A French influenced picturesque river town where the morning sunrise works as a beautiful backdrop for a daily monk procession, where the most amazing waterfalls, possibly in the world, reside, where busy markets and friendly laid back locals hang out, guess where? Luang Prabang, Laos.
Our drive to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng was terrifying, at one point I asked Neil if we were going to die. We booked two spots in a mini-van for 8:30am, it got us on time and then drove all around town picking up people until about 9:30am when we finally left. The road was very rough and bumpy as we went over a huge windy mountain pass, at one point we could only see 2 metres in front of us.
Along the way we saw a massive crash between two trucks, there were dead and injured people on the road, but our driver didn’t stop to help. It would’ve taken more than two hours for help to reach them, but people don’t stop to help in case they get mugged. Sad that no one knows when the road side scam is real or not.
Our driver speed the entire way and over took on blind corners almost causing us to crash at one point – tyres screeched and the entire mini-van erupted in screams. I was very happy when we finally arrived. If you’re going to do this drive try and go with a reputable company and get a bus as they have to go slower.
A WEE SLEEPING SPOT:
We found a cheap spot to sleep just two minutes from the river and market – it was pretty cramped though! LPQ Guesthouse cost us 40,000 Kip ($7NZ) each a night and included the usual free wifi, breakfast, pool table, common area, good location, but the rooms were very cramped. There wasn’t much room for your bags so it was hard to walk in and out of the dorm, but we didn’t spend much time there so it worked out sweet as a cheap place to sleep.
WATERFALLS, MONKS, SUNSET CROWDS, MARKETS AND PASSPORTS:
Kuang Si Waterfall and rescued bears
Milky blue cool water flowing through dozens of terraced pools that never seem to end – what an amazing place.
At 8am one morning we ventured out of our hostel on a quest to climb the Kuang Si Waterfalls, but first we had to find a tuk-tuk to take us there. At this time of the morning it’s a little hard as tourists like to sleep-in, that was why we wanted to go early – to avoid the crowds. We eventually found a local to take us, but we needed two more tourists to join us to bring the price down – we talked an Australian couple into changing their caving plans and joining us. It cost 40,000 Kip ($7NZ) each for the 50 minute drive out to the falls and entrance was 20,000 Kip ($3.50NZ) each – so cheap for such an amazing place!
We were greeted by big sleepy black bears when we first arrived.
At the bottom of the falls is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre – such a cool place. The bears are all Asiatic black bears, or moon bears, and have all been rescued from illegal trades. We sung “The Bear Necessities” from the Jungle Book as we wandered around outside of the multiple enclosures. Such an awesome sanctuary and beautiful creatures.
After waving bye to Baloo we found ourselves at the bottom of the waterfall.
We were some of the very first people there, bliss. Neil was keen to get some photos without a bunch of tourists jumping in his shot and he managed to do just that.
It took us 20 minutes to walk to the base of the biggest part of the falls, there were lots of terraced pools and falls along the way. It took another 15 minutes to climb to the top, this was quite slippery and we were stoked we’d worn proper shoes for once.
We climbed back down the other side which had wooden steps, some had turned to stone because there was so much calcium in the water.
After all this climbing we were ready for a swim – the water was lovely cool and clean, I wanted to stay forever
The procession of the monks
Every morning during sunrise all of the local monks walk in single lines throughout the town of Luang Prabang collecting their breakfast. Visitors are invited to join in this interesting procession so we decided to head down one morning around 5am to see what it was all about.
We waited outside one of the local temples with a few other solo tourists as well as a few tourist groups. The brightly orange clothed monks, some looked to be as young as 4-years-old, began to appear and soon they were receiving rice and other goodies from local men and women on the side of the road along with tourists.
They also gave some of this back to local beggars. The procession went for about 30 minutes before they went back to their temples to eat breakfast – their only meal of the day. What an amazing thing to be a part of.
Sunsets draw crowds, as do markets
During sunset the place to be, just across from the local museum, is the top of Phu Si – a massive hill in the centre of town. We visited the museum for a wee stroll first and found a sweet temple there, but it was closing as we arrived so we didn’t get to read much about it – Neil got a few snaps though!
After this we climbed the steps to the top of the hill about 30 minutes before sunset – we were lucky we got there early as 10 minutes after we had sat down the crowds poured in.
We had about 100 or so people behind us all ready with their cameras and phones. The sun in Laos is very special, at sunset it looks massive and it gets a red haze over it so it doesn’t hurt to look at. It’s very beautiful.
After we watched the sun disappear towards the other side of the world we walked back down the hill and landed in the middle of the local market. It was really fun to watch the set up and see the street completely change from empty to full of people and stalls over the night. Check out the difference between 5pm and 7pm:
There’s heaps of gifts and clothes up for grabs, not to mention a lot of street food! The specialty being the Mekong fish, though neither us were big fans.
One night we were at the market ordering fruit shakes a couple came up to us and said, “excuse me, this might be a weird question, but are you the hitched hickers honeymoon from Instagram?”
I instantly recognised them as a Swedish couple we follow on Instagram who are also on an extended honeymoon. What are the chances? We had a wonderful dinner with the lovely couple, Corine and her husband Mauro, AKA ducks_aroundtheworld and they ended up saving our butts later on!
The case of the left behind passports
We found out the power of social media and the #hashtag and avoided a major drama after we’d left Luang Prabang. After we checked out of our hostel we were in a hurry to catch a night bus and carelessly managed to leave our passports behind. Thankfully, we were able to contact ‘the ducks’ and they kindly picked them up and put them on a bus to Vientiane, where we had stopped for the night to wait on our way to the 4000 Islands. They arrived safe and sound the next morning! We have no idea how we would’ve got out of this country without them as there’s no New Zealand embassy here. It’s safe to say we will be calling the ducks our angels for a while yet.
We had such an awesome time in this quiet little place and would love to go back to swim in the Kuang Si Waterfalls again some day. What a treat. Our next and last stop in Laos is the 4000 Islands, tune in soon for more on that.