Sunday 10th January and Monday 11th
We’ve given ourselves a couple of days to explore the northern city described (on some website that I saw) as the “jewel in Laos’ crown”.
First impressions of Luang Prabang: it’s small, it’s a bit scruffy, but kind of charming. The main street is pedestrianised, so feels quiet. There are also restaurants by the Mekong which are very atmospheric at night. Like in Thailand, people seem to love their gardening, and the side streets are frequently full of lush green trees, plants and flowers. Overall, the atmosphere is laid back with a shabby prettiness.
Like most cities we’ve been to, the locals – especially those who work in the service industry – are sometimes a bit jaded, but of course not always. The centre seems to be all about tourism, and the prices reflect this. In the north of Thailand a reasonably expensive dinner for two would cost us £6. Here, a simple meal for two costs us £5. In Thailand most temples were free, and if there was a fee it was usually 40p. Here, we saw less free temples, and the price to enter tended to be about £1.80. Luang Prabang has felt expensive.
Here’s what we got up to…
Bikes with bamboo frames.
Admiring Wat Sensoukharam…
This was the biggest disappointment of Luang Prabang. We reached the top to find a small space, full of tourists with cameras and selfie sticks, all vying to get a photo of the sunset. It was about the most un-relaxing sunset I have ever experienced.
The next day we wasted our time when we followed some outdated information on a Laos website about a public bus to the famous Kuang Si Waterfall. We took a tuk tuk to a bus station, and found out that there was no bus. Irritated, we walked back into town. Our backup plan was to visit the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum, but it turned out that this closed on Mondays. We were grumpy. We regrouped. We paid out £18 for private transport to and from the waterfall – we are used to Asian prices now, so £18 seems like a small fortune! However, it was worth it.
That evening we went to see some traditional Laos storytelling, complete with an old dude rocking a bamboo pipe instrument called a “khene”.
We learnt that Laos’ old name “Lan Xang” translates to “Land of a Million Elephants”. We also learnt some legends about Luang Prabang, including the origins of Mount Phousi (dropped into Luang Prabang by the flying Monkey King because the Queen wanted mushrooms, but wouldn’t specify what kind). It was a good evening.
The storyteller had a very particular way of pointing his fingers, rolling his eyes and saying “HowEVER…” a habit which I think we will now adopt when in each other’s company for a few weeks at least!
Although there was plenty that we enjoyed in Luang Prabang, we were both a little put off by how touristy it was, and as usual, a couple of days in a city has left me keen to get back on the bike and into the countryside. We will be cycling a range of mountains in between Luang Prabang and Vientiane which are famously beautiful. I have been excited about this part of the trip for a long time…