Well, this report is slightly longer than expected – I hope no one falls asleep reading it...
After 11 days in the far north it was time to head to Luang Prabang. I loved the three places I stayed so far, and I was not too happy to leave Muang Ngoi, but it was time to leave. I heard so many positive things about the journey on the Nam Ou River, so took the boat via Nong Khiaw. The seats are not very comfortable and it was quite tight – would have been more comfortable without the big four seats in the front of the boat. But everyone on the boat managed to get kind of comfortable, and it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere, and we all got on very well. Add the absolute beautiful scenery and the result was a stunning journey – which I could always recommend. It takes about five hours to Luang Prabang, so take enough food and drinks along as nothing is sold on the boat. There will be a comfort break to find a tree ...
I was glad to be back on firm ground after this beautiful but long journey. I have to admit after the great time in the slightly less touristy place I was not sure what to expect from Luang Prabang and if I will enjoy it as much as my time so far. I shouldn’t have worried at all – \I fully enjoyed my time there.
After finding a great little guesthouse it was time to get some food in a small street stall, and some well deserved drinks. Despite being slightly tired we headed to one of the night clubs, where we were the only foreigners for a while – it was just amazing. The locals were keen to have drink with us, having a chat and laughing about the dancing of the strange looking tourists. Unfortunately they closed at 1am...so obviously it was still time to play two rounds of bowling. An interesting experience and it was even more enjoyable as I won the games. Lao Beer apparently improves my play...
The following day it was time to explore the Old City Luang Prabang. Surprisingly with all the temples I visited in Chaing Mai I was still not tired of temples, and enjoyed visiting a few, though as probably most tourist spent the longest at Wat Xieng Thong – which I found just beautiful. Strengthen after lunch and a nice cold shake to get a break in the heat I continue walking the streets along the Mekong and Nam Khan, and enjoying the beautiful houses. I could have walked easily much longer, but after a short break at Utopia (if you need a comfortable break – this is one place to go – more to it later) it was time to freshen up before going for dinner. As my guest house was off Sisavangvong I passed the night market every night, and it is fun to look at the various items, and like most people I obviously spend some money there - manage to do most of my Christmas shopping there - in October. I call that being very efficient!!!
It was hard, but I actually managed to get up at 5am to watch the alms giving in front of Wat Mai. I made sure I had my distance to the locals and few tourists who gave alms to the monks so I don’t disturb this important ceremony, and just to enjoy the view. Unfortunately not all tourists do the same, putting the cameras in front of the monk’s faces and standing between alms giver. It was tempting to drag them away from there – though I managed to constrain myself and behaved. Being up that early was a good excuse to visit the morning market. I love going to fresh markets, the smell and look of fresh ingredients, and trying some of the street food. Not sure though if everyone loves to see frogs and fish killed in front of them, but I think it proves that the food is really fresh. Next item of my plan was crossing the Mekong to Xieng Men. After rejecting offers for a private boat for 20k Kip I took the car ferry for 5k. After a short ride I arrived on the other side of the Mekong and started to walk to get to the few temples I read about. Well, I saw a temple, and thought it was the one from my guide book, and followed the road, thinking it will lead to the other two temples and cave. Well, after walking a dusty road for 45 min, passing a few rice paddies, and being in the middle of nowhere where I hardly saw a soul, I thought I went the wrong way and turned back. And I was right; the first temple was not the one in my guidebook. Well, I just made a 1 ½ hour detour. In the end I found the right street and managed to get to Xieng Man, which is a beautiful little village. The main road reminded me a bit of Italy. The first temple, Wat Xiengmene is nothing special. The same applies to Wat Chom Phet, but it is still worthwhile climbing all the steps up, as the view over Luang Prabang is just great. I ended up in Wat Long Khoun and the Wat Tham Sackkalin cave. Again, I think the other temples in LP are more beautiful, and there are far more interesting caves I saw in the north and Vang Vieng. If you are lucky you can get a private boat at the temple for 5k or 10k Kip, so you don’t have to walk back to Xieng Men. Overall it is a nice wee ½ day trip. Back in Luang Prabang I managhed to visited the Royal Palace (please note that you are not allowed to take your camera inside the palace- there are lockers where you can leave your belongings) before dinner and finding probably my favourite bar in Laos that night, where I got my well deserved drinks.
For my third day I decided to treat myself, and booked the cooking class with Tamarind. Never went to one, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It starts with a trip to the Phoy market, where our “teacher” explained the various ingredients and spices, and you can taste some of the local savouries (got myself some bamboo crisps and rice crisps, they tasted far too good). It was nice to get to a market with some detailed explanations. After that we headed to the cooking school, which is outside of Luang Prabang. The course can only be described with one word: amazing. You learn to cook three main dishes, as well as making a dip and a desert. You eat the food you prepare, and I was impressed that I was able to cook on a standard that I actually enjoyed my own food. I can only highly recommend it. After the course I finally found some time to sit in a small bar at the Mekong, and enjoyed a stunning sun set – accompanied by my usual beer and river weed. I ended my night in my favourite bar with more drinks.
For my last day I wanted to do something nice, and I heard a lot about Kouang Si, so decided to go there. I was on my own again at that time, so it can be difficult to find a group if you don’t want to use an agency. A good way to meet others is to be near the usual Tuk Tuk places like in front of the tourist information centre, and you will easily spot people who are looking for more to share a Tuk Tuk. Well, I ended up with 6 others, and we got a Tuk Tuk – the first one. Price was negotiated and off we went to the falls we thought. Well, we were wrong. We went to a travel agency next to the palace, and we were told to get into another Tuk Tuk for the same price. Unfortunately once we were in the driver told us to give him 20k each for the tickets to the falls. No idea how much the tickets are we told him that we don’t need tickets, that we will buy them when we arrive there. A lengthy debate started, and I ended up with the driver’s phone speaking to his boss (no idea why it is always me dealing with these things). I made it clear we only need a Tuk Tuk, and no tickets. Thinking it was all sorted we drove again – this time stopping at a Tuk Tuk stall next to the Mekong, and we were asked again to pay for the ticket now. Telling them again that we didn’t order tickets with that agency, ending up on his phone again, but he still insisted that we pay. Well, we just got out of the Tuk Tuk and walked away – it smelled a bit like a scam to me. We found another Tuk Tuk and we went off again – when we stopped at the same stall again I was expecting the worst and already advised the driver that we won’t pay for tickets now – he just laughed and said it is ok. Thankfully it was, as we finally headed to the falls. When we arrived there it turned out that the ticket price was 20k. Felt a bit stupid for all the hassle, but at the time the pushy attitude made it looked like a scam to charge more. I suspect that a group didn’t turn up and that the agency bought tickets already – well the driver lost out. Thankfully the fall made up for the drama – it is stunning, beautiful, amazing. There are several pools, and you can walk up to the top tier of the waterfall – great view. Just make sure you wear water proof shoes and have your swim shorts on. At the lower pool you have a chance jumping down a small fall, swinging on a rope, or just swimming in the clear water. There is a very relaxed atmosphere, with both locals and tourists, and I absolute loved it there. It was a good way to end my stay in Luang Prabang. I really understand now why this place is so popular with tourists.
When I arrived I knew that I wanted to stay in the old city, and got some good advise here on the forum. However, I ended up with three more backpackers, and after seeing several rooms for 50k, 80k, and 120k, I decided that I am happy to pay more of the 80k limit I set, as the room I got at the Golden Lotus opposite Wat Mai was just great – comfortable, hot water and TV to watch a bit football. The owner was very friendly and helpful, and there is no “closing” time, so if you decided to stay out late, the door is open with somebody sitting inside. The location is fantastic as central, and I could look at the morning market from my window. Overall, great place to stay for that off-season price.
Food & Drink:
After spending time in the less touristy place on big difference you spot immediately is the much wider variety of food and bars. The first night and forth night I went to a food stall at Sisavangvong road after the stretch of restaurants and before the Lotus massage place. It is popular with backpackers as the food is good and cheap. They serve some nice larp there, and the fried noodles are not bad either. The most popular place for backpackers is the food night market, where you can “all-you-can-put-on-your-plate-for-10k” buffet style. It cannot compete with the quality of the restaurants and made-to-order food stalls, but it is still good value. It has also a good atmosphere, and you will usually see people you met before here as well. The other two nights I went to a restaurant where I got some of the best food of my trip. I cannot remember the name, but it is on Sisavangvong Road, and if you look at the restaurants two place left of the Coconut Garden restaurant. You can easily find it as it has leaves on the ceiling. I got amazing duck larp and a great stew there. The prices are reasonable, and it offers a nice change from food stalls. For lunch I usually had noodle soup and papaya salad. One place I would highly recommend is a small place opposite Wat Saen – the noodle soup was great.
I also was able to experience the night life there (I have to admit I like that the bars close at 11.30 and that the town is not full of drunken people at night). The most popular for backpackers are along the Nam Khan. I went to Lao Lao Garden on my first night, and it has a nice setting, with a beer garden style area inside – found it comfortable, though the usual loud music is played here. One place you will hear about a bit in LP is Utopia. I went there twice. First time in the afternoon for a wee break and it is a nice place to relax a bit. You can make yourself comfortable in the pillows with some great view of the Nam Khan river. I also went there one night, and it is very busy, with most seats inside and outside taken, people playing beach volleyball, and the usual music is played. They also have a big screen where they showed the highlights of the Champions League. This is the place to meet fellow backpackers. However, my favourite place for a few drinks isa small bar off Sisavangvong road, heading down to Nam Khan. It is called Iconic Klub, and it is just fantastic. It is very relaxing, with nice relaxing music played in the background, and you can easily sit at the bar, chatting to the other patrons or the owner, who happily serves several cocktails. I ended up there every night after I found it, and it is probably one of the best bars I know – mainly because of the atmosphere, and layout of it. It is different to the other places, and doesn’t have drunken and loud backpackers in there. If you have time, I would recommend going there for one drinkEdited: 27 January 2013, 15:43