Monday, 31 August 2015

Luang Prabang: Life at a leisurely pace in Laos!

We arrived in Luang Prabang and instantly became calmed by the change in pace from the busy streets of the capital city, Vientianne. Riding bicycles becomes easy on these typically country village streets and you can walk easily to any significant sites. Luang Prabang sits on the beautiful Mekong River and we only had to walk down a laneway to access the numerous restaurants that overlook the main waterway. It has a French influence and cafes and bakeries are everywhere. Flat bottomed boats and canoes pass up and down and there is a fascination in watching the comings and goings that take place.

French style lampposts blend in with a Laos streetscape.

Bicycling is easy on the quiet streets!

 There are many restaurants, bars and cafes in Luang Prabang. Food is very cheap and beautifully diverse. My favourite place for dinner was on the riverbank. It was run by a wonderful French chef who had given up the streets of Paris to build up a business with his restaurant and across the road, a B and B, which he was renovating with that touch of French class! He showed us through, and we wished we had known about it as it was beautifully restored and cheaper than ours! C'est las Vie!

Enjoying French cuisine and coffee by the river!

The main temple, Wat Xiens Thong, was a short walk from our digs, it has beautiful buildings with the most amazing gilded features. From there it was over the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan River. This bridge is washed away each year and rebuilt! At dusk, everyone walks through the street markets to go up the hill to catch the view of the sunset over That Chomsi, 300 steps up. It is very crowded but amazing views!

The ornamented tree of Life at Wat Xieng Thong. 

Finely decorated temples.
Crossing the Nam Khan River at sunset.
Sunset over Luang Prabang.
Colourful street markets: spices and dried fish.

We booked several tours locally while there. One was to the waterfalls nearby where tourists can swim in the rock pools and I paid to visit a bear sanctuary on the way to the falls.. These sun bears are rescued from poachers who milk them for their bile: only a small fraction apparently of this despicable trade. I had a beautiful soup and noodle dish, while at my feet was a cat and a rooster! Only in Laos!

Waterfalls at Kuang Si.
Bears sleeping in the Bear Rescue Centre!

Our trip up the Mekong River to the Ban Pak Ou Caves was a lengthy one and a half hours, but the scenery was superb. There are 170 or so steep steps up to the cave entrance, inside there are thousands of small buddhas. To my surprise, we found that Australians had contributed to the complete restoration of this cave. On the way back, we stopped ashore at a whisky village which made local whisky and rice wine. Dead snakes, centipedes and cockroaches add to the flavour - tasting is optional but I tried some without additives! There were beautifully crafted silk scarves and clothing though to compensate for the tasting! Our night cruise of the river with dinner included, proved very entertaining as we stopped at a small bamboo riverside stage where ethnic dances were performed by a small group of local villagers. The costumes as always were beautiful.

Inside the restored Buddha cave.
At the base of the caves, only 300 more steps up to go!
Snake, scorpion and cockroaches are added to the wines!
Choose your poison, I mean whisky!

But the main attraction in Luang Prabang was the dawn parade of monks who receive alms and rice from the tourists and villagers. There were about 200 monks, young and old, and they processed in single file down several back streets. Many people were entirely respectful, but some tourists were not and stepped in front of them with flashes going off, something you are told specifically not to do. We saw many of these parades all over Laos and Myanmar and they were so amazing each time.

Young monks gather at the temple site.

Monks young and old follow in single file for alms at dawn.

My Tip:
Take your sense of humour on tours as it can be quite uncomfortable in longboats and prepare for those stops beside the river where you have to get to shore on small bits of wood! Water bottles and snacks are essential for long boat or bus trips and laugh with the locals as they are always obliging!

Have you ever encountered disrespectful  tourists on your travels?


  1. Laos looks like the sort of place I would love to visit. It reminds me a little of Vietnam but probably a little less hectic. The photo of the long boat on the Mekong with the caves in the background is absolutely magical. Another place for the bucket list!

    1. It is a magical place Kathy - years ago we were told about it by other travellers in Cambodia and have never regretted the extra effort it took to get there! Thanks for your comment, the longboat photo is a favourite of mine too. Happy Travels!