Luang Prabang and all its beauty

Once more I was headed off to the next destination. Although I would have liked to have a few more days in the north of Laos, I had a strict deadline to get ot Vietnam to meet a friend from home, so off I was headed must to my own disappointment.

I grabbed a sandwich from my favourite Vang Vieng lady- a huge baguette filled with the usual ham, cheese and salad for about $3, not too shabby at all.; and said goodbye to Victoria and my other dorm buddies (most of which I would meet up with again by the evening in Luang Prabang). I hoped on the bus, soon joined by the 3 Germans after about 3 loops of the town picking up people here and there. And finally eventually we were on our way. The bus journey was quite unexciting, the usual hilly roads and snack stops, until we hit an unfortunate traffic jam. Some recent dodgy weather the day or two before had caused a lot of sand from the cliff face along the roadside to come loose. It covered the road and prevented even a single line of traffic from travelling at normal speed around the bend. There were minivans and buses backed up for hundreds of metres before us; we were in for a long afternoon. Unfortunately I had eaten my sandwich before we even managed to leave Vang Vieng town, let alone did I pack any further snacks for the “6 hours” trip. Well it didn’t turn out to be a 6 hour trip I’ll tell you that much. We arrived at Luang Prabang at dusk, around 6pm in the evening while our Korean friends arrived at 3pm after leaving 3 hours after us……. We later found out that there are two roads from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, the ‘old road’ and the ‘new road’, moral of the story, make sure you check that your minibus takes the ‘new road’. The only plus side of our disasterous journey with very little sustainance was that this was while squatting in the cubicles at the toilet stop.

Anyway, after finally arriving, we checked ourselves into T.T First Guesthouse off the extension of the main street- Sisavangvong Rd. The Koreans had been in touch and already checked in their earlier so we were happy to go with the flow and just have a shower and get settled!

We gathered later for dinner and with Dana, one of the Germans, keen for a Cambodian BBQ, we headed to Lao Lao Garden, which she had read about in her Lonely Planet. After a delicious DIY dinner of BBQ grilled chicken and beef with soup and veggies, we were happy to call it an early night. Unfortunately, on the way home, the night didn’t end as we quite had hoped. We were actively in conversation when I managed to slip on a banana peel- just like the movies and fell straight on my bum! Then in the process of seeing if I was okay and recounting the story of my slip, Dana managed walk straight forward completely unaware and hit her head on a stop sign in the street- those tall Germans!! Anyway, nursing the two cripples home, feeling sorry for ourselves, we made it, tucked into bed pretty soon after and hit the sack.

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The next day we opted for a day around town. There was a lot to see and we were all happy to chill out between the tourist sights given the intense humidity. Although since my arrival in Vientiane, we had only travelled north, away from the equator, the humidity was still unbearable after a couple of hours of walking around. We headed for late breakfast, and after couple of laps we settled for Saffron Espresso Caffe close by to our guesthouse. It was sub-par and overpriced in our opinions but it did do some nice sandwiches it seemed. After breakfast, we headed for a walk around the main street and area to get our bearings. Some of the group were also keen to investigate transport options out of Luang Prabang- with some headed to Thailand and some to Vietnam and others onward in other directions, it was sad reflecting on the fact that we were all splitting up again soon. In the late morning we headed for a massage. My Lonely Planet Guide had a few recommendations with the best and cheapest being Lao Red Cross Sauna & Massage, a bit of a distance away from where we were staying but well worth the walk. We all opted for 1hr full body massages, and at about $10 it was well worth it! Feeling completely refreshed and relaxed when we walked out, the only downside was the trek back to the guesthouse in the humid midday heat covered in massage oil from head to toe.

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We headed to the biggest temple in town in the afternoon, Wat Xieng Thong. Here you must be careful to wear longer sleeves and pants/skirt to cover your shoulders and knees to respect religious culture. Although you should do this at every temple you visit, it is particularly important here because of the guards that enforce this rule (and charge you the 20,000 Kip entrance fee) – there are shawls and pants to purchase if you haven’t dressed for the occasion. This group of temples is incredible. There is a collection of monuments and Wats filled with various Buddha statues- lots to see and for $4 you can’t really complain, given any great tourist attraction back home would be at least $10!

While in Luang Prabang, we also visited the Kuang Si Waterfall. As there was quite a large group of us, we managed to get a good price to the falls- around 15,000Kip each if I recall correctly! We all jumped in a minivan and headed the 30km south. Once we arrived, we hopped out and agreed on a time to meet back with the driver. He was going to stay and sleep in the van while he waited for us anyway, so it didn’t matter too much if we didn’t get back in time. We bought our entry ticket- 20,000Kip – and headed into the tourist site. Before you reach the waterfalls and its numerous steps, there is a Black Bear Sanctuary which helps keep the bears safe from poachers. After a few quick snaps we headed on to the much anticipated main event. We arrived early after leaving town around 10am, which was a great idea as we were joined by very little company.

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We made the climb totes very top of the waterfall, up and down a shocking path with very uneven “steps”, and visited the “source” of the waterfall for a small fee- this man kind of tricks you into believing there is something  amazing at the end of his wet raft ride when there is merely a few rocks and no gushing source from anywhere; nonetheless a bit of a laugh. We returned down to the first pool where you could go swimming and job from the tree trunk. By now we’d been a good couple of hours and the crowds had settled in so we were joined by a raft of there tourists. Regardless, it was fun and extremely cold, playing around in the fresh water.

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We returned back to our minibus eventually, hungry for a spot of lunch after a decent climb and swim. Unfortunately it was a decent trip back to town in the bumpy van before we arrived at our favourite lunch spot on the main street. Needless to say, the a fruit shake and chicken and avocado baguette hit the spot when we were finally able to devour them!

That night was sadly, my final night in Luang Prabang and my final night with the Laos crew. We headed out to the market one last time to collect some small souvenirs (mind you you must always remember how much longer you are travelling for and that you physically can’t keep buying things without throwing anything out) and  to buy dinner- we ended up going back to our favourite fish stall for a whole grilled fish at an incredibly low price. At the end of dinner, we were keen to kick on and do something, and what’s else is there to do than go bowling?! We all jumped in a tuk tuk and headed out to town to the creatively named Luang Prabang Bowling Alley, which always manages to draw a decent crowd. After a game or two of bowling, it was somehow pretty late and with many of us departing the next day, an early night was to be had. Some of us were keen to watch the alms giving ceremony the next morning which demanded a 6am wake-up so we had to give Utopia a miss this time around unfortunately. However, after the endless partying in Vang Vieng at Sakura Bar,our livers greatly appreciated it no doubt.

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The next morning Ellen and I woke up crazily early to watch the Alms Giving Ceremony from afar. Now, this is an incredibly religious and traditional ceremony that takes place every morning across many towns in Laos where the monks receive their alms for the day that they consume before midday. Well, I am still completely enraged by the numerous tourists who acted completely disrespectfully throughout this sacred ceremony. Although you are often encouraged by locals to participate and give rice or other offerings from the pavement, we had opted out of this, preferring to merely observe from afar. I, in fact, had no problem with individuals doing this, it was those that stood up to the monks with their cameras, stood in the way of the natural flow of the men and their path down the street, those that completely disregarded the ceremony for the ability to take their own best picture, their iPads glaring right in the faces of the monks who would merely walk on by, without a word continuing their ritual. You could tell the monks felt uncomfortable and were put out by many of the tourists but they are far too polite and engaged in the procedure to do anything about their rude, ignorant counterparts. We were fuming after about 20 minutes of enduring the painful proceedings before us so we stormed off back to our guesthouse.

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Th rest of the group rose around 9am, and we all ventured back to our favourite market stall for breakfast. Once again a fruit shake and sandwich did the trick and filled us right up. I didn’t have many plans for the day before I had to leave around 3pm for the airport and my flight to Hanoi, however, the rest of the group were visiting the Tad Sae Waterfalls where there is also an elephant sanctuary. Because these are the less impressive falls, these were left to the final day where a few of us were leaving and wouldn’t be able to join in. We all gathered at our guesthouse around 10am before the others left. We said our farewells, a teary affair, and all went our separate ways.

After I had finished packing and checked out, I spent the rest of the morning taking a few more photos around town. I love walking around aimlessly and admiring the beauty of what’s before me. With no one else to rush me and no where I needed to be, I had a great time just taking in Laos for the very last time, taking a few final snaps and spending some much needed time catching up on my journal. The others actually returned in time to see me again before I finally took off for the airport, the rains had come while they were at the waterfall and the elephant sanctuary was expensive so I really hadn’t missed out on much it turned out. But soon enough it was another quick farewell and I was off. Off on another journey. With one country down, there were 4 to go.

Laos will always hold a special place in my heart. I fell in love with travelling, with exploring, with the unknown. At the time it was an adventure like no other, and I will always look back on those far too quick 10 days ever so fondly.

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