Luang Prabang, Laos
From Vang Vieng we took yet another extremely twisty, bumpy and generally uncomfortable bus ride to the main tourist town in Laos – Luang Prabang. Although it is just over 200km’s away from Vang Vieng it took us more than 7 hours to get there. That should give you a pretty good idea of the state of the roads in Laos. The scenery on this journey was stunning, however. It almost made up for the 7 hours of nausea.
Luang Prabang is a very well regarded town. It is a staple on the South East Asia tourist trail and a place we had heard only great things about from other travelers. We were really excited to finally be there to see things for ourselves. I was slightly skeptical that it would have anything different to offer us than anywhere else we had been. I thought it would be a mixture of Pokhara, Nepal and Siem Reap, Cambodia or other similarly well kept small Asian cities with great tourist infrastructure. I was however, wrong. UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang really does offer up a lovely and unique experience to its visitors.
The town itself it full of wat’s, temples and orange-robed monks. They are simply everywhere. We spent one entire afternoon walking around looking at the different temples and observing the monks in their daily habits. It is a big attraction in town to get up at dawn to give alms (offer food) to the dozens of monks who line the main temple street. We couldn’t get ourselves out of bed early enough to make it to an alms ceremony but I think we had our fill of monks and temples nonetheless.
The main “touristy” thing we did while we were in town was take a half day trip out to the magnificent Kuang Si waterfall and Bear Rescue Centre. We had a fabulous time! The waterfall itself is one of the biggest we have ever seen with so many cascading layers and pools that visitors can swim in. The water was so clear, cool and oh so refreshing after the 40+ degree daytime heat. It’s an incredibly popular spot for tourists and locals alike and it’s really easy to see why. It’s the ultimate picnic, recreation and outdoors spot. There were so many beautiful birds and butterflies fluttering about in addition to so many gorgeous plants and flowers. It really is an ideal place to spend a hot afternoon.
At the entrance to the waterfalls is the Bear Rescue Centre where a few dozen Asiatic Black Bears who were rescued from abuse and poaching now live. I really loved this place even though it’s nothing much more than a few small-ish enclosures. The bears were hilarious to watch and we had the opportunity to get nice and close to the enclosures for great views of the animals. I was so surprised how much smaller these guys were than our black bears at home. It’s fantastic that places like the Bear Rescue Centre exist because many species of bear in Asia are severely endangered. It’s hard to believe that so much animal abuse continues to exist on such a spectacular level in Asia.
The rest of our time in Luang Prabang was spent enjoying Beer Laos along the banks of the Mekong, trying out the wide variety of street food, and perusing the excellent night market. Although we only bought two 4$ beer Lao t-shirts we ended up walking around the night market every single evening wondering if there was anything else we wanted to buy. There were a few beautiful, tempting items but we eventually decided they would more than likely amount to tourist junk for us once home.
When it came time to leave Luang Prabang we had a tough decision on our hands. There isn’t really a good way to get in or out of Laos. Every option seems to either be expensive, uncomfortable or SO LONG. Since we were heading to Chiang Mai, Thailand next to meet my Mom and Vicky our choices were to take a one hour flight for 150$ per person, a twenty hour bus ride for roughly 20$, or a three day slow boat trip for roughly 25$ per person. Well, we didn’t want to fork over the money for the flight and we heard that the small propeller planes felt less than safe anyways so that option was out. We spent a few days debating over the bus or slow boat before finally settling on the boat. We had no idea what to expect from the boat having read and heard a variety of stories ranging from “incredible! Amazing!” to “worst experience of my life”. Hmm what did we get ourselves into…