As part of our first trip to Southeast Asia in 2015, Lynette and I spent a month exploring the wonderfully rugged country of Laos. It is a place that, despite bordering Thailand, is a step back from the modern conveniences of its affluent neighbour. This was part of the attraction for us. Laos is now part of what has become a well-travelled circuit by many travellers traversing the ‘banana pancake trail’ of Southeast Asia.
Travelling to Luang Prabang
To reach Luang Prabang, we decided to make the journey part of the adventure, so, having crossed the border from Chiang Khong in Thailand, we opted to take the two day slow boat down the Mekong River. We had heard that this trip was a wonderfully relaxing way to arrive in Luang Prabang. From the Laos border town of Huay Xai we boarded a long motor boat with many other travellers who all had the same idea.
We spent about 9 hours both days sailing down the Mekong River which was, as people had said, very peaceful and scenic. We spent one night in the small village of Pak Beng, halfway to Luang Prabang, before boarding the boat again early the following morning for the final leg of the trip.
Unfortunately, the journey was made even longer when our boat broke down and we had to transfer ourselves and all of our belongings to a second boat right in the middle of the river! Needless to say, we were relieved when we docked at the riverside in Luang Prabang.
Sightseeing in Luang Prabang
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang has some lovely sights that can easily be visited. These include Haw Kam, the former royal palace, where no photography, bags, shoes or any other personal effects are allowed inside what is now a museum. There is a viewpoint, which is good for sunset, overlooking the city at the top of Phousi Hill. The city also has some beautiful temples, although none of them are large scale.
There is a daily ‘Giving of Alms‘ ceremony that happens every morning at around 5:30am. Monks from the monasteries walk the main street in a line, receiving alms of food and drink from locals in exchange for a blessing. This was something that I intended to see but, alas, on our last morning in Luang Prabang, my final chance to see the ceremony, I wasn’t able to get out of our guesthouse as it was firmly locked. This was rather dangerous in my opinion and I was sad that I wasn’t able to witness such a traditional spectacle that is very much just a way of life for the people of Asia.
Accommodation in Luang Prabang
Within Luang Prabang there are many lodgings, ranging from budget guesthouses to bigger hotels. With regret, we cannot remember where we stayed; one thing I can tell you is that it was cheap and comfortable enough.
The main road is the place for local and cheap street food; there is also a whole line of restaurants, again ranging from cheap and local to more expensive. But there is something very special about finding cheap local food and doing as the locals do!
Beverages are also plentiful; in fact we found that it was cheaper to share a large bottle of the local beer Lao than it was to have a cup of tea each! So we had a guilt-free indulgence on one or two nights of our stay.
Kouang Si Waterfall
Outside of Luang Prabang we visited a magnificent multi-tiered waterfall called Kouang Si. It lies 29km south of town and is a worthwhile trip for relaxing, swimming and exploring the many levels… although the higher up you go, the more of a trek it becomes! The falls are a great place to escape the city.
Located within the Kouang Si complex is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre run by Free the Bears – a nonprofit organisation that takes care of the endangered Asiatic Black Bear, rescuing them from the clutches of poachers and bear bile farms. This is also worth a visit if you are interested.
Below Left: At Kouang Si Waterfall
Below Right: Sunset over the Mekong
We stayed in Luang Prabang for a few days, which was more than enough to see what we wanted. We experienced the place for what it was, before moving on to our next port of call – the adventure capital of Vang Vieng.
Luang Prabang is a great city to visit with lively street markets, a peaceful waterfront and some interesting temples. If we were to go again, however, we would probably skip the boat trip and travel by road as the boat makes for an extremely slow journey. But, other than that, we enjoyed our time in the city as it offered an insight into the slow pace of life that is possible to find when one comes to such a timeless place as Laos.
Are you heading to Thailand? Check out our Highlights of Northern Thailand post!