Laos 2: Luang Prabang

After arriving at the slow boat pier, 10k away from the city centre, and getting a Tuk Tuk to the centre (where we were just dropped off and gas to figure out exactly where we were) we went on a hunt for accommodation. Knowing you could get dorm rooms for 30-40,000 kip and double rooms for around 80,000 we didn’t settle for any more than this and after checking out a few rooms we finally picked Nittaya Guesthouse – just by the Mekong River and about 5 minutes walk from the post office/tourist information centre. 80,000 kip (7 quid) between us for a double room with a fan and en suite (which is always a shower over the floor) isn’t bad when most dorms were after 30,000 per person anyway.

Despite being exhausted we headed out to grab some food and have a bit of a nose around, and pretty much as soon as we hit Th Sisavangvong road we saw a street on the left that was lined with food stalls and quickly stumbled across a couple that offered Vegetarian Buffets – quite big bowls that you could fill up with various veggie dishes (from noodles to rich to pumpkin to spring rolls to fried egg) for 15,000 kip (£1.30). You could add barbecued meat for an extra cost but the food was quite fresh, tasty and filling and it was quick and easy, which did the job after a long day travelling. We soon headed back to our hostel to put on some laundry (10,000 kip – 90p – per kilo) and get a good night’s sleep (we hope!)

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Vegetarian Buffet

On our first full day in Luang Prabang we decided to rent bicycles from our hostel for 15,000 kip each (£1.40), which come equipped with bell, basket and lock (but unfortunately not helmet!) so we could explore the city. Due to it being a French colony there is noticeable French influence in the style of cafes and restaurants and in the food they sell (there are various bakeries and tonnes of stalls selling fresh baguettes from chicken to avocado for 10-15,000 kip each) and some of the streets are beautiful to cycle down.

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It was a pretty hot day (35 degrees) and at times unbearable, so around midday we headed to the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre (TAEC) for 25,000 kip each (£2.30) to learn about the different tribes found in Laos and also be educated on the women in Laos; the amount t the contribute to their family and to their society, and having it recognised and appreciated in such a way, was really enlightening and moving – I now feel very differently about seeing women riding a moped with a baby balanced on their laps.

Afterwards we cycled the loop round the Mekong river until we found a spot overlooking a bamboo bridge to sit and tuck into our baguettes from the stall, before paying 5,000 kip (45p) to cross the bamboo bridge (the cost of which goes towards maintaining the bridge) and look out across the river and the kids cooling off in the water!

We then cycled to Lao Red Cross to have an hour Laos massage;there are various places offering these around Luang Prabang from 40-80,000 kip, however as Lao Red Cross help improve the lives of the poorest villages in Laos we decided to spend our money here, and it was still a very reasonable 50,000 kip (£4.50) each. You have the massage on a mattress on the floor in traditional wooden surroundings, this time with oil being used so it felt more relaxing than the Thai one we had but it still worked muscles (bum and thigh) I never knew I had, followed by free herbal tea afterwards. Lovely.

At 5pm we headed to Big Brother Mouse (BBM), a home-grown initiative where you can turn up between 9am and 11am or 5pm and 7pm and volunteer to help local kids and students practice their English. I ended up speaking to a 17 year old male whom had become paralysed in his right arm 4 years ago after eating too much of a string chilli and it giving him brain damage; he had been really good st English previously and now was trying to rebuild his skill through asking me questions and acting out a waiter/customer scenario! I later spoke to an 18 year old whom wanted to know about religion in the UK and my own religious tendencies (as well as what I earned in the UK – they are not shy about asking personal questions!) It was fascinating, enlightening and incredibly educational for me, and almost bizarre when they thanked us at the end – no, thank YOU.

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On our second full day we headed out at 8am to the Living Land Company; a local rice farm whom have opened their doors to teach visitors (mainly tourists) about the 13 steps involved in producing rice (step 14 being eating the rice!) over the course of 3 months, allowing us to really get involved and attempt the various steps. Our guide was knowledgable, warm and funny and the process so fascinating – especially knowing that the process we were involved in was 10 times more mild than what they do and they spend all day everyday doing it! At the end we were presented with rice snacks and rice wine, and for 30,000 kip each (£27) it was well worth it for us.

It was another scorching day and we were tired after an early start so we decided to head La Pistoche, to an outdoor swimming pool that is about 10 minutes drive by Tuk Tuk (costing 20,000 kip – or £1.80 – each). The fee to get into the swimming pool us 30,000 kip each (£2.70) and you also have to hand over a 50,000 kip deposit in case you purchase food or drink (I bought two fruit ice shakes as it was so damn stifling). We spent about 4 hours lazing on sun loungers and dipping in the pool, offering much needed rest and relaxation.

We were dropped off by a Tuk Tuk in the centre of town and were amazed to bump into our friend Eve from our China tour, who is doing the Indochina loop in the opposite direction as part of a tour. Crazy how you start bumping into fellow travellers again and again. To celebrate, we later met for dinner in the Mekong river to have a good catch up before saying goodbye, which was lovely. Prior to that, at around 5:30pm, we paid 20,000 kip each to walk up Phusi Mountain and watch the sun set over the Mekong river – beautiful, but not necessarily peaceful, as everyone heads up at this time and the tourists behind us spent the whole time talking about their iPhones. Apparently you can’t escape douchebags no matter how far you travel.

On our final day in Luang Prabang we paid 50,000 kip each (£4.50) to take the 11:30 minivan to Kuang Si Waterfall – no matter which agency you book through, it will cost this much and they will offer either 11:30am or 1:30pm. We arrived at midday, paid our 20,000 entrance fee (£1.80) and wandered past the bear enclosure before reaching the foot of the waterfall, which had a lagoon-esque area for swimming. There are about 4 different “platforms” to the Waterfall, and as you get closer to the top you are unable to swim in them. We set off walking to the top first, where water beautifully cascades down the cliff into a lagoon, but then also hiked/climbed for about 15 minutes (it could be done in 10 but the heat makes it difficult) to the very top of the cliff. The views aren’t the best but it certainly made swimming in the waterfall afterwards even more worth it!

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We got back into town around 3:30pm and headed to our hostel for a nap – we started taking malarone about 4 days beforehand and were both experiencing side effects from feeling exhausted quickly to suffering with sudden diarrhoea (sorry guys but if I am going to blog about my experience travelling it has got to be honest!), the later of which makes you feel hot, dizzy and even more tired, so we needed some time out of the sun and to be near a toilet! We felt rested enough to head out that evening to grab some street food (fish in banana leaf and a buffalo sausage, both of which were tasty but the fish was my fave!) before making our way to Utopia; a chilled but lively bar along the Mekong river that is popular with backpackers. We had a few drinks (we finally hit somewhere that serves cider so I went for a Somersby followed by a Campari soda), watched the England vs Slovakia Euro game on the projector where the joy I get from learning prevailed over my disinterest in football resulting in me asking (or grilling) Jason all about football.

The following morning we checked out of our hostel at 9am before taking a Tuk Tuk to the bus station and then a Minivan from there to Vang Vieng for 110,000 (a tenner) each. Let’s hope the malarone side effects decide to take a break for this journey…

LS

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