Luang Prabang was a lovely place and a different side to the small town of Huay Xai. It is a very small city but there is a reason is is a UNESCO world heritage site as it has an incredible amount of stunning temples. Just seeing them from the outside you can appreciate their beauty. There is also some great scenery surrounding the city itself as well as a couple of cool bars and some options for cheap food (that we had yet to find in Laos!).
During our time there we stayed at Vongprachen Hostel. This was only a few minutes walk to the night market as well as the rest of town. It had lovely clean and comfortable dorms which had ensuites with hot rain showers in them. The price for a dorm bed was a great and also included breakfast on their roof terrace with a good few options to choose from.
We visited the night market a few times during our stay. It was a very bustling vibrant street filled with trinkets, clothing and souvenirs. This was the first market where I could have bought a lot and I wanted to fill my non-existent home with some of the laterns, textiles and hand painted pictures which were all beautiful (Dave convinced me otherwise as we had no where to put them in our bags let alone when we get back to the UK).
On a side alley at the start of the night market by all the tuk tuk trucks there is a small alley crammed with different foods and various vegetarian buffets for 15 000 kip. The food here was great, allowed us to catch up on our fibre intake (after all the bread we had consumed) and was actually good for our budget. We also shared a delicious BBQ’d fish for 30 000 kip which was a nice change. Seafood is cheap in asia compared to western prices but it is still very significantly out of our very tight budget most of the time.
On our first evening we visited the night market with those from the gibbon experience and then headed to Utopia bar. It was a lovely bar with padded cushions on the floor, looking out over the river and you sit around small fire pits. We had a very relaxed evening here having a couple of drinks and chatting. Luang Prabang has a curfew of 11.30pm so all the bars close before this and people are expected to be off the streets or quiet after this. After this though there are queues of tuk tuks outside the bars that want to take you to the bowling alley. This is one of the only places that stays open after 11.30pm as it is run by the police. As many in our group thought it was too early to go back yet we boarded a tuk tuk for 10 000 kip each (each way) and entered the bowling alley. It was 20 000 kip to bowl and I decided I was not that bothered so just watched as the others bowled and mayhem begin to ensue. We arrived slightly early just as the locals were leaving but by 12am the place was packed with drunk westerners attempting to bowl and drinking more. At one point people were wrestling on the floor! After a game of bowling and impromptu awkward dancing we convinced the group to leave… it was a very strange evening and one we were happy not to replicate for the rest of our time in Luang Prabang.
In the morning we met up with the group again at the tuk tuk meeting point by the market area. We were headed for Kuangsi Waterfall but as there was a group of us we were determined to get a lower price for a tuk tuk. After standing around and negotiating with tuk tuk drivers we ended up going there for 25 000 each (this included a return trip there and the driver waited 4 hours for us whilst we were there). We also had to pay an entrance fee to get into the falls but it was totally worth it. The place is gorgeous at the top there is a gigantic waterfall which cascades down the hill and settles into around four large staggered pools of icy blue but cloudy water that you can swim in. We headed straight up to the waterfall, walking over the bridge and hiked up to the top of it. This used to be via a no entry sign but they have now removed this and there are two ways to get up- climbing some steep rocks or a steep smooth dirt path which is covered in dusty and sand making it very slippery. The rocks are definitely the better option as we had to hold on to tree roots and vines when we went the other direction to stop us slipping. At the top there are some small pools you can wade in and a swing you can sit on. They have also put in some small walk ways and have put a barrier at the front of the waterfall now for safety. They have included a viewing platform and the view was breathtaking. Unfortunately we do not have many photos from here as whilst we were swimming and trying to get footage in one of the smaller waterfalls
we (Dave) managed to loose our go pro camera. Despite it being on a floating pole it could have gone into any of the pools, got stuck on rocks or have been taken. We spent a long time looking for it but due to the vastness of the place and the cloudy water we didn’t find it which put a bit of a dampener on an amazing place. Also on the same site is the sun bear rescue centre. These bears have been rescued due to them being hunted for their bile. They are adorably cute with their sun markings around their necks and if you go at certain times of the day you can see them being fed. After a full day with the group we went our seperate ways for dinner and met up for some drinks at Lao Lao garden bar (happy hour in the evening is buy one get one free on cocktails for 20 000- though just ones made from Lao Lao or Lao whiskey!) and games of pool.
The next couple of days we relaxed and then explored Luang Prabang itself. We walked around the edge of town along the river where there were some great views. We watched lots of locals and some monks playing and frolicking in the river enjoying the small rapids in it. We explored the main strip where the majority of the temples were and admired them from the outside as they were beautiful but you have to pay for each one. We also visited a free photographic exhibition on meditation and visited the UXO museum. This was very interesting, it is donation for entry and we learnt about how the Vietnam/ American war ended up dropping a huge amount of incidneary bombs over Laos due to it being used as a way of troops getting to HCMC. It has left an incredible amount of unexploded bombs in the country and we learnt of the governments efforts now to try to clear all the bombs. This is going to take a very long time and whilst the land is not clear many are still killed or injured by unexploded bombs each year.
Many head up to Mount Phou Si for sunset but we had heard from others that it gets very crowded and we weren’t prepared to pay to watch the sunset. Instead we joined Niels at the beach (a small peninsular due to it being dry season where the rivers meet) where we sat admiring the view of the rivers, boats passing, greenery of the forests and a gorgeous sunset (which we managed to time lapse quite well!).
One morning we got up at dawn to watch the alms ceremony. This is a traditional buddhist ceremony where the local people line the streets to give offerings of food to the monks as they go by. However unfortunately this has turned into a tourist attraction of the worst sort. There is a lot of guidance about in Luang Prabang and on the internet of how you are supposed to behave at the ceremony and you are a tourist. You should be quiet, watch or take photos from a distant, not follow the procession and if you are advised really not to give food offerings yourself. However when we arrived there were lots of people selling food parcels for westerners to give to the monks (most of these were packaged goods that the monks had to throw away or give to locals there were providing offerings). There were also a huge amount of tourists standing right next to the monks, crowding them, chasing them down for for photos and taking photos in their faces with the flash on. It was not a nice sight to watch and ruined what I would imagine used to be quite a spiritual, interesting ceremony to watch for all. Dave commented that ridiculously if everyone just sat quietly on the otherside of the street then everyone’s pictures of it would be better as they wouldn’t be filled with other people.
We enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang however the town is quite small and unless you are using it as a base to do trekking or to visit some of the small towns up north you only need a few days here. It was also filled with some lovely looking restaurants and hotels/guesthouses; it would make an enjoyable place to come on holiday where you could get luxury at not too high a price.