Saturday, 13 August 2011

Charming Luang Prabang

We made it to Laos... what a spectacularly beautiful country!  Flying in, out the window all we could see were steep, lush, green mountains and wide (brown) rivers.  Gorgeous!  Asher, a lovely Aussie girl from the elephant park and her friend, Tim, happened to be on the same flight as us, so we all decided to team up.  Upon arrival, the owner of our guest house picked us up at the airport and drove us into town, giving us a short Laos history lesson on the way.  Laos actually used to be called 'the land of a million elephants,' partly because there were a lot of elephants, and partly because it would intimidate the neighbouring countries and dissuade them from attacking, if they thought the army had a million elephants (it didn't work).

The town of Luang Prabang is situated at the junction of two rivers: the mighty Mekong and the much smaller Nam Khan.  The city itself is very beautiful, with a lot of European-style architecture mixed in with the Asian.  There are large hills surrounding the town, and trees everywhere.  Our first night there, we had to taste Beer Lao, the very popular national beer.  We were not disappointed: it is by far the best beer we've tried in Asia.  Delicious and so refreshing, and cheap (just over $1 CAD for a large bottle).  Tim and Greg indulged in many Beer Lao together.

Our very first Beer Lao, on a patio overlooking the Mekong river.  AMAZING!!  (well, except for the biting ants)

The next day, we wandered around town, checking out some local sights.  Since it was the wet season, we did get quite a bit of rain.  Some days we would have absolutely torrential downpours for hours, and others were warm and clear.  Since our first day was so rainy, we decided to go indoors and check out the national museum.  It was located in the palace of the former royal family, and so the inside of the building was spectacular.  The old thrones and crowns were on display, and the rooms were recreated to look as they did when the King and Queen lived there.  

Former royal palace
Rain, rain, rain

In the centre of town is a steep hill, on top of which is a decaying, unimpressive temple.  But we still hiked up the hill to get a view of the surrounding area.

Nam Khan river as seen from the top of the hill.  Our guest house was along the river, near the bridge.

The next day we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to a waterfall 35km outside of town.  We started to get a real idea of the 'real Laos' when we left the relative luxury of Luang Prabang.  It is obvious that Laos is a very poor country, much poorer than anywhere else I've been.  It was a real eye-opener to see how people in the rural areas lived.  We saw many young children looking after their even younger siblings, bathing naked in the dirty streams, living in very basic huts.  
Anyways, back to the waterfalls.... The river was very high, making the falls even more spectacular.  There were lots of tourists swimming in the river, but we did not join in.  The ground was very muddy, making it difficult to stay on our feet (some of us did much better than others, ahem, Tim).  

Lower waterfalls

Self-portrait with Asher at the upper falls.  Yes, my arm really is that weird.

All four of us at the upper falls.

Our final day in LP we hired a boat to take us upstream to visit the Buddha Cave.  This cave is filled with hundreds of sculptures of Buddha, both small and large.  While the cave was interesting, the real highlight of the trip was the 3 hours spent on the Mekong river.  On the way back, we stopped at a small village where they make rice whiskey.  We sampled the different varieties they had: two rice 'wines' that were quite sweet and had an alcohol content of 15%, and the strong whiskey (50% alcohol) that was apparently similar to drinking lighter fluid.  We bought a few bottles of the rice wine to enjoy later, and walked around the village a bit, watching the local women weave cloths by hand on looms.  The fabrics they were making were beautiful, but we do not have room in our bags to buy any, unfortunately.

Boat anchored on Mekong River.

Gorgeous limestone cliffs, with small village below.

Some of the Buddha sculptures in the cave.

The last thing we saw in LP was the monks receiving alms.  Every morning at the crack of dawn, the monks walk through town with small baskets, collecting food from the townspeople.  This is a very meaningful ceremony for the citizens, as they get to pay their respects and give sustenance to the monks.  Unfortunately tourists are obnoxious and are very disrespectful during the ceremony, getting up close and taking photos with flash.  It was terrible.  We kept our distance on the other side of the street, and tried to only take a few photos.  

Monks receiving alms.

Next, we are heading south to Vang Viang with Asher and Tim.  So far, loving Laos and excited to see more of this spectacular country.


  1. I used to have a co-worker from Laos. :) Looks like the waterfall mist was making a fantastic backdrop for you!

  2. In all honesty, I've been expecting more photos of Greg being attacked by monkeys..

  3. Sounds awesome! I haven't been on here for awhile because it's been crazy since I got back to Calgary on Friday. But I'm home now and everything clean and organized so I guess I better stop reading your blog and start working on that paper....