After visiting so many small towns and sites that most travelers don’t venture to in Laos, it was a little strange to end our time in the most touristed city — Luang Prabang. We were worried that seeing more travelers would somewhat taint what was supposed to be a beautiful, spiritual city, but as we realized from our five days there — we were sorely mistaken.
OK, the main stretch where the great night market is located is jam-packed with foreigners, but other areas, particularly by the Nam Ou River and the area immediately outside the center, embody everything we had heard about this city. It’s no surprise that the entire city is marked a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Luang Prabang has this zen-like quality to it, accented with leafy green streets, beautiful colonial architecture and quiet avenues. (Though, why young backpackers parade around the streets in short shorts is beyond me. This is a temple city! Please go away now.)
Anywhoo, it’s easy to let days go by before you realize you didn’t really “do” anything beyond wafting through temples and sipping on fruit shakes in Luang Prabang. And that’s pretty much what we did.
We walked around gilded temples, checked out a fantastic photo exhibit about monks through the ages, ate some delicious food (though I think Vientiane has a better variety) and visited the icy blue waters of the Kuang Si Waterfalls — one of the coolest natural sights we had seen in some time. Eaman even got a haircut and shave from a local barber, who spoke zero English. (The cut was mostly a success, even if it veered a bit on the “Asian school boy” side.)
With a lot coming up on our travel agendas — visas, flights, etc. — we did get bogged down a couple days with enough time spent on the iPad to make our eyes pop out, but that comes with the territory. On the upside, we did all that research on the balcony of a fabulous hotel we checked into for our last two days in Laos. (More on that and our other awesome hotels in the next post.)
In any case, we certainly didn’t get too distracted from this lovely city, which, despite its upmarket cafes and fancy antique shops, hasn’t lost touch with the beautiful Laos spirit. (Though not sure what’s in store for this city 5-10 years from now.) Luang Prabang is best understood not with narrative, but with visuals, so take a look!
A charming grandfather — who spoke to me in French — and his too-cute grandson.
Coconut lime lassi-bliss.
DIY soup at a restaurant by the Nam Ou River: Pour broth, noodles and veggies into moat-like portion of the pot, which is heated by coals, and cook the meat on top. Fun, if a tad pricey by Laos standards.
Dinner across the river in our own bamboo hut.
Kuang Si Waterfalls, which had the most insane icy blue color. It felt like Patagonia plopped in the middle of a rain forest.
Rope-swinging into the Falls wasn’t the only fun part; the waters are also filled with Dr. Fish, who nibble off your dead skin. It may sound gross, but people actually pay for this at spas. We got it for free. Ha!
Last but not least, there’s a bear rescue center at the falls — equal parts cute and random.