4 days in Luang Prabang, Laos
12.07.2014 - 12.11.2014 80 °F
We reluctantly dragged ourselves from Thailand after a brief 8 day tease in the Northern portion of the country and headed to Laos. We boarded our small prop plane to Luang Prabang, and were rewarded with a smooth ride and lovely views descending in to the city. As soon as we arrived in this beautiful little oasis, a feeling of pure relaxation came over us.
During our trip, we’ve discovered that while we enjoy living in a big city, we prefer traveling in small cities. Luang Prabang is as charming of a small city as they come, and was one of our favorite places in all of South East Asia. Nestled in the middle of lush green mountains, Luang Prabang is quaint, quiet, and delightfully peaceful. The city is located in the north central portion of Laos, at the junction of the Nam Khan and MeKong rivers. A very special place, you get the feeling that it has been frozen in time, where streets are safe, and traditions and family are kept close. Kids play in the streets at all hours, folks have barbecues on the sidewalk, and everything is left unlocked. The old town center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s easy to see why.
A very small city, you can walk from one end of the old town to the other in maybe 30 minutes. Along the way you’ll see many Buddhist temples and monasteries, mixed in with French colonial architecture. Streets are lined with great shopping, twinkling lights, dozens of tuk tuks, and tons of hammer and sickle communist flags. Monks roam the streets in their colorful orange robes, and locals give you a friendly greeting and a smile as you pass. Every morning at dawn, hundreds of monks walk in a procession accepting alms offered by locals. The centerpiece of the old town is Wat Chom Si, which sits on very steep hill next to the royal palace.
Beyond being wondrous in and of itself, Luang Prabang is surrounded by abundant natural beauty including waterfalls, caves, and farmland. On top of this, the food is delicious and the old town has lots of places to relax. Paradise.
Luang Prabang has inevitably become a very popular tourist destination. This makes everything a bit more expensive, but it was worth it. Everything closes down early, but for backpackers who are determined to party there is a bowling alley that is open late night. It was a bit of a juxtaposition seeing young backpackers stumbling in from the last full moon party still wanting to party all night long - it didn’t feel like the right place for that. Luckily, it was pretty isolated so it didn’t really feel like it penetrated in to the culture.
We had a wonderful hotel, and we discovered we were upgraded to a huge room (the ol’ honeymoon card really works!). The hotel faced the MeKong river, and offered free bicycles to tour the town. The first night of our visit, we wandered the streets of the city, soaking in the atmosphere and marveling at how serene everything felt. The smell of incense and barbecue fills the air, and at dusk the night market lights up the main road with colorful red and blue tents.
We spent our days exploring various sights around the area. One morning, we got up before dawn and watched the monk procession through the main street. It was a beautiful experience. The sunrise combined with the sacred tradition and the monks in their bright orange robes was such a sight to behold. We were not the only ones who got up to watch the procession - many people got right up in the monks path to take pictures - we did our best to stay out of the way and just watch, taking pictures from the other side of the street. On another day, we took a day trip to the Kuang Si waterfall outside of the town. With crystal blue water, it’s a popular place for a swim - we did get in, but boy was it cold! Another notable thing we did is a take a long boat on the MeKong river to the Pak Ou caves, which house hundreds of Buddha figures.
At night, we spent our time wandering through the night markets, going to a few places for happy hour, and dining. We got lots of sleep and reading done here, as well! We saw one spectacular sunset from Watt Chom Si, at the top of the hill at the center of the city.
Luang Prabang was the perfect cure for our ailment. That is, we were somewhat burned out on museum going, navigating big cities, and being general tourists. We were looking for a place to just “be”, and Luang Prabang proved to be the perfect solution. I really can’t say enough positive things about this place - if you ever come to South East Asia, this is a must see, and is a easy flight from Vietnam or Thailand. We left Luang Prabang feeling recharged and well rested - ready to take on Vietnam!
Around Luang Prabang:
On the bottom right is a man night fishing with a net:
Tyler blog writing:
Kuang Si Waterfalls:
Long Boat to Pak Ou Caves: