The first thing I noticed was the refreshingly cool weather getting off the plane. Being in the mountains removed the stifling humidity we were getting accustomed too.
The landscaping is very lush green, like a countryside town with a beautiful river running through it. The guest houses are French colonial style houses, some have thick dark woods. The French influences also spill out into the local foods.
Villa Laodeum Nam Khan View is a small guesthouse with a few rooms. The owners live on the property in their own house attached to the hotel part of the house. It felt like we were in a nice bedroom of a house. Since it’s owned by a family they were always around to help and make sure things were safe and secure. We stayed on the first floor with a “river view”. This also meant our patio was the breakfast area and sitting area for the other guest staying on the property. We didn’t have much privacy but didn’t realize it would be a problem until later.
Two days into staying here both of us came down with a horrible cold or flu. We were literally bedridden in the guest house. It became harder and harder to breathe through our noses and eventually they completely stopped up. There is a lot of smoke lingering in the air from slash and burn farming techniques in the neighboring countries. At first we thought it was the air quality but later realized it could be from anything, including traveling, touching things then touching our faces, climate changes, etc. We spent most of the days holed up in the guesthouse with the fan on and miserable in the bed.
The owners of the guesthouse had to hear the incredible sounds of us blowing our noses and coughing constantly. For the first time during our trip we were down. Going outside meant sweating and feeling weak and staying in meant sweating and being weak and stuffed up in the room. Since the town is small there weren’t any hospitals or nearby doctors. All we could do was hold on until we got to Thailand to get medical attention. This meant traveling on an airplane feeling horrible.
The locals mostly used motorbikes as a form of transportation. I’ve noticed that most locals don’t use helmets or speed. They ride next to each other and hold conversations as they are riding along the roads. Everyone seems to be so relaxed and the noise level is next to none here. People get along and are very respectful to each other. It makes the entire atmosphere relaxing and puts tourist on their best behavior.
The French influences are one of my favorite parts of dining in Laos. In America some of the most expensive restaurants are French restaurants. This is the place to take full advantage of French food at a reasonable price. I’ve been eating tons of patê and baguettes. I also love the combination of French and Asian dishes. The local dishes combine those two and the taste is incredible. Instead of beef, buffalo is the choice of red meat. Buffalo larb was one of my favorite dishes. Ground buffalo meat mixed with garlic, spices and chili peppers fried together and served with sticky rice or the option to wrap it in lettuce leaves and mint.
Another local dish was the lemongrass chicken. Chicken mixed with coriander and lime leaves is placed inside a stalk of lemongrass then deep-fried and served by peeling back the stalk and eating the ground chicken inside.
My favorite thing I’ve eaten here was the Christmas Salad at Le Banneton Café. Yes it was the most expensive thing on the menu at 95,0000 ($12.00USD) but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. This amazing salad was made with lettuce, tomato, walnuts, smoked duck breast, fried pears, figs and honey dressing, served with homemade duck foie gras on homemade cranberry bread. This was heaven on a plate.
There were street food options in Luang Prabang also. During the night market we discovered a vegetarian buffet for $7.00 (USD). It looked amazing but we had just eaten a huge dinner. We did buy some of the best fruit drinks from a lady on the street. She had a line of locals waiting to get their order in, that’s what attracted us to her. She didn’t understand any English and there weren’t any labels on her juices so we just pointed to the color juice we wanted. I picked red. I came across a table set up on the side of the road selling snake/reptile liquor. There were whole snakes of all kinds, lizards, turtles and huge centipedes in large jars. I didn’t ask, I just took a picture and kept on stepping.
Riding bikes was the way to get around Luang Prabang because the roads are perfectly paved and the traffic is minimal. It was s a great way to cover most of the town. Because of the cooler weather and flat land to ride on, we could ride for hours each day. Luang Prabang sits in between the Mekong river and the Laoduem Nam Khan river.
Lots of locals and tourist sit along the riverside and enjoy talking, eating and chilling. One of the highlights on the river is the bamboo bridge. There are a few of them along the river. Long lengthy bridges built from bamboo used to travel to and from each side of the river. At night they are lit up along the sides for people to see as they walk across. We finally walked across the bridge just to say we did. It was fun considering it was one of the “things to do” but nothing to rush out and do over again.
The town on the other side of the bamboo bridge wasn’t as built up as the tourist side. It clearly was the local area of town without the fancy guesthouses and restaurants. Chickens and dogs were roaming the streets of houses and small local shops.
We hiked up to Wat Chom Si on the summit of Mount Phou si. This is where we encountered the most unusual worm I’ve ever seen.
This was a steep stair uphill hike. About half way up you have to purchase tickets to go further and see the temple on top. The price was about $5.00 (USD) each. We reluctantly paid and got to the top. There was a temple with Buddhas inside and a view of town. The view was overtaken with haze from the smoke in the air.
Birds were for sale ($2.00/each USD) in small bamboo cages to be released at the temple. Of course I bought 3 cages, there were two small birds in each. I bought three partially because I felt awful for them being locked up in that small cage. Releasing birds at a temple is said to bring good fortune and happiness. I said three prayers and felt good about letting them out of captivity.
There are many wats in Luang Prabang and monks are seen everywhere.
The giving of the alms ceremony every morning is not only traditional but a huge tourist attraction. Monks start lining up around 6am in front of a wat with a gold bowl attached to a strap around their chest. They walk in a single file line through town receiving food donations (primarily rice) from locals and tourist alike.
There are many “rules” for tourist during this ceremony. One of them is to stand back and watch rather than get involved or get close to the monks.
We forced ourselves to wake up and see the ceremony. It was pretty cool seeing that many monks lined up. Monks of all sizes and ages. Occasionally a dog would be in line with the monks walking beside them. One thing I found disturbing is the locals that are giving the rice use their hands to grab a small portion of rice and place it in the alm. The tourists books and websites suggest using a spoon if you’re a tourist giving to the monks. I think that should be the rule for everyone.
We noticed a couple of kids at the end of the line of people giving the food with a basket on the ground. The monks were handing the sweets they received to the kids that were sitting there. I thought that was really nice of the monks to give their sweets to them. Some of the monks were kids themselves.
The night market was the most relaxed market I have been to in Southeast Asia. The vendors all lay their products on the ground neatly in order and sit there quietly. There isn’t any yelling or touting their items. The only people standing up are the people walking through the market to look or buy things. Most of the items are scarves made in Laos, but there were also t-shirts, dresses, Laos coffee, bael tea, jewelry, native Laos clothing items, and souvineers. I really enjoyed going to the market but it is really hot and humid walking though the narrow pathways.
If I hadn’t been sick I would have loved to see more of this beautiful city. Waterfalls and wats are a couple of the places I missed out on. Hopefully we return to see them. I can see myself here again. The country and people are beautiful.