Next stop after a couple of days in Vientiane was Luang Prabang, which is reached via a 10 hour (although they will tell you it’s eight) bus journey, twisting and turning through the hills, clinging onto your seat as the driver overtakes other vehicles with a sheer drop of 1000m mere inches away. Not a journey we would recommend taking at night not only for safety’s sake but also because the scenery is breathtaking and well worth seeing. We’d show you some videos but alas, they were lost in the laptop incident.
Luang Prabang is a very cute little town full of French influence. You don’t come for any particularly noteworthy sights, but more just to soak up the atmosphere, lounge in the cute cafes and bars and browse the very large (but somewhat repetitive) night market.
There are the usual trekking and elephant camp tours on offer but since we’d already acquainted ourselves with the animals in Chiang Mai we decided to see some local sights instead and picked a full day tour of the surrounding area. We spent the morning on a slow boat up the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves, which are full of hundreds of Buddha figurines.
On the way, we stopped at a small village where we watched ladies weaving cloth and sampled the local rice wine and whiskey. After a pit-stop back in town to grab some lunch it was off to the Kuang Si waterfalls. We’d seen a few pictures but they were much larger and more impressive than we were expecting. The falls are on multiple levels and as you can see from the pics, you can swim in the lagoons which are a gorgeous turquoise colour. Some people were jumping into the pools from the edge of the waterfall but when we saw a guy’s nipple ring get ripped off from the force of hitting the water we decided to give it a miss!!! On the way back to the minivan, we took a look at the neighbouring bear sanctuary where there were several Asiatic black bears enjoying the late afternoon sun. On the way home there was a stop off at another ethnic village but when even the very smallest kids know how to say ‘two for one dollar’ whilst waving friendship bracelets under your nose it makes you feel a little uneasy.
Back in town, it was time to do some shopping. The night market sells a wide array of souvenirs, including clothes, bags, scarves, bedspreads, wood carvings – you name it, they had it. There is some really beautiful stuff but the sheer volume of stalls can be a little overwhelming – the only way to get from one end of the main street to the other is through the market which takes up the whole width of the road and seems to go on endlessly!! There is also some great food stalls where you can grab some dinner. For 10,000 kip (just under £1) you get a plate which you can fill with a variety of dishes including noodles, rice, vegetables and spring rolls. Then you can choose your meat – chicken, sausage or fish at an additional 10,000 kip each. The lady heats it all up in a wok for you and then you join the hoards of other locals and tourists on the benches to eat. Very tasty, although there was a maggot in Richard’s food!!
Other than that, there’s not a great deal to Luang Prabang and you can wander the whole town in half a day. If the weather is clear it’s worth climbing up Phou Si, the hill in the centre of town, where you can catch a great sunset. Unfortunately, it was cloudy on the one day we were in town for sunset, so we never made it, and sat overlooking the night market being prepared for the evening instead.
One thing we did discover in Luang Prabang is a great little wine bar called Pack Luck. After a drought of decent wine in Thailand, we were very grateful of their extensive menu and enjoyed a lovely bottle of Chilean Merlot on more than one occasion. An extravagance perhaps but delicious!!!
After three days it was back down the long and winding road from where we had come to Vang Vieng. Goodbye wine bars, hello tubing…