Lazy days in Luang Prabang
After being on the road for a month, we decided to just fly to Luang Prabang and stay there. We vetoed anymore bus trips, therefore skipping Vang Vieng and Vientiene. In total, we stayed in Luang Prabang for 12 days, making it our longest stationary destination of the whole trip, and it was just lovely. We arrived to Laos exhausted, cold and sleepless, right after our train back from Sapa to Hanoi. We spent the first 2 days doing as little as possible and basically just leaving our guesthouse to eat. After our recuperation period, we were ready to see what Luang Prabang had to offer.
Immediately we noticed a contrast between the sometimes harsh and overwhelming Vietnamese to the calm and soft-spoken Lao. Life definitely ticked by at a different pace over here and it was thoroughly refreshing. The vendors at the daily night market left you to peruse at your own will, offering help if you asked. Tuk Tuk drivers sheepishly asked you, just once, if you wanted a ride, and orange clad monks quietly peering out of their temples added another air of calm to the town.
We took a cue from the locals and let our days slip by, casually biking around to see Wats, weaving in between side streets, whenever we weren’t eating or napping. The highlights of our time here were probably visiting the Kuang Si waterfall, taking a cooking class, and just interacting with other travelers or locals along the way. We even woke up at 6am one morning to watch the monks collect their alms.
Kuang Si waterfall is 32 km away from the city, and after all the hype we expected it to be oversold, but we were not disappointed. When we arrived, the first stop is a bear sanctuary within the waterfall grounds. The sanctuary housed rescued bears and they actually did their best to create a natural, stimulating environment for them. We watched as they foraged for their hidden food in toys and spaces around the compound.
We moved on through the cool greenery, refreshingly empty of vendors or any other forms of civilization. The falls were a series of turquoise pools and little rapids, leading up to a towering cascade at the end. Visitors could swim in crystal clear waters as huge butterflies flew around and leaves gently spiraled down from trees. It was truly otherworldly space and a good example of how it’s possible to let people enjoy a natural environment without contaminating it.
On another random day I walked alone through the Wats when a young bunch of monks said hello. I asked about the homework he appeared to be working on, and he asked me to come up and help him. I sat with him and his friends for a while answering his questions about English grammar and me. They behaved like any other teenage boys, making jokes about my phallic shaped Laos drawing and trying to get me to say inappropriate words in Lao as they laughed. When I left, the boy said “Thanks for the tits” and smiled, trying to get away with the mispronunciation. I laughed as I said bad kids, and went on my way.
For my birthday, we signed up for a cooking class offered by Tamarind restaurant. We’d tried the food previously, and it was delicious so we were looking forward to it. Our guide Joy took us to the market first to educate us on all the Lao produce and spices available. He also took us through the butcher section, which was a little too much to stand. Full of every animal part imaginable, including brains, intestines, massive buffalo heart and congealed blood, we were pretty eager to get out.
After the market, we arrived at the cooking school grounds, which lay in a beautiful setting amongst streams, ponds and flowers. Throughout the day we learned 5 traditional Lao dishes and enjoyed our bounty for lunch. It was definitely a unique and memorable way to spend my birthday.
All the rumors about Luang Prabang’s mystique and lure rang true for us. The city itself is beautiful, sitting on a peninsula between the Mekong and Nham Khan rivers, and has endless wats and streets to explore. If you’re ever on this side of the world, Luang Prabang is absolutely worth losing track of time in.