Luang Prabang 05/12/16 to 13/12/16
On first arrival Luang Prabang wasn’t how I’d imagined it. The tourists have arrived. The streets are a little dirty, every shop front full of locals siting on their phones with nothing to do. No customers to serve. Are we too early? I’m not sure and it felt too rude to ask if it was always like this.
The tuk tuk drivers are always waiting, there is definitely not enough work around here. I found people to be open and friendly but these people were occupied, had customers and passing custom. The others, sad and downtrodden. My first few days here I was melancholic after the joy of the slow boat but settling into Downtown Backpackers did help to ease how I was feeling. A great hostel with a great free breakfast, comfortable beds, helpful staff and nice backpackers of all ages. There aren’t many choices of hostel in Luang Prabang.
I wandered through the temples, which there are a few good examples of in Luang Prabang. The morning market was right on the street at the hostel and was a buzz of smells and sounds. The stalls selling fresh whole fish and fly squatters. The Royal Palace Museum was worth a look around, they had a classic car show on behind the main building the day I went. Also there was a crafts fair on down a little lane which showcased some great handmade products. Laos has some fantastic talent, a few galleries in the town too and their textiles are beautiful, especially the woven cotton. the nigh market did contain a few things, including scorpions in your whisky or rum, that I hadn’t seen in the markets of Thailand. I have so far been resisting the urge to buy any ‘tat’ as I call it. I can’t decide if all the tourist focused stuff is right or wrong.
The night market is the place to eat in Luang Prabang. You grab a bowl, for around 15,000 kip and fill with all sorts of noodles, vegetables and I recommend the fatty, cured pork sausage I got from a lovely stall close to the end. She fries it all up spicy for you and is a great meal for £1.50! Also, on the main street look out for rainfall noodles. Super cheap, tasty and fresh. Khao soi is different in Laos than in Northern Thailand, here it is minced pork and tomato and not spicy. A real treat but I think I prefer the Thai version.
Mount Phousi is climbed from the road across from The Royal Palace Museum and to reach the top you must pay 20,000 kip. I heard you can sneak to the side and see the sunset a little more unadulterated. I went with a couple of guys and a girl I met in Chiang Rai. We laughed at how many people were up here selfie-ing away. It is a busy place that temple for sunset and I would have preferred to have gone at a different time. Do walk round the temple as the views of the mountains and bamboo bridge are spectacular and don’t buy wee birds in tiny bamboo cages to release at the top. I saw a woman selling them at the museum but actually thought it might be some weird food custom they have. We watched some people release them and the birds looked distressed. Bad.
I spoke to a 16 year old monk up the other side of Mount Phousi. I hate to say I am but I am terrible with names, he was learning English and I got to have a flick through his notebook. This young monk was from a village out side Luang Prabang, had such a random selection of words in neat handwriting jotted down that I wondered what curriculum his teacher was following. His English was great and he was excited when I showed him pictures of snow and frost at home since I had left.
I met a Nicky and Sam breakfast in the hostel and we went along to Kuang Si Falls. What a beautiful spot. The roads are a little tricky to get there but if you have a bike, spend a couple of days up here. I read later there was a secret pool to be found. I think I could spend hours at the top. There is a 20,000 kip entrance fee but to keep the place unspoiled it is worth it. Plenty of spots to eat outside the gate and a little overpriced but great restaurant inside. The main fall is stunning, the water, a gorgeous turquoise blue because of the limestone. There are lots of levels of pools you could swim in but the main fall had signs up to say you couldn’t go in the water.
Nicky and I took photos along the sections you couldn’t swim in and at the bottom was a pool amongst the trees with high picnic tables in the water. Utterly beautiful water and people were paddling around in there. It was a really hot day but the water was cold they said and a nice relief.
We had heard there was a pool at the top. An American couple told us to go left to hike up there as the right side was steep and I had on my flip flops. Nicky and Sam well equipped for trekking! They said it would take us at least 30 minutes but we horsed it up there in 10 or 15. The views of the mountains and jungle on the way up were worth it alone. The denser jungle at the top was a joy to walk through, snaking over little bridges to get across to the pools. The water was a little deep for me this time and by the time we had ate and got up there we only had 30 minutes until our bus left but I’d get in the next time. I sat and watched the wildlife and caught a shot of a dragonfly or two I was really proud of! Sam filled me in on Canberra and techno in Australia, house parties and his friends. I’ll see him soon!
Had my first pang of homesickness here where I woke up and it was cloudy, and the air con was on full blast! I thought it was a storm in Scotland. Another shitey grey day. I got over it fast on the advice that I go do something I can’t at home from a friend. After pulling myself from the comfiest hostel bed yet, I walked along the river. Treated myself to a fantastic meal along the waterfront in a place called the Bamboo Tree. Fresh spring rolls, probably ate mushroom and for once it didn’t make me boak! And Laos green papaya salad, which I definitely didn’t like as much as the spicy, Thai version. It had boiled egg and small green aubergines in it. They do a cooking class which was expensive at 200,000kip (£20) but seemed to be well worth it from what I’ve heard. Might try doing that the next time I’m here.
And the last couple of things I loved about Luang Prabang was Utopia and L’etranger Books and Tea. Utopia is an all day hang out place with probably the most open, unobtrusive, relaxed atmospheres I have ever found I have ever found myself in. I first went during the evening and it didn’t really tick all the boxes then. Went along with a bunch of people Valentine had struck up a conversation with at the first buffet dinner about a Belgian film at the unsuspected Luang Prabang Film Festival that was on when we arrived. A Columbian guy, couple of Germans, and really nice German/French (how she described herself) girl who was super enthusiastic about everything. The German girl was telling me stories of South America and we talked about her work in refugee camps. There is a hotel in Bolivia made of salt.
I pictured Hotel California and hot pink suns.
It was really dark and a little hard to navigate when I didn’t know what we were looking at. A guy fell over into a wee rockery whilst we were sitting on the floor a little away from him. At low down tables and wedged cushions on the floor we had beers and the music got a little louder towards 10. I was happy to head off back to the hostel early.
I had a better night when I knew my way around a little more with another group of people at night from Downtown Backpackers. Two Dutch girls from my dorm and their friends and a German girl Julia, Nicky and Sam. We played a drinking game on one of their phones and I really enjoyed the night. Not even pissed… on the lemon and honey tea and feeling like an auld foagie.
During the day the views along the water are special, glancing at a bridge and mountains. Watching fishermen and their nets and boats and diving. Food was ok, I’d eat before I was coming if you want something authentic. Lots of western food. Coffee, lemon and honey tea and drawing all day with my music on was a little wins day. Chatted to some nice folk and popped my earphones in to soak up the sun in peace. A perfect bit of solitude when sleeping in a dorm.
L’etranger Books and Tea is a sweet little coffee shop I gave the book I finished in there to for a very good banana milkshake. The pots of coffee were the nicest I had tried so far here. The coffee is really strong and thick in Laos. Not my cuppa. I watched 3 movies upstairs in here (off the bevy) and they were a nice way to spend the evening in my book. Laos subtitles, order a something and they start at 7. The sound was good and there are comfy seats if you get down early. Also the French onion soup made with Beer Laos is a real treat. Lovely staff and a nice selection of books and atmosphere.
I had a rough couple of days in Luang Prabang. On some level that is what doing this is all about I guess. I thought I had lost my phone for about 30 minutes was in a blind panic. But I also met some really awesome folk and saw some really great spots of interest and natural beauty. It is a fantastic place for interactions. Luang Prabang is really small and the climate is a little cooler. I really liked the local people who were friendly, although I have to say not all of them were. I definitely liked the food more in Thailand, it is a bit more interesting than in Laos. I also heard there is a bowling alley you can bevvy in once Utopia closes around 11.