Luang Prabang, Laos

Moving on from Thailand, we traveled northeast to neighboring Laos. The last time we made the journey to Luang Prabang (about a dozen years ago), we took the two day slow boat on the Mekong River. We weren’t sure how the kids would feel about being cooped up on a boat that long, so this time we flew!

Luang Prabang is home to about 55,000 residents, making it the fourth largest city in the country. The old town comprises a wonderful mix of temples and French Colonial architecture, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Multi-headed Nagas are a common decoration found at temples.

Buddha and mini Buddha?

Luang Prabang is situated at the confluence the Nam Khan and Mekong River. At the beginning of the dry season, bamboo foot bridges are constructed to allow people to cross the rivers. When the wet season come, the rivers flood and wash the bridges away.

Phou Si Hill sits in the middle of the old town. A hike to the top is a must!

At the peak we were rewarded with a view of the town below, the mighty Mekong, and distant mountains.

Happy hikers.

Eating out in Luang Prabang is a real treat. We found a wide variety of traditional Laos dishes as well a French influenced cuisine. These rainbow spring rolls were delicious!

Of course, like pretty much everywhere else we’ve traveled, pizza was often on the menu. This riverside restaurant is named Utopia and seemed to be backpacker central.

While we ate our pizza we watched a rainbow form.

Luang Prabang is the spiritual center of Laos, and home to many monks. Every morning at dawn the monks make their way down the streets to collect alms. The alms typically consist of a small handful of sticky rice.

Sadly this ceremony has become a tourist spectacle along the main street; enterprising locals sell overpriced bowls of rice to tourists who join in on the action for a photo-op. We did our best to choose a street with fewer tourists and touts and we watched in silence from a respectful distance.

Mailing post cards!

The night market is one of the best we experienced in SE Asia! Haggling is expected, but the starting price on many items was so low (like a $4 dress or $2 t-shirt) we didn’t bother haggling aggressively.

Our home for the week was Villa Maly, which was formerly a royal residence. The kids loved the pool.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre

One afternoon we spent several hours at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre.

Here we learned more about the culture and customs of the native people of Laos.

The kids enjoyed trying their hands at making traditional crafts out of bamboo.

Mekong Cruise

Wanting to explore the Mekong a bit more, we booked a lunch cruise on the Nava Mekong. Like almost all of the boats that sail the Mekong, this is a very long and narrow vessel.

As we motored up river, we crossed under a rail bridge under construction. This bridge is part of a high speed rail project that will stretch from China to Singapore. It is likely that there will be a huge increase in the number of visitors to LP once it is complete – hopefully this won’t change the town too much.

Happy Mekong cruisers.

Our first stop on the cruise was the Pak Ou caves.

We climbed up steep stairs to reach the caverns. Inside the caves we found thousands of Buddha statues of different sizes and materials.

Seeing all of these statues reminded us of the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.

The scenery along the river was beautiful.

Wes enjoying the view. Sadly this is the last time he saw his Cantillion shirt, which went missing in the laundry after this was taken. We’ll have to go back to Brussels and get a new one. 🙂

Our next stop was the “Whiskey Village,” a small town lined with shops offering textiles and rice whiskey.

Many of the bottles contained snakes or scorpions. Wes settled for a small bottle of the plain stuff!

Kuang Si Waterfall

On our last day in LP we took a trip to the Kuang Si Falls, which is a 45 minute drive from town.

The falls are made up of brilliant blue water cascading over limestone pools. The formations were very reminiscent of the ones we saw last year at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

The pools were full of little fish that nibbled at us the second we stopped swimming. The kids got a kick out of this.

At the entrance to the falls there is a rescue center for Asiatic Black Bears. These bears have been rescued from bile farms, where they are milked for their bile which is used in Chinese medicine.

Thousands of bears remain in captivity across SE Asia; fortunately governments are making efforts to end the practice of bile farming.

Summing Up

Luang Prabang was one of our favorite stops in Asia. We loved the relaxed pace, absence of crowds, great cafes, and variety of things to see and do. We can’t wait to come back and explore more of Laos!

Next up, Cambodia!