Sabaidee from Laos! I flew into Luang Prabang from Hanoi and spent a wonderful 6 nights here. If I had to sum up Luang Prabang in one picture, it would be this:
Laos, more specifically Luang Prabang, feels like a completely different world from the hustle and bustle of some larger Vietamese cities. And I love it. Life here is serene. There is no rush, no worries, no construct of time. A wise Buddhist monk once said “Why are you the one with the watch but I am the one who has all the time.” I love this quote because it perfectly sums up the way life goes in this charming, sleepy, little city. Luang Prabang was colonized by the French many years ago and therefore, the city is a blend of asian and french culture and cuisine. But aside from the tasty baguettes and croissants that you can smell from a mile away, here are a few of my favorite things to do and see in this city!
1. Tak Bat
Tak Bat is a daily, early morning ritual in the Buddhist culture in which hundreds of monks line the streets, barefoot, with their alms to collect sticky rice and snacks from the devoted Lao people. The food they receive from the locals is the only food they are allowed to eat for the day. A friend and I bought food from a woman and participated in the ritual. We took our shoes off, covered our shoulders and legs and kneeled on the sidewalk next to a friendly woman and her husband who softly instructed us what to do. The town was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. It was a truly beautiful sight and absolutely worth getting up at 5:30am for.
Perhaps my favorite place in all of Luang Prabang. Utopia is a multi-purpose establishment, acting as a yoga studio in the morning, a chill zen garden during the day and a laid back bar at night. In just 6 days, I frequented Utopia 5 times…twice for early morning yoga, twice to veg-out and once at night for a few cocktails. With a front -row seat of the Nam Kham river, cushions you melt into, delicious fruit shakes and amazing people, this place is quite literally, paradise.
3. Kuang Si Waterfall
The Kuang Si waterfall is the main attraction that draws people to Luang Prabang. It’s located about 30-40 minutes outside of the city and is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. As you walk up to reach the monster waterfall, you pass little falls and pools in which you can swim. The beautiful turquoise color is due to the high level of limestone deposit in the water. Shar and I went swimming but hopped out quickly because the water was freezing (and because little fish were nipping at my feet). I feel highly recommend visiting Kuang Si waterfalls, even if you don’t love chasing waterfalls like me.
4. Free the Bears Rescue Center
Just before the ascent up to the Kuang Si Falls, there is a bear rescue center that belongs to Free the Bears, a nonprofit based out of Australia. Their mission is to rescue Asiatic moon bears that fall victim to poachers. I fell in love the moment I saw the bears and so I asked one of the ladies who worked there for more information. She talked to us for a about 40 minutes and gave us a private tour of the entire center, which included showing us the bears that were not seen by the general public. It was amazing to see so many bears up close! They have so much personality and can be such gentle creatures when they don’t perceive danger. They have another rescue center in Cambodia, which I think I’ll try to volunteer at while I’m there.
5. Big Brother Mouse
Big Brother Mouse publishes books in Laos. Until big brother mouse came along, there were not many books available in th Lao language. Children and young adults come to Big Brother Mouse to practice their reading, writing and english. The organization relies heavily on volunteers to come to the center to converse with the locals. Although primary and secondary schools teach english, the pronunciation and innotation is different when is comes from a Lao person versus someone whose native language is english.
I arrived at the center around 4:45pm and there were already a few students waiting there. We exchanged names, ages and how long they had been studying english for. We jumped right in to talking about US geography, politics, traditions, sports, and family. One by one, more students started trickling in. What first started as a casual conversation quickly turned into more of a lecture. Fortunately, I was able to take some of the attention off of myself and turn it to the students. I learned about their jobs and their ambitions for the future.
One student’s story particularly stuck out to me. King Kong is 18 years young (as he calls it) and has been attending Big Brother Mouse for one year. He is one of eleven children and moved to Luang Prabang to live with his uncle and to work and practice his english. His family lives in the countryside but they are too poor to afford the expensive city that Luang Prabang has become. King Kong first learned english at age 16 when he was a novice monk in Vientiane; since then he’s fallen in love with the language. The earning potential of an english-speaking Lao person is much greater than someone who does not speak english. That being said, King Kong wants to find a job so that he can pay to go to university. His ultimate dream would be to work for an IT company. King Kong, in addition, to be incredibly smart, is also quite talented. He swooned us with his rendition of One Direction’s “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” and Charlie Puth’s “One Call Away.” His tenacity and drive, along with many of the other students at Big Brother Mouse, is something that everyone can aspire to.
Wat Xieng Thong, which was built in 1560, is the oldest, largest and most significant Buddhist monastery in all of Laos. The grounds are huge and house more than one temple. I had the pleasure of seeing several monks who had just finished their prayer. There’s so much history here and if I were to do it again, I’d hire a guide to tour me around. Do be aware that both men and women need to be covered to enter the grounds. If you come unprepared though, you can rent a skirt or shall for 5,000 kip.
This sleepy city certainly comes alive at night. Luang Prabang is famous for their night market which spans close to a ½ mile in the center of town. Handmade scarves, traditional Laos clothing, bags, ceramics, canvases, jewelry and rice wine line the streets as interested tourists stop at each stand, bartering for the best price. The food at the night market is delicious as well. There are multiple vegetarian buffets where you can buy a bowl for 15,000 kip (about $2 USD) and fill it up with as much will fit. After struggling to find vegetarian street food in Vietnam, I almost cried when I first got a glimpse of the buffets. The food at the night market is a backpacker’s delight since it’s so inexpensive and you can get so much. You For dessert, they sell coconut pancakes, which look like little balls and are made from coconut milk, rice flour and sugar. If they serve coconut pancakes in heaven, then I can die happy.
Mount Phu Si is situated in the middle of the city and is a spectacular place to watch the sunset. But be warned – it’s 100m tall and the stairs are steep. We were drenched in sweat once we got to the top. All of the tourists flock there in the early evening to get a good seat for the sunset. But do beware; the selfie sticks are everywhere! Thankfully, we still managed to get a few good shots but it involved dodging Asian tourists left and right. A temple also sits atop Mount Phu Si and just as the sun was beginning to set, a group of faithful buddhists kneeled down and started praying. I wanted to capture the experience on camera but did not want to be disrespectful so I filmed the sunset and you can hear their chants in the background. Mount Phu Si was worth the view, but I’d recommend coming back during the day when there’s fewer selfie sticks 😉
My visit to Laos was short but sweet. I highly recommend coming here if you truly want to get away from all of life’s worries. After all, they don’t call it Laos PDR (“please don’t rush”) for nothing!
I’m catching the slow boat to Thailand tomorrow. It’s a 2-day ride (it’s verrrryyy slow) so wish me luck! I’m not the best on boats but I figure it’s better then a bus…
Catch you in Thailand!!