Welcome to the beautiful city of Luang Prabang – Laos Cultural Capital. If you are looking for a clean, calm city, this is it. I loved to Bicycle around quiet city streets, watch beautiful colonial architecture, find inner peace, and drink great coffee. This was the perfect setting to meet my online deadlines in chick cafes with acceptable wifi!
Arriving in Luang Prabang
Arriving early in the morning after sleeping on the night bus from Vientiane, this was like coming to another country. My hotel was close to the river, and I had to cross it to get to the city center. They had a bamboo bridge that is washed away when the river floods, and built again every year after the monsoon.
In the rainy season, the current is too strong, and the water level rises too high. That is why the current rips the bamboo bridge off the foundations again and again. But when I was there, the bridge of the year was safe to pass. To be able to finance the bridges you have to pay 5000 kips toll for a roundtrip crossing.
A devoted young mother was sitting in the bridge booth collecting Kip’s with a big smile and a friendly “Sabaai dii” and “khap jai lai lai” (Hello, and thank you very much) that made me smile and reply with the same words every day.
There is a wooden bridge further upstream that you can cross with bikes and bicycles. I used that one when treading around on two wheels on the hotel’s complimentary bikes.
Nature in Laos
The nature in Laos is magical. I loved the Beautiful lush mountains with spectacular waterfalls and rivers that feed the land and the people. The waters of the Mekong are also a way to get you from A to B. The Kuang-shi waterfalls are a must-visit when you venture Luang Prabang.
After several waterfalls in 4000 islands I was a bit never mind about the waterfalls, but hiking the mountains is always on the list, so I went for a hike.
The waterfalls came gushing down the mountain to fill pool after pool with turquoise waters. Smaller natural waterfalls leading from one pool to another pool again and again. What a sight. I never saw anything like it. The pictures can give you a visual, but you need to be there to feel the temperature in the air and in the water, and hear the sounds of the jungle along with water gushing, and trickling in the different areas of Kuang-shi.
River sightseeing the Mekong
A Mekong boat trip was a nice break from the heat. I Rented a vessel by the Mekong and enjoyed a 2-hour ride zigzagging the strong current on the Mekong with one of the local boatmen. This will cost between 340 and 400 kips, depending on your haggling skills. The Boatman will take you to see the Buddha caves and villages along the Mekong if you want to see more of rural life.
They have the regular tourist trap communities like the Whisky village but if you talk to the skipper and tell him you want to see real villages and life along the Mekong, he will take you to see the real deal. I saw gold diggers washing sand illegally, a small village of Hmong people that moved from the mountains to the river so the kids could go to school.
Along the river, there were so many birds, brown and pink water buffalos having a dip, the strangest looking ferry’s transporting cars across the river and women washing clothes. And everywhere you can see kids playing in the water. You will also see high mountains and jungles of rainforests growing thick. Breathing this exhaust-free nature made air into your lungs is lovely.
The Buddha caves had two caves carved into a steep limestone rock. The lower cave was ok, with over 4000 Buddhas displayed. The upper cave was dark, so I did not see much, but the entrance gate was gorgeous.
Sunrise with the Monks
In the morning, at sunrise, you can watch the Alms giving ceremony. There were around 100 monks walking in line, chanting and receiving food from the locals. This was a peaceful ceremony to watch, there were no sounds except the monks chanting, and the calm atmosphere hung in the air long after they passed.
This is one of the most sacred Lao traditions, and if you are not part of the ceremony, you are advised to keep a distance and not cross the monk’s path.
Another beautiful place to be at sunrise or sunset was the Phousi Mountain in the center of town. It was an easy climb up the stairs from across the national museum on the main street, and you have to pay a 20000 kip fee, halfway up.
Walking down on the other side of the mountain, I met a monk. He wanted to talk to me to practice his English. We talked for an hour on the mountain, outside the Buddhas footsteps. This 16-year-old boy had already been a novice for 5 years, and he had 3 more years of studying before he had to decide if he wanted to be a monk.
The City center
In the main street, you will find bars, restaurants, textile shops, and massage places. At 5 they also set up the night market here.
Textiles are a big thing in Luang Prabang, and they are proud to present the different tribe’s patterns that are woven and used to make purses, bags, pillows, blankets, and clothes. I recommend a visit to the heritage center to get an overview of the patterns and the areas they are from.
The colorful heritage center also had two stores and the people working there were knowledgeable and willingly explained the differences between the styles and traditions. This was a great way to explore Laos through textiles. The prices in the stores are much higher than in the night marked. So, I recommend going to hunt for bargains at night when you know what you are looking for. I also loved the fact that we are supporting the local woman weaving and sewing.
Time to leave
After 6 days in this beautiful, calm tempered city, I was not ready to leave. I fell in love with the Sabaai dii`s, the friendly people and the way they take care of their heritage. Some of the coffee-shops, like saffron coffee in Khem Khong street and Joma on the main road are supporting local coffee farmers and building schools to make sure the children in the future can read and write in this poor beautiful country.
The legacy from what they call “the secret war,” still ruins many lives every year. Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos by the USA during the Vietnam war. About 80 million of these did not detonate. Less than one percent of these have been destroyed after 40 years. It is sad to say that each year about 50 new casualties occur. 60 percent dies, the rest loses body parts. Most of the victims are children playing, and farmers working the land.
If you did not visit cope visitors center I Vientiane, I recommend a stop by the UXO Laos Visitors Center behind the Chao Anouvong Monument. This is a good place to learn more about the most heavily bombed country in history.