After nearly a month of moving every few days we decided to lay low in Luang Prabang. We spent much of our time relaxing at Khoun and Khone’s bungalows which are run by the most delightful couple and their family. The family also included four friendly dogs and five adorable cats who would happily make themselves comfortable in your lap at any opportune moment, which wasn’t an issue until Niall decided to do some work.
As the bungalows were located in a sunny and peaceful village out of town, they kindly dropped us into Luang Prabang in their banged up MASH style jeep whenever we needed (note: in Asia a smashed windscreen is nothing a bit of masking tape can’t fix).
Luang Prabang is a very picturesque, laid back town located between the banks of the Mekong and Khan rivers. It has an astonishing number of temples for such a small area and surprisingly, given the number of tourists, it has managed to retain a chilled out atmosphere. The streets are lined with buildings featuring an interesting mix of traditional Lao and French colonial styles which has earned the city its status as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Being the number one destination in Laos, it has become quite commercialised with many streets lined by cafes, guesthouses, massage parlours and tour agencies. However one of the perks of such popularity is that there is no shortage of options when it comes to eating and drinking. The budget-minded backpacker in us was thrilled to find the much talked about buffet at the night market. For 10,000 kip (AUD$1.40) we filled our plates with vegetarian dishes and washed it all down with a large BeerLao for another 10,000 kip.
Another great place to enjoy a BeerLao is Utopia, an institution we had heard of numerous times before reaching Luang Prabang. Set on the banks of the river, this place is very serene in the afternoon and a great spot for a game of cards, or volleyball if you’re so inclined. Their menu jokes that Laos PDR stands for Please Don’t Rush and you might as well adopt this attitude because you don’t really have a choice (it actually stands for People’s Democratic Republic in case you’re wondering).
This notion even extends to the food. We caught up with our Gibbon Experience friends at Lao Lao Garden for a traditional Lao BBQ. Our waiter, wearing gloves, brought out a clay pot of hot coals and then placed a metal pot on top. From here he added soup broth to the bottom and a giant slab of fat to the top section. Then it was time for us to take over, adding vegies, noodles and egg to the soup, and an assortment of meats, including water buffalo, to the sizzling top grill. Much more fun than ordering a noodle soup.
The interactive eating continued at Dyen Sabai, a short walk across the bamboo bridge. We ordered a tasting plate that in traditonal Lao style came with sticky rice to be eaten with your hands and dipped in numerous bowls of goodness. It also came with dried riverweed which Niall very much enjoyed munching on. Add to this a huge selection of board games to play, from Monopoly and Cluedo to Yahtzee. Being just the two of us we opted for dominos which we soon got bored of and lead to making domino houses. Given Niall’s occupation you’d think he would build a better house than me. Nope.
Some food we were far less excited about eating were the local delicacies at the morning market. There were all manner of things, from dried fish and intestines, to rats and what we sincerely hope wasn’t a small dog. A wander around the local market is always an experience that highlights just how far from home you are. This time round it was watching a lady buy a live fish. After popping it in a plastic bag, we expected the seller to grab a knife. Instead she took a wooden pestle to the fish’s head. Poor thing.
Of course there was also all the usual, more appealing, foods for sale as well. From rice and fruit, to fresh honeycomb complete with bees.
As I mentioned before, we were pretty lazy in Luang Prabang. But one sight we insisted on seeing was the Kuang Si waterfalls about 45 minutes out of town. This is a must do if you ever visit. After walking through the Save the Bears enclosure we arrived at the falls and surrounding pools. The colour is an inviting and spectacular turquoise. By 2.30 pm the place was packed with people escaping the heat by jumping from the nearby trees and waterfall into the chilly, cascading water below.
As you can imagine our visit to Kuang Si wasn’t all that strenuous so we decided to walk to the top of Mount Phou Si. Having seen a lot of view points in the past few months we’ve become a bit spoilt. So we weren’t exactly blown away by the view. It certainly wasn’t helped by the huge crowd gathered at the top either. We called it a day before the sun set into the surrounding hills and went for a wander along the river instead.