Out of the Crazy and Into Laos

Silly title I know, but it is nearly exploding with truth.

After two weeks in the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, it was time to move on. One highly cramped thirteen hour bus ride later, we arrived in Luang Prabang, tired but happy to be off the bus. So began the most wonderful five days of our trip so far.

After only a few hours spent in Luang Prabang, LP for my fingers sake, we knew it was a place we were going to enjoy. We were instantly more relaxed as we connected to the soul and groove of the city. Laotian culture is much, much more laid back then that of what we saw of Vietnam. The people are friendly and helpful, and even the tuktuk drivers and other hawkers are much more relaxed. They understand the word no, and even at the markets I didn’t feel heavily pressured to buy anything. It all just felt so chill.

Not only is the city wonderfully laid back, it is also gorgeous. The city sits on a peninsula created by the wide, easy flowing waters of the famous Mekong, and a small, sand bar filled tributary the Nam Khan. The beautiful waters of these two rivers make a stunning back drop for the city. We spent numerous warm evenings enjoying the pleasant weather and watching the sun fade over the Mekong, and the moon light sparkling like diamonds on the rippling waters of the Nam Khan.

LP has been listed as a world heritage site by UNSECO since 1995, for multiple reasons. One of them is its unique architectural history. The city and the river banks feature building designs ranging from bamboo huts and rural wood and cement structures, to multi story white painted and beautifully decorated remnants of the French Colonial Influence of the 19th and 20th centuries. Numerous Wats (Buddhist Temples) dot the city adding to the architectural splendor with their steep pointed roofs and intricate decoration. Rising above it all is Mount Phousi, which shoots one hundred and fifty meters above the city. A steep staircase on the Nam Khan side takes you up to a small Buddhist shrine and provides for a spectacular panoramic view of the city.IMG_3651

Of course there are plenty of things to do around town. Personally, we spent hours just exploring, as the city is small and easy to navigate. The food is fantastic, and while we tend to look for street food and other local venues to eat, there are many higher end restaurants that serve a mixture of Asian and European influenced dishes, especially French. Tamarind on the Nam Khan side of town is a wonderful example (unless your lucky, a table requires a reservation). There are also numerous little cafés where one can have a coffee and relax and enjoy a book or a wonderful view. The café on the point was one of my favorites as it looks out over the confluence of the two rivers and the view is fantastic. Of course there are bars aplenty to visit as well. Utopia was perhaps our favorite. It has a wonderful deck with chairs or pads that look out over the Nam Khan, beach volleyball, and offers a morning and afternoon yoga class overlooking the river. It is largely a backpacker hangout though, so it gets rather packed at night.

For some interaction with the locals, check out Big Brother Mouse. This charity works to get books to kids in rural areas, but also provides twice daily sessions for locals who are trying to learn English to meet with tourists and spend some time chatting. Dialect and accent are no matter, as they will encounter all of them at some point being involved with tourism. There is also a cool little storytelling theater, which of course was closed for a party the night we tried to go, but everything we read about it made it sound great. Not too far from Utopia, there is a little café and book swap place the does nightly movies, and next door to that is the Hive, which does nightly shows from either a local hip hop aerobatic breakdancing group, or a fashion show put on by local women featuring traditional Laotian dress.

For some activities outside of town we have a few recommendations. The two day Mahout training and elephant experience, at The Elephant Village, was fantastic. Working with the elephants and the riders who have trained with them for years was a once in a lifetime experience. Not only were the elephants great, but the rooms were gorgeous, the food was fantastic, and the infinity pool was top notch.

Take a boat across the Mekong, and in general explore the villages and breathtaking natural scenery of the opposite banks of the rivers. We only spent an hour or two doing so, and we missed out on quite a bit.

I also took a knife making class through back street academy (.com) that was right up there with the elephants in awesomeness. I was picked up by an English speaking guide who took me out to a local village where I worked with a master blacksmith to literally forge a knife. The man was a third generation black smith and he and his sons took me through the process, with the help of my guide. While they did much of the work, I was allowed to do quite a bit, including some hammering and shaping of the blade, and much of the sharpening and polishing. It was an experience I never thought I would actually have, and it was absolutely amazing. I also got an awesome traditional Lao knife and sheath out of the deal!

Finally, if your in LP, you will likely end up at the night market… every night. The stalls are run by locals, and while they all sell much of the same stuff largely to tourists, it is a great place to get some awesome souvenirs especially clothes or art. Be prepared to haggle as it is part of the deal. One thing we missed until the very last day, is there is a little side alley that runs perpendicular to the main market that is only for food stalls. It is located near the front of the markets and it is a wonderful place to get some amazing food.

We stayed a few different guesthouses while we were there. Average is about 100,000 kip p/n. They were all nice rooms with a bathroom and most had free coffee in the morning. There are so many in town it would take a book all of its own to talk about them all. Take a look and find one you like. Stay away from the cheaper options, as they are cheap for a reason.

LP was, in total, a magical place. We loved it so much, we ended up staying for five days, and there was still much more to do and see. The atmosphere, the scenery, the beauty, and the absolutely gorgeous weather made it a place well worth the visit. Hopefully, we will be able to come back one day.

 

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