In a nutshell – Luang Prabang, Laos

Today’s entry comes courtesy of my sister Fie who is interested in heading over to Laos. I thought I would share my experience there. Though do note, I travelled to Laos at the end of December 2006, January 2007.

Vientiane

I did this trip with minimal planning, and my friend and I had thought about flying into Vientiane and staying there for two nights before heading off to Luang Prabang. It is easiest to fly into Vientiane since it’s the capital of the city and international flights are a plenty. But personally for me, the city (back then) didn’t have that many sights to see in its immediate vicinity. I found that what you could do in Vientiene was:

DSC_6256(By the waterfront)

  • Check out some of the temples (though similar in construction with Thai temples)
  • Walk along the waterfront. They were developing this up when I was there, but you should be able to find restaurants and cafes by the Mekong River

Unfortunately after walking around for a bit, we decided to cut our time in Vientiane short (stayed only one night) and looked up flights to head over to Luang Prabang – a UNESCO heritage site. For now, you do need to fly into Vientiane and then pick up a turboprop/ propeller plane into Luang Prabang as jet planes can’t typically land there. That being said though, I know that they are currently upgrading their airport to take on jets, and hopefully you will be able to fly to Luang Prabang direct soon enough.

Note: I’ve also heard you can fly to Phonsavan from Vientiane to check out the Plain of Jars which is supposed to be super cool

Luang Prabang

I’m going to caveat this by telling you how much I LOVE Luang Prabang. We arrived without a hotel (so different from how I travel now) and asked at the airport information counter for hotels we could rent. We took a tuk tuk to our place, which was located ~10 minutes from the airport (airport is very close to town btw) and about 10 minutes walk to the center of town. Our hotel was located in the ‘suburban’ or local living area for Luang Prabang.

DSC_6530(Streets of Luang Prabang)

Things to do

LP is the kind of place you go to to just enjoy. There may be some landmark monuments around for you to take pictures of, but the beauty of it is to enjoy the extremely laid back and slow life along their ‘main’ road and enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal while watching people walk by. If you NEED to do something though, you could always

DSC_6379(View from Mt. Phou Si)

  • Climb Mt. Phou Si: Mt. Phou Si is the highest peak in LP and is located just across from the Royal Palace. It’s not ‘that’ high with 365 steps to reach the summit. From the top you can get a beautiful view of the old town, the Mekong river and the mountains surrounding
  • Royal Palace Museum: It’s one of those places where you’re going to be walking around and think to yourself, “Meh, why not check it out”. It’s a little piece of quiet tranquility and showcases aspects of the Lao daily life, including musical instruments and some vehicles. At night time they also sometimes have ballet or traditional dance shows to check out.
  • Laos & Vietnam 046(Night market)
  • Check out the night market: For those who have been travelling Southeast Asia for a bit, you may not be as impressed with this market. The big difference that I noticed though is that whilst other markets typically use tables (and therefore the wares are at waist height), these markets are generally just spread out on the ground. Be prepared to squat to look at their items and bargain. At the end of a buy when you do pay them, watch as they take the money and tap it lightly over all their other merchandise, saying “Lucky lucky” in hopes that your purchase brings them more good fortune.
  • Laos & Vietnam 088(Just in case you’re not sure. Yeaps, that’s me on riding on the back of the elephant’s head… without any support)
  • Kayaking down the river: Now I’m really sorry that I can’t provide more details beyond this because I simply can’t remember. But when we were in town one day, my friend and I walked into a travel agency to see what else we could do in LP. They suggested getting an elephant ride followed by kayaking down the river back to LP. We thought it was a great idea. The elephant ride itself was ‘ok’. It was fun to ride on the head (elephant was full, I had nowhere else to go) and have them walk through the jungle and across the river. Fun but scary I might add. But the kayaking was the highlight of my trip.

Laos & Vietnam 146(The amazing view where we kayak-ed)

Imagine going down a beautiful crystal blue river where you can actually see the fish swimming in. Imagine watching little children jump in and swim around and wave hi to you as you paddle by. Imagine the silence of the area with the exception of your soft paddle and the chants from some temples by the waterbank. Imagine kayaking down and seeing the mountains in front of you and clear blue sky above. Jump into the river and realize its only about waist deep in December and watch as the locals pull out the seaweed to dry and turn into local snack or an ingredient for a meal. Without a doubt, this alone made the whole trip amazing. My warning though is that this has to be done in four hours, otherwise you’re not going to make it back to LP. And this was exactly what happened to my friend and I. The team didn’t make it back in time so we had to pull over into a village and wait for a car to come and get us. Not a bad thing, but not the best thing when you’re cold from swimming in the water and have to wait around whilst the sun is setting.

Laos & Vietnam 133(LP, where kids gathering seaweed still wave a hello at you)

The food is simple but wonderful there, and cheap. I can’t be exactly sure (again it was a while ago) but meals were <USD 5 for sure.

And as for what to wear? It’s pretty free and easy in LP, so wear whatever you would like, though just to be safe I wouldn’t recommend shorty shorts, or crop tops, or the like. This is a high tourism area, so they already have a preconception of you. But either way, if it’s still the perfect quiet little place I remember it to be, it would be perfect for a quick weekend getaway.

If things have changed, let me know! (and sorry I can’t provide monetary figures. My notes on LP are locked away in a bank vault – literally)

Note: Another notoriously famous Laos area to check out is Vang Vien, though I’ve heard rumours that it’s not as ‘good’ (re: no drinking by the riverside whilst tubing anymore) as it used to be

Go! before mass tourism flies in

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