on the same trail.
On the road (as at home) there are many things that require attention and they all take at least three times as long while travelling.  Banking, hand laundry and keeping in touch via variable wi-fi signals can easily eat up a few hours and so went our final full morning in Luang Prabang. 

Our afternoon stroll was much more exciting.  We walked a long loop through streets and shops we hadn't seen yet, a few of which offered such exquisite local products that we just couldn’t resist.  At the far end of the peninsula the town sits on Sylvia crossed a bamboo bridge while Jason braved the unexpectedly fast current and deep water to cross the river, both in search of the weaving villages.  (As an aside, Jason has become much more comfortable in the water over the past few years and after crossing back on the rickety bridge later he wasn’t sure who was truly braver.)  This gave us the chance to meet the people who create the beautiful scarves, pillowcases, wall hangings, etc that are sold in the markets.  Each home / shop had one or more weaving looms and their products elegantly displayed.  It felt extra special to buy a few gifts directly from the local artisans.

Later that night we attended a fashion show we’d heard about from a shop in town.  Held in the garden of a bar, it was a totally different and fabulous experience.  The designers took inspiration from the ethnically diverse people of Lao to create their own garments and local models walked the runway in one-of-a-kind styles.  Jason finally seized the opportunity to enjoy a Beerlao Dark and found it to be a quality brew.   In need of a repack after all the shopping, we retired early to prepare for another travel day.
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Comments

jennifer Larson on

I learned so much from your blog and pictures. I really enjoy reading your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

Lloyd and jane on

We are sooooo envious - especially now that we are back in Vancouver. Sounds like Laos is still a neat place to visit.

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