Luang Prabang is a town that gets mentioned whenever you meet someone traveling to Laos, and for that reason I always pictured it to be a big bustling place. In actuality Luang Prabang is a relaxed smaller town, around 55,000 people live here. The streets are filled with the smell of fresh herbs and Laos coffee, you pass by locals eating family style just enjoying their days. It’s easy to see the charm this city has.
We loved the French style architecture
After dinner on our first night off the slow boat we decided to get some steps in and hit the local night market with a friend from our trip. There were an impressive number of stalls filled with beautiful textiles and home-wears that I so wish we were able to take home! If only our backpacks were Mary Poppins bags… While we were browsing stalls, a group of young students who were studying english asked us to chat for a while to get in some practice. It was great to hear about their lives and how excited they were to learn English. In the first few days of being in Laos we’ve managed to speak to more locals than we did in two weeks in Thailand which has made our time here even more enjoyable.
This picture is actually from the morning market which was just as amazing!
After some serious thunderstorms as we slept, 5:00 am came around and our alarm was ringing. We rolled out of bed, grabbed our clothes and went down to one of the main streets for the almsgiving. Every morning without fail people from the town gather for sunrise and sit in a line with a basket of sticky rice in front of them. The monks in the city make their way from the temples to the streets with a big metal bowl wrapped around their side. Each person gives a pinch of their rice to each monk passing by. The practice gives those giving food a bit of spiritual redemption and the monks something to eat for the day. It was a really cool ceremony and I’m glad we were able to partake for a morning. After the monks are gone the neighbouring streets turn into the morning market. One of the more famous morning markets in Southeast Asia! You can see those who just gave alms going about the stalls and picking up produce and other goods for their family. It’s always so wonderful to see the array of sights and colors presented in a new market! We love markets and our favourite of all are the simple fresh produce local ones. Luang Prabang was already ticking all the boxes!
Taking part in the almsgiving
After a siesta we explored the city. Our first stop was the UXO museum where we learned the full, devastating extent of the US bombing of Laos during the Vietnam war. 2 million tons of ordinances were dropped on the country making Laos the most heavily bombed nation per capita ever. There are still around 80 million unexploded bombs in the country and the UN led organisation has only cleared away 1%. That’s after 20 years solid work. As an American I think it’s a tremendous shame that our education system gives such an incomplete and many times incorrect history when it comes to the Vietnam war. In fact I didn’t learn about the secret war on Laos until watching an Anthony Bourdain parts unknown episode. The UXOs will forever scar this country and the US, with it’s obscene expenditure on defence, should really do more to help with the destruction they’ve caused. Or, at the very least, teach about what happened, so I hope by sharing this here I can do a small part to help with that.
Just a handful of examples at the museum of what is still left scattered in the fields of Laos
Up next was Wat Xiengthong. This is one of the best known temples in the town. It had a lot of similarities to many Thai temples we’d visited, but it definitely featured more glass work, including mosaics of traditional Laos life. As we headed away from the temple we heard some loud chattering behind the gate, turns out around sixty men were lifting and carrying one of the long boats from the previous days competition back into storage. It was wow worthy to see the effort it takes to transport this incredibly long vessel!
What wat is what? After a few weeks in SE Asia it can feel like that!
On our way to the royal palace museum we got a bit rained out, but this wasn’t a problem as it allowed us to seek refuge in a beautiful French colonial building turned hotel, and enjoy a few beers while we waited. The palace was closed by the time we walked the grounds so we decided to come back the next morning. The museum contains several artefacts from Laos, some even dating back to 570 AD! We strolled room to room seeing the jewels and gifts to the family from the days of Laos royalty. A fairly quick but well laid out museum to get a better feel of the history in Laos! The palace grounds also have the Phra Bang statue of Buddha, which was a gift to the town from Sri Lanka and why the town adopted the name Luang Prabang.
Views from the palace
We came back to our hostel and got in a mini van for our trip to Kuang Si waterfall. You enter the park and walk past a small sanctuary with four rescued bears and then you arrive at these beautiful cascading pools of water coloured an awe inspiring shade of light bright blue. As you follow the pools up the path you finally pan up to see the most stunning waterfall pouring down. The whole scene feels otherworldly, as one of the older guys on our trip said “this is like that movie Avatar”. I’d say he nailed that description. We spent the afternoon swimming around one of the pools we had to ourselves, admiring the views and feeling the occasional nibble from the little spa fish swimming around us. A bonus freebie!
Absolute bliss! Thanks to our new Japanese friend for taking this picture 🙂
Once back in town for our last night we decided to climb up the 300 steps to get to the top of Phousi hill and take in the views of the city. It was a bit cramped with other tourists doing the same when we got there, but the views of the hills and red rooftops of the buildings still made it 100% worth doing! At the bottom of the hill we walked through the market and found a stall where you could put fresh ingredients you wanted to eat in a basket, handed it to the lady behind the metal pots and she makes your custom soup! It was the biggest bowl I’ve ever seen and fed the two of us 3 bowls of soup each for £2. Best thing I’ve had on this trip so far. Luang Prabang was an amazing city to explore with a relaxed and timeless charm to it. We would definitely recommend it to anyone considering visiting this beautiful country.
Admiring the stunning view from the top of Phousi hill!
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Kuang Si Falls 😍