I did not spend very long in Laos, only for a few days in Luang Prabang, and then an additional overnight trip to the mystic Plain of Jars at Phonsavan, but the time I did spend in this sleepy and tranquil country will stay with me forever.
Luang Prabang is situated at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers in northern Laos, around 300km from the capital Vientiane. The population of the city is apparently just 50,000. The whole of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and until the Communist takeover in the 197os, it was the seat of the Lao Royal family. Although Luang Prabang is dotted with many Buddhist sites, it is always nice to look at some of the regular buildings around town, including in the simple village life that ordinary Laotians live.
I really like the Mekong River, it is probably my favourite river in Asia (is that a little geeky to have a favourite river?). I liked to stand beside it and imagine what it must be like to listen to the raging waters during monsoon season, for unfortunately flooding from the Mekong is a very real problem for villagers here. Very near to the Mekong is the Pak Ou Caves, which are noted for their miniature Buddhist sculptures. These caves are located nearly a two hour longboat ride upstream from Luang Prabang, and can get very busy as they are a favourite haunt of backpackers in the area (though thankfully not so much as at Vang Vieng).
For me, one of the ultimate things to do in Luang Prabang was to climb the modest Mount Phousi, which sits literally in the middle of town, and offers amazing views of its surroundings. Flanked either side by the rivers of Nam Khan and the Mekong, Mount Phousi also has many Buddhist shrines and wats, which I did not get the time to admire regrettably. However, at the foot of the hill, I was lucky enough to see some traditional Lao Buddhist monks collecting alms, which makes a great postcard!
I have a great love for Wat Xieng Thong, and its marvellous Buddhist architecture. It was a very impressive sight and arguably the number one ‘go-to’ attraction in LP itself. One thing I was not aware of when I came to Luang Prabang was the Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum. I was actually advised to come here by a friend who I met at my hostel in town. It was nice to spend an hour walking around the lovely gardens of the Royal Palace. It reminded me very much of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but a little greener. There are many statues of old Lao Kings here, and the Throne Room contains the crown jewels of Laos.
The Kuang Si Falls were mesmerising, and I hopped in for a dip. They were certainly very photogenic, although I must advise people that I had lots of mosquitoes chasing me in the area, and with the worries of Dengue Fever, it concerned me, so I didn’t stay for longer.
Next to these falls is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. I paid 20,000 Lao Kip for the falls and bear centre combined, and I was told that the full admission goes toward to the upkeep of the bears in captivity. Due to experiences I have had in Thailand regarding the mistreatment of tigers and elephants, I do have a natural scepticism towards these kinds of “tourist attractions” in this part of the world. However, my visit to the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre was actually a very positive experience and there is no mistreatment of the bears.
I hope you get to visit Luang Prabang soon. If you have already been to the sleepy town, what were your impressions? Please let me know in the comments below!