Luang Prabang

After a two day boat journey down the Mekhong River from Huay Xai, in freezing temperatures and driving rain, with Carly being sick over-board, an encounter with a strange Russian, and Ben reduced to drinking neat Sangsom (Thai rum), we made it to Luang Prabang, Laos.

 Luang Prabang

Sailing down the Mekhong (for 2 days...) on the way to Luang Prabang, Laos.

 Luang Prabang

Local children sell sarongs and scarves on the banks of the Mekhong.

Accommodation

As with every major tourist stop, you’re welcomed by an array of touts shoving their guest house information in your face, as you struggle with your bags and clamber up the muddy river bank. We walked past them but arriving early evening would probably have done better if we had accepted their overtures. However, after a night in a cheap guest house the next day we ended up somewhere nicer in the historical peninsula, a short walk from the main street and waterfronts. We paid 100,000 kip for a room – about £8.

 Luang Prabang

Slow boats on the Mekhong at Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang oozes style with a wonderful French-colonial chic, evident in its beautiful villas, cafes and wine bars, whilst it exemplifies Lao roots with amazing temples, tempting food and the top-notch night market. The daily routine of the orange-clad monks is the rhythm at the heart of the city – from the giving of alms at day-break to the drums of the call to prayer in the early evening.

A short clip of the monks drumming

 Luang Prabang

A smart boutique hotel typical of the type of villas you see across Luang Prabang

 Luang Prabang

A drum outside a minor temple. See the video to hear the drum bashed by the monks

 Luang Prabang

Sample of the impressive mosaic at Wat Xieng Thong

Royal Palace Museum (Ho Kham – Golden Hall)

One particular building in Luang Prabang stood out as particularly stunning – the temple in the grounds of the Royal Palace (now a museum). This lead Ben to state that this building was one of the most stunning he’d ever seen – it is modern and pristine; intricately bejewelled in gold and jade green, set off against brilliant-white, absolute perfection.

 Luang Prabang

The temple at the Royal Palace...from every angle a gorgeous building, immaculately presented

 Luang Prabang

The intricate decorations - the overall affect is subtle and magnificant

 Luang Prabang

The inside of the temple, at the Royal Palace

The museum itself is fascinating. The Lao royals lived here, under French colonial rule, until the 1975 revolution. When the country became a republic the royal residence was left exactly as it was. Inside (unfortunately photography not allowed) the modestly-sized building has a mix of royal artefacts and national memorabilia (the US kindly gifted the Lao people a small plastic model of the moon-landing vehicle after reaching the moon, along with a speck of moon dust – on display here). Some of the interior decoration and wall panelling, especially in the throne room, is utterly stunning.

The three bedrooms are sparsely decorated with outdated 60s French furniture – cupboards and desks that you’d expect to see in a dowdy charity store or at your grandma’s rather than a royal palace. It gives the place a real, genuine and highly interesting air – this is a grand palace that you can easily imagine people living day-to-day in. The dining room has a table set for 8 people.

Other activities in Luang Prabang

We visited Mount Phu Si, a 100 metre high hill in the heart of the city, with several temples on its slopes, as well as a wonderful view of the surrounding area at the top.

 Luang Prabang

Buddhas on the side of Mount Phi Si

With our new friends, Jose & Bea, we visited the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, which is a pretty suite of waterfalls, with multi-tiered clear, fresh, turquoise lagoons. We hiked to the top of the main fall, which provided some great views, and at the bottom took a cooling dip in one of the natural pools, surrounded by rocks and boulders. Again, this lead Ben to state this was one of the most amazing natural attractions he’d ever seen.

 Luang Prabang

Tat Kuang Si Waterfall

 Luang Prabang

The (mostly) swimmable pools at Tat Kuang Si Waterfall cascade down and down

 Luang Prabang

A popular pool at Tat Kuang Si Waterfall where the brave climb out on to the tree before swinging like Tarzan into the fresh water

There is an excellent night market which sets up in the heart of the city at around 5pm each day, selling clothing, jewellery and ornaments – we picked up some Lao coffee and some canvas prints adorned with traditional motifs – as well as a buzzing food market, which sells everything!

We were also told of a place called La Pistoche – which is a pool and bar hidden down a little dirt track, in the suburbs of the city. As it was so hot, we were grateful for this little haven, which had a lovely chilled atmosphere; a small pleasant pool; a sun-deck, cool music and cocktails.

 Luang Prabang

Big pile of freshly plucked coconuts at La Pistoche

Food and drink

We had some wonderful meals, watching the sunset at local restaurants along the Mekhong river, eating some amazing dishes, such as the Lao national dish of laap – a zingy salad of minced meat with mint, lemon and garlic. We also found some great bars with happy hour, such as the Lao Lao Garden, which did decent food and good cocktails. There are many tourist-oriented bars and most have plenty of character and personality.

 Luang Prabang

Chicken Laap and black sticky rice. You create a ball of rice by rolling in your palm before scooping up the juicy meat

Summary of Luang Prabang

We loved Luang Prabang – its natural beauty, arts & crafts, people, stylish buildings, food & drink – a wonderful mix of colonial influence (fresh croissants every morning!) and ancient Asian heritage. It’s no wonder the city itself has been assigned a UNESCO World Heritage site. Well worth a second visit – maybe next time not on a travellers’ budget so that we can fully appreciate the 5* boutique hotels, the first-class restaurants and the many swanky wine bars!



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