Our first stop in Laos was the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang, which was unlike any other place we had ever been in Asia. The main street was beautiful with its old buildings, detailed woodwork and European influence and we were instantly excited about spending a few days here.
In order to save money and time we decided to take the overnight bus from Pai (Thailand) to Luang Prabang (Laos) instead of the slow boat. While I don’t regret the decision of getting the over night bus (sitting on a boat for three days with nothing to do except dwell in your own thoughts was definitely a negative to the slow boat) it was a truly different experience. The seats were tiny and on two levels and had no position except led down and on top of that you were sharing this tiny seat with the person led next to you, luckily for me, I knew the person I was sharing my seat with. It felt like a very long journey and the sleeping tablets definitely came in handy. In a sort of up/down side, we made it to Luang Prabang nearly 2 hours early, arriving at just after 4am. That’s right, 4am. There is nothing to do in any town at this ungodly hour let alone a small village like Luang Prabang. Instead of jumping on the two tricycles that were desperate for our service, we joined forces with a few other backpackers and decided to take on the 40 minute walk into town ourselves – I mean we had to pass the time some how! We’ve relied on MapsMe the whole of our travels and while I would recommend it to anyone in an instant, it does create some odd routes sometimes, this was one of those times. So at half four in the morning, in the pitch black we were following my tablets guidance through gardens, over fences through temples, rivers and across bridges. It was a route I’d be scared to do in daylight let alone at this time and with dogs chasing us down the roads. That said, we made it to our hotel (just about) parted ways with the others and left our bags in front of the hotel in search of an open café. Nowhere opened until 6am, so after a slow walk up and down the street – killing more time – we settled down in a beautiful café for coffee just after 6am. Little to our knowledge it was at this time people give offerings to the monks and while we sat in the café we were welcomed with the occasion right in front of us – an upside to being awake so early!
We were staying at Chaluenxay Villa. The photos online looked incredible – just like every building in Luang Prabang – and while the hotel was beautiful, we weren’t staying there. We were in a shed out the back sleeping on what I can only describe is a bamboo shelf. No mattress, no blanket, nothing, but after spending the night on the bus, we would take anything at that moment. After a much-needed nap, we then spent our first day wandering around the town and river before heading to the museums and temples nearby. Our hotel was in front of the Wat Xieng Thong temple, and while I had read online that it was the most beautiful temple in Asia, it wasn’t anything special. It was worth the visit but only took up around 10-15 minutes and really wasn’t much different to those we had seen in Thailand. After the temple we headed over to the Royal Palace where we wandered around the beautiful grounds before heading into the museum. The museum was full of information on the king and the history of his family and well worth a visit. It is also worth heading over to the garage around the left hand side of the building, which houses all the old family cars – definitely worth a look at! Our evening was then spent wandering through the night market (whilst fighting off the millions of moths that surrounded the stall lights) before finding a stall at the far end with an all you can eat vegetarian plate. The food was great value for the money, just lacked a bit of flavour. I expected the night market in Luang Prabang to house an array of historical, individual, hand made items but instead it sold the same tourist items that you could find everywhere in Thailand so was a real let down if I’m honest, but worth a wander through nonetheless.
We decided to head over to Kuang Si falls on our second day, catching the local minibus from our hotel. The waterfalls themselves are well worth the visit. They cost 20,000 kip to enter but that includes access to all of the waterfalls as well as the bear sanctuary. That’s right, they have bears. The path up to the waterfalls leads right past the bears and gives you a real detailed explanation of why they are there and where each of the bears have come from. Following the path along leads you to the bottom of the falls, which are truly beautiful. Surrounded by vibrant greenery, the blue waters glow beneath you. The path follows the falls right up to the top with stunning views along the way. You can swim in most sections and I really recommended it to cool you down (the water was ice cold) and make the most of your time here. I’d definitely have to say that these were some of my favourite waterfalls in Asia so far! After the falls, we headed up Mount Phousi to see the views of the town from the mountain. There are steps all the way up, and while a little tiring, it is very accessible. The views at the top were a little disappointing though as there wasn’t really a ‘pretty’ angle and it wasn’t long before we were making our way back down.
Luang Prabang was so different to anywhere else in Asia and I am so glad I visited. It was like a little bit of Europe in a far away land – a true pleasure to come across.