June 13, 2017
Luang Prabang, Laos
a couple of weeks back in Chiang Mai enjoying the relative comforts of our
Nimman area condo with full kitchen and pool, we were getting restless; we were
ready to move on beyond Thailand and start exploring Laos. Our (ok, my – Scott’s) original plan had us
taking the two-day slow boat from Huay Xai down the Mekong to Luang Prabang,
after an overnight (or two) at the Gibbon Experience eco-tourism tree
houses. Caroline was not so keen on the
tree house lodging scenario, which included hiking and zip-lining in with your
stuff to a barebones, electricity-free, toilet-paper-free accommodation (you
can bring your own but you must pack it out at the end of your stay), so I was
going to do a quick one-nighter and meet her back in Huay Xai for the boat.
|The UNESCO lotus pond at Maison Dalabua|
June is apparently the worst time to book a boat. There are very few passengers just before the
monsoons arrive, and we would have had to wait several days in Huay Xai and pay
exorbitant amounts of money for seats to get on a private boat. The public boats, with their relative lack of
comfort and dodgy restrooms, did not interest Caroline (theme, lol) for a two
day long trip. With the Huay Xai trip
not happening, the Gibbon Experience was no longer convenient to anything else
on our itinerary. The plans they are
it was that we found ourselves on a plane flying over the stunning countryside
of northern Laos. Lush, green,
jungle-covered mountains and full rivers below the plane the entire way in to
Luang Prabang’s tiny airport.
|The approach into Luanag Prabang|
World UNESCO heritage site, much of Luang Prabang’s scenic and historic old
city is situated on a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, with
the confluence of the two at the far northeastern tip. We booked our first three nights at the Lotus
Villa Inn, located in a great spot not far from the confluence. A lovely space with friendly staff, good
food, and in a wonderful location – but with a dark, not-so-private room and
lacking the pool that many less-conveniently situated properties offer.
found a new hotel to move into for our 4th through 13th
nights (yes, we stayed 2 weeks), the lovely Maison Dalabua, we spent the rest
of our time taking advantage of our old town location. We woke before dawn to sit on our room’s
patio to watch the monks collecting their alms from the (mostly elderly) local
women, who placed sticky rice in their decorative alms bowls from their
sitting/kneeling positions on the street as the monks walked by.
And it was hot. Really eff-ing hot. So we spent our first days not just exploring
the old town, but since it was clear that Luang Prabang was somewhere we were
going to want to spend some quality time, we also used our first days visiting
other properties. Much of this exploring
we did by bicycle, as most of the hotels offer complimentary but poorly
maintained bicycles for their guests, since it’s an easy, flat, quiet town
that’s enjoyable to ride around.
|Our charming and spacious ground floor room at the Lotus Villa was perfectly comfortable, but very dark when we closed the shutters for privacy|
|One of the many fleets of complimentary bicycles "maintained" by the nicer hotels for guests' use around Lunag Prabang|
We visited the famous Wat Xienthong, covered
in impressive, artfully designed glass mosaic murals.
We ventured over the rickety-looking bamboo
bridge that crossed the Nam Khan near the Mekong to explore the low-key weaving
and paper making “town” on the other side.
|Local Buddhist monks and devout followers during the daily bat procession|
After bicycling in the heat, we enjoyed sipping lime juices and pastises
at the soporific Viewpoint Café. We
spent time looking up the word “soporific”, since it’s a favorite of the Lonely
Planet authors, and also used in Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri mystery novels set
in Laos that we’d started reading.
|Crossing the Nam Khan River via bamboo bridge: not for the faint of heart|
tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.
sounds about right for Luang Prabang.
|Soporific, defined. Another lazy afternoon at the positively addictive Utopia lounge.|
pretty much “seen the town” during our stay at Lotus Villa, by the time we
found ourselves at Maison Dalabua a little further out (but still only an easy
15-minute walk into town), we spent more time relaxing, enjoying our beautiful
balcony overlooking the pool, and hanging out in said pool during the
oppressive heat of the afternoons.
or twice a day, we’d wander or ride back into town to get lunch, dinner, or
just drinks or snacks, at one of many of the charming cafes or bars. We quickly found our favorites, and ended up
frequenting Le Banneton bakery & café for lunches, and the charmingly atmospheric
French-run Tangor for happy hours, snacks, and one dinner. Tangor quickly became one of Caroline’s
favorite spots on earth.
|The view from our balcony at Maison Dalabua|
In between Le
Banneton and Tangor, we enjoyed some of the best bread-with-herbed-butter ever
at the white-tablecloth Blue Lagoon, and had a few grilled whole fish &
sticky rice meals at the hot, stuffy and crowded market stalls.
|Caroline, in her official happy place. French rose, French sauvignon blanc, French waiters and great European food right on Luang Prabang's atmospheric main street.|
Scott enjoyed many a BeerLao, while Caroline
had her fair share of rosé and Savvy-B (our adopted moniker for sauvignon
blanc, thanks to a cheesy bartender in Queens, NYC). If it sounds like we spent all of our time
eating, drinking, or at the pool, that’s because we did.
|Cheap and tasty whole-grilled-fish-dinner-for-two at the market, no individual plates required|
not all of our time. We did visit the sobering
exhibit at the UXO (unexploded ordnance) museum, where we learned much more
about America’s secret war in Laos, and the damage done over the last fifty
years from both initial bomb runs and the ensuing decades of UXO explosions
from simply trying to live on the land where 30% of the 270 million cluster
munitions failed to explode when initially dropped. The statistics are upsetting, the ongoing
stories extremely sad. For additional
details and photos, you can check out Caroline’s post.
other big outing involved renting a motorbike for the day and heading to Kuang
Si Falls, one of the top tourist destinations in Laos, located about an hour’s
ride south of Luang Prabang. As it is
such a popular tourist spot, we set off very early in the morning to make sure
we arrived before any tour buses had the opportunity to pull up and let their
droves of (probably Chinese) tourists off.
The early morning ride was absolutely glorious, and we were thinking
that even if the waterfall wasn’t that exciting due to our timing at the end of
the dry season/start of the rains (would it be brown?), it was worth it just
for the scenery from our motorbike.
pulled up to a virtually empty parking lot just as the entrance gate was
opening, locked up our bike (motorbike theft is a real problem in Laos – often
by the company that rented it to you so they can get your deposit money), and
wandered in. To get to the falls, you first have to walk through a bear
habitat, where bears rescued from poachers and circuses have some space to
roam, and which educates the public about the mistreatment of Asian bears that
poachers are killing for medicines where better alternatives are
available. We walked through quickly, deciding
to save our visit for on our way out, so we could get to the falls before the
the short walk up the trail, we saw the lower pools of the multi-tiered Kuang
Si Falls, and they did not disappoint, living up to every bit of the hype. Dazzlingly clear turquoise waters in pools
held together by rocks and beautiful foliage, with butterflies flitting about
everywhere. This, we decided, is what every luxury resort must be trying to
achieve with their fake, Disney-esque swimming pools with waterfalls, bridges,
and palms. It seemed too perfect to be real, but indeed this is all pure nature.
|Taken on our way out of the park, the lower pools at Kuang Si Falls were a little more crowded in the afternoon but no less beautiful!|
diving in (it was still only 9am), we took the hike up to the top of the
falls. Hot and humid already, by the
time we got to the top we were drenched in sweat. While the views from the top of the falls
were not all that, as they are quite wide and tree-lined, and you can’t really
“lean over” the edge, it was very peaceful and beautiful at the top as
well. The pools at the top were chilly,
but inviting in our sweaty state, and we enjoyed a bit of time floating around
and posing for each other on the tree swing with hardly anyone else
But we were both anxious to get
back down to the bottom, where we had a choice of five or so large and much
more colorful pools created from the cascading falls. We dove in, took thousands of photos, and
couldn’t believe this was our life – the perfect paradise.
|Solitude and tree swings at the uppermost pools of Kuang Si Falls|
We could have stayed all day. We talked about coming back.
|Kuang Si Falls - happily, we enjoyed a dip in the refreshingly cool waterfall pools before the afternoon tour bus crush!|
alas, we had to get back to our boutique hotel’s swimming pool and happy hour
at Tangor. Such are the hardships of
life. Speaking of hardships, we did
encounter one minor hiccup on the way back to LP, when we got a flat on our
rear tire. It was, once again, really eff-ing hot, and we seemed to be in the
middle of nowhere. So I started pushing
the motorbike down the road, where after a couple of kilometers we came across
a town. All towns in Southeast Asia, no
matter how small, have a motorbike repair shop, and this was no exception. A friendly young mechanic took five minutes
or so to replace our tube, inexpensively at that, and we were quickly on our
way. Not a big deal.
other way we spent our time in Luang Prabang was planning next steps. We came up with a reasonable itinerary, and
picked some accommodations for our next stops – first in Nong Kiauw, which is
located up-river from LP, then down to the country’s somewhat sleepy-sounding capital
of Vientiane. Both seem to promise
soporific times to come.
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