The ancient town of Luang Prabang was our next destination. We took another private minivan to Luang Prabang that costed us about €100 which ended up being quicker and cheaper due to the number of people in our group.
And it sure was one heck of a bumpy ride: we had to go up and down so many mountains, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s had a big breakfast. But 15 minutes into the ride, you just automatically forget about the sufferings and enjoy the view because you truly are in awe for its beauty.
Arrived at our uncle’s (my dad’s cousin) place in Luang Prabang, he took us to our hotel next door. We had another bargain with $10/night. After check-in, we climbed up the Mount Phou Si to enjoy the sunset over the Mekong river.
We also enjoyed another highlight of Luang Prabang: the night market. Locals may never buy anything from there but because I’m a tourist, it is one of the better I’ve ever seen with souvenirs unique to Laos. Another thing Luang Prabang does well are fruit shakes. I ordered a melon-pineapple-lychees shake: DROOL.
It was our first day there and we saved the best for last: the long awaited food stalls. I was waiting for my culinary love affair with Luang Prabang this whole trip. It’s located down a small alley where on either side of the alley are grills packed with deliciously sizzling meats, some I recognized and others I wished remained a mystery.
As the sun rises in Luang Prabang the next day, Mr Noodle, his wife and his MIL were brave enough to follow the tradition of alms gathering with my auntie. You should buy your offerings (usually food) in advance and arrive with plenty of time to spare as it’s considered very offensive to disrupt the ceremony once it has commenced.
But our dear auntie and uncle woke up even earlier to prepare the offerings for the monks. The 3 tourists then followed the locals and waited quietly by the roadside to give their gifts. Around 200 Buddhist monks depart from their various temples to gather their daily meal which is a tradition that dates back to the 14th century.
After breakfast, we all had to meet up at my auntie’s and uncle’s place for the continuation of our journey. We were pleasantly surprised by the morning market right in front of their house. The morning market is a fascinating place to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the touristic scenes in Luang Prabang. You’ll see it all in the open: blood and gore and all: YUMMY.
My cousin had a more sophisticated stalle at the market, she sells sinhs: a traditional wraparound tubeskirt made of silk. I’ve always received them from my mom or aunties and so I finally purchased my first sinh and may I say: it’s still my fav till this day.
I had originally planned a cheap full day jumbo rental that day cause that’s what I’ve done last time I was there but having family in Luang Prabang has other advantages, they run a travel agency: the Naga Express Travel. My kickass auntie and uncle had already planned everything for us so all we had to do was follow them and enjoy whatever’s coming for us.
Our first stop was Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung. Both boasting miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood. Positioned about 50 feet above the river. Tham Ting is the better known cave with glimpses of the Mekong providing a breathtaking backdrop.
The upper cave, Tham Theung, is home to the majority of the Buddha statues and you will need to find your way in the darkness to the thousands of hidden icons. The statues are believed to have been left in the caves by local people for hundreds of years.
After a tiring climb, we had a well deserved lunch break before we set direction to our next destination: Kuang Si waterfall. The beautiful multi-tiered waterfall is known for its turquoise-green clear water that tumbles over a series of limestone steps and is collected in beautiful pools surrounded by lush greenery.
I went there with the idea of playing in the water and winded up doing something else: I went to the summit, about 200 feet (61m) up to see the source of the falls. We walked and crawled our way up to see whatever beauty there was till we were out of breath and we saw NOTHING. Don’t get me wrong, it was gorgeous but it wasn’t worth the suffering. I do however still feel a sence of pride going all the way to the top in my flip-flops.
Once we were back down, we swam for a long time playing on logs in the turquoise-green pools that were covered with flora and fauna. After swimming, we checked out several Asiatic bears from the Bear Rescue Center before heading back to town in our fancy van.
Back into town, I went to Wat Xieng Thong. This magnificent masterpiece is characteristic of the Luang Prabang style and features an elaborate tree of life mosaic.
What has been most important to our trip is our love for food and my auntie suggested us a Lao-style barbecue right next to the Mekong river. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the setup was simple: a round iron cooking pot with coal fire, stock soup, vegetables and some raw meat and sea food. The pot sits on top of a cement block filled with coals.
Pour some stock soup into the pot, then add vegetables or glass noodles into the broth. Next, take a slab of fat and rub it all over the top of the grill. It’s much more hardcore than a bit of butter but whatever’s good for our pig out diet… Meanwhile, place some meat on the top part of the grill which remains dry and when done, dip the meat in the dipping sauce and have a bite. Your soup cooks in the pot while the meat sizzles on top and that’s what a traditional Lao bbq is.
If anyone wants to try this out, make sure you don’t plan a stop by the beauty salon before cause I found out by experience I had to wash my hair again right after dinner.
We took Lao Airlines the next day to Vientiane and spent the whole time with the family and this concludes our trip to Laos in 2013.
We spend one week in Laos and I had planned the trip to be different at first but I got what I wanted from the trip: a bit of suffering I can laugh at now and being dumbfounded with the most spectacular views in the world.
Our next trip and traveling post: Thailand.