My friend, Ká, and I made it to Laos in late April and stayed there for a week, hit up Luang Prabang and Vientiane. We went by bus this time as the flight was expensive that we couldn’t fund. It was the longest bus I have ever taken as it took about 25 hours to get to Luang Prabang from Hanoi. You can say it’s crazy (many people think so actually) but it doesn’t matter if you look on the bright side. I saw many stunning landscapes from our bus, which I would have probably missed if I travelled by plane. In addition, we met some travellers on the bus, chatted with them, and even hung out together since we had reached LP. We were tired after staying on bus for 25 hours but we did enjoy what we were doing, which is more important.
As a morning person, I am always interested exploring cities I visit in early morning when the whole city is sleeping. It’s the time they show their truly peace and purity beauty, I reckon, and I didn’t disappoint with LP. Streets were deserted in early morning, opposite to daytime when they are always full of people strolling around. The morning market seemed to be the one and only crowded place at that time. There are various opinions on this morning market; some claim it’s just an average ordinary market, while the others think it’s lovely. And me, I really liked this one. I love local markets actually since the best way to understand any culture is through a visit to local markets. The morning market in LP is very colourful with variety of vegetable and other products which are mostly fresh. This is also an ideal place for an early local breakfast as you can find a wide range of food here, from sweet to savory things. I found lovely colourful sticky rice cakes, one of which tasted like Chung Cake (Bánh Chưng) that we eat in Lunar New Year in Vietnam. Besides, there are grilled meats for meat lovers, eating with sticky rice (yes, sticky rice again since Laotians don’t eat normal rice). The market can be considered as the time to sample for grilled meats as they are fresh and grilled on the spot. It’s a small market, opens for only 2 hours but definitely an ideal place for a food and culture tour! This is the place I visited every morning while I was in LP.
We checked out Kuang Si Waterfall on the first day. We shared tuk tuk with our guesthouse owner, who was going to another guesthouse of her near the waterfall. From her guesthouse to the waterfall took only few minutes. The waterfall was amazing with purely emerald coloured water. It looked like a “heaven on earth”. We swam, cooled off and took a lot of photos here (could make an album of us with the waterfall). We also went up to the top of the waterfall and a cave near there. The path leading to the cave was lovely, but there were few direction signs and some were written in Lao so we got lost several times.
After getting back to the town, we had a quick shower, then off for dinner. We ate at a food alley serving buffet for 15.000 Kips (about 2$). This one was quite nice, at least for me, not only because it serves cheap and good foods, but also all foods are vegan. I got a full belly with veggies, noodle and other plant – based food, which I always love. No worries if you are a meat lover because there are always grilled meat and fish shops next to so you can buy and enjoy them at anytime. Since we had finished with dinner, we strolled at a night market, where Ká bought some stuff while I didn’t.
The following day, we set an alarm to get up earlier to see alms giving ceremony but it rained so we didn’t do that. LP is home to a great deal of temples. It somehow reminded me of Kyoto in Japan actually because of those temples which are a few steps far from each other. Therefore, we spent our day doing a pilgrimage to the temples in the town. Laotians follow Theravada Buddhism so temples here are influenced by Indian culture but still have their own features. They are richly decorated by sophisticated sculptures, engraving, painting, statues and furniture pieces. Those temples look similar but they are actually different in style since some are built in Luang Prabang Style, such as Wat Xieng Thong. As I have read, this temple epitomizes the Luang Prabang Style with a sweeping, high, layered, triple-tiered roof. It has an ornately carved gold entrance, black lacquered walls and pillars covered in intricately detailed patterns and symbols in gold leaf. However, I wasn’t very impressed with this one, maybe because it is always full of people coming to visit and take photos. I especially don’t like taking photos inside temples as cameras just ruin solemnness of the temples. But sadly many people still do that!
We hit up Mount Phou Si in the afternoon, aiming for the sunset seen from the top of the mountain. It turned out everyone wanted to chase the sun so we all gathered on the top and waited for the sunset. It was a bit crazy since the temple compound was packed with people wanting to stand at the best position to capture the sunset. Tired of waiting and being around by many people, I ended up sitting at a corner and writing a little bit, then left the mountain and made my way to the market for dinner.
On the last morning on LP, we got up early to see monks doing alms giving. We arrived at the main street just in time as the ritual started. People, including tourists, either sat or kneeled on the pavement, gave the monks sticky rice. I had taken some photos before realizing that I wasn’t respectful. What I was doing was disturbing the monks and ruining the ceremony, so I stopped. I didn’t chase after the monks either when they left for other places. Better to watch them from far and show respect to them, I reckon.
Luang Prabang is a nice city, I could say that at least from what I have written above, but I don’t really like it. Even though the stunning views and traditional – but – unique architecture had amazed me for several times, it’s not enough to give me a strong impression. In other words, I think this city is overrated as it’s crowded, expensive and too touristy. I couldn’t find a genuine place for myself to rest and enjoy local daily life. Or maybe I hadn’t gone far enough to see the truly beauty of the town. Then I realized travelling is all about how we feel. To be honest, I was disappointed of Luang Prabang. Sometimes famous places are not worth it or maybe we put so much expectation on it. I’m more impressed by local people who are friendly and helpful. My guesthouse owners are a typical example. They were willing to help any time, like showing us how to go to Vientiane, letting us share tuk tuk with low price, not charging us when we cancelled 1 night stay at their guesthouse. They created a comfortable, nice and cozy atmosphere, which made us feel like home.
Leaving LP, we headed south, aiming for Vientiane, without plan…