Luang Prabang is Laos most popular destination. It is nestled on a peninsula created by the Nam Kham and Mekong rivers. The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage sight and consists of 4 roads. It is well known for its unique and well kept architecture, religion, culture and the blend of rural and urban developments. It is a common spot for ex pats and tourists with several guest houses and tons of western food.
I instantly fell in love with the city of Luang Prabang. It’s comparable to Chiang Mai but has about half the amount of accommodations, cafes, food and the night market is smaller. The WiFi was fairly decent in most hostels and restaurants. The 2 rivers almost completely surround the city and the mountain view’s past the shores were stunning. You can walk most everywhere in the downtown area seeing as it is quite small. I stayed a total of 5 nights and never ran out of things to do or new places to eat. I had two rainy days in the beginning of my stay and it was easy to find a cafe or coffee shop to get work done with good enough WiFi for editing photos and videos.
Marking the center of the city is the famous Mt. Phou Si with an easy to climb viewpoint with maybe 350 stairs. The rain cleared on my third night and I made the trek up to the viewpoint for sunset. It’s an extremely busy tourist spot and I felt slightly claustrophobic with the amount of people but was able to get a few really good photos and videos. I found this viewpoint outstanding because of the beautiful flowers, plants and colors of the surrounding city. If it was free to make the trek up I would have returned everyday because it was simply that amazing. I had entered on one side of the mountain and returned down the other side which dropped me right into the middle of the night market where I walked the distance until I wrapped back around to my hostel.
One night I found a Laos folk story house. Stephane, my friend from the slow boat, had suggested it to me. I’m always down to hear a good story. The show was only an hour long and the stories were told in very good English. The story house was quite small with no more than 25 seats. There were only 4 others there for the show making it quiet and intimate. I sat in the front because why not? Also, I have terrible vision. The backdrop on the stage was a beautiful painting of the land and people of Laos. The stage was tiny with only 2 chairs and a small drum. When the show started 2 Laos men came into the room. One was much younger maybe in his mid to late twenties, hard to tell with the Asians. The other was much older and more weathered from what looked like years of laborious work. The older man was adorable and carried a traditional Laos instrument made out of bamboo that can’t be compared to any instrument I have ever seen. As they entered the old man played his instrument, which was so lovely, and danced in front of me. After the intro song and dance they both sat down and the younger man told 5 stories about Laos and Luang Prabang. The stories were about how they got their name and where the people came from and Kings and Queens of the past. He also sang a traditional Laos song while the old man played. This was a fantastic experience. I absolutely loved learning the stories and hearing about how the culture was created.
Kuang Si waterfalls are hands down the most popular sight in Luang Prabang. The falls are a set of eight tiers that cover over 2 kilometers and have the most enchanting crystal blue waters I have ever seen. The falls are about 40 minutes outside the city so I arranged for a minivan pickup from my hostel. The minivan had no working AC so it was a pretty hot ride there and back. When you first enter into the park there is a moon bear preservation center which is home to many rescued bears. The exhibit was pretty large with many different sections and baby bears in one contained area. Obviously, the bears were adorable. I wanted to hug them all but there were fences.
After you exit the bear exhibit you start to hear the waterfalls. There are many well kept dirt trails that take you up through the different tiers and all the way to the top where the major falls are. Many of the pools you are able to swim in. Some are shallow and some are deep enough to dive into. Many people go straight in to the bottom two pools to swim. I like a good swim but we only had 2 hours in the park and I blew 30 minutes talking to bears so I opted to see all the falls instead of swim. I did walk into a few pools just to take photos. The water was so cool and refreshing, but I charged on. The top of the falls were breathtaking. The color of the water and the mist from the falls made it look like something out of a magical dream. All around the park are picnic tables to lounge at and have a snack with the beautiful falls as your scenery. There was also I restaurant about 3/4 the way up situated next to a large fall that I would have loved to eat at if I had more time and a million dollars. This was hands down my favorite part of Luang Prabang but I regretted not having more time. I could have easily stayed there all day.
The food in Laos is very similar to Thai food with some French influence from the early colonization in the 18th and 19th centuries. The national dish is Laab or Laap or Larb. I’ve seen it spelt and pronounced all three ways. I know it as Larb in the US mostly because it is one of my mothers favorites and I started eating it because of her. It quickly became one of my favorites as well. In Thailand they call it spicy chicken salad and I made it as part of my menu in my cooking class. Anyways, it’s typically made with either chicken or pork but here in Laos they make it with literally any meat, even with tofu. For those of you who haven’t had it, it’s meat, mint, rice powder, spices, onions, chilies, coriander and typically served with a side of cabbage or lettuce to make little wraps. Also typically served with cucumber on the side. Every place does it different but it’s so flavorful and I have had it at least once a day, maybe twice. I absolutely love it. They also eat a lot of soups, curries and noodle dishes. Sticky rice is a large part of their cuisine and is served with everything. Many times served as an appetizer where you roll the rice into balls and dip it in sauces of all kinds of flavors. I didn’t eat any western food in Luang Prabang but there is tons of it. I tend to stay away from the western food unless I have a major craving which hasn’t been much because the food here is so fantastic and I crave this food more than food back home. Plus, the few times I have ordered western food it has not been good and rather expensive. I’ll stick to the local fare, thank you very much.
The National beer is Beer Lao and can be found literally everywhere. It’s a lager style beer that is seriously crisp and refreshing. I read that it has won some awards in the past. I’m in love with it. After drinking crap beer in Thailand and meh beer in Myanmar this has been a pleasant change. Laos also makes a lot of different whiskeys called Lao Lao, which are mostly made from rice. They sell it for so cheap that I was scared to try it, but it’s not bad. I think I can become a fan. I haven’t drank enough to get a hang over, yet, but I assume it’s probably a rough one. For now I’ll stick to Beer Lao.
My favorite hangout spot in Luang Prabang was a very laid back river side bar and lounge called Utopia. I liked it so much that I went everyday and stayed in the hostel right next door for the last two nights of my stay in Luang Prabang. I think the owner is American, maybe, don’t quote me though. They have a very nice and affordable menu with both Laos traditional and western food.
My last night in Luang Prabang I decided to grab a beer and walk along the river edge to find a good spot for the sunset. I stumbled upon the patio of a restaurant either no longer open or not open at that hour and enjoyed the sunset in complete solitude in a comfy patio chair. The colors of the sunset were so brilliantly bright. It was so peaceful to sit and watch the river drift by and watch the water taxis slowly float along. I wish I had bought another beer because I could have sat there for another hour just enjoying the calming serenity of it all.
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