Tom’s Adventure Through Southeast Asia Part 4 — Luang Prabang, Laos
Having landed in a new country for the first time since the start of my trip, it wasn’t the best feeling to have my debit card declined at the airport ATM. Having spent the majority of my Thai baht to avoid the terrible airport exchange rates, I was in a bit of a panic. Fortunately, the issue was not with the ATM but with my bank account.
As it had just turned from February to March, I forgot to make sure there was enough money in my chequing account for my student loan auto-withdrawal. After doing some money shuffling with my banking app, the ATM happily spat out Laotian kip for me. Crisis averted!
The landscape around the Luang Prabang airport reminded me a lot of northern Thailand, except the mountains were even bigger and more dramatic. As the minivan bus drove me into town, I could tell that Laos wasn’t nearly as touristy and developed as Thailand. However, this didn’t make it any less beautiful. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a fancy term which means it is preserved for its historical and cultural significance.
Feeling anxious about being in a new country, I was relieved to check into my hostel and meet friendly, welcoming backpackers just like I had in Thailand. This was the first hostel I stayed in that had its own swimming pool, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to swim in it. As I unpacked I had my first Beerlao beer, easily the best Asian beer I had. It’s a Euro style lager, similar to Heineken or Stella, but brewed with rice which gives it an Asian twist.
The first thing I visited was the UXO Visitor’s Centre. UXO, short for unexploded ordnance, includes weapons like bombs, shells and grenades that do not explode when dropped and can still detonate decades later. During the Vietnam war over two million tons of explosives were dropped on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in the world. Around three hundred people a year are either injured or killed by UXO. It was very sad yet interesting to learn this history, it’s definitely not something I was taught in school.
After that heavy start to the day, I took a bus with people from my hostel to the Kuang Si Waterfall which is about an hour away from Luang Prabang. This was one of the most beautiful places I experienced on my entire trip! As you follow the path to the falls you pass through a moon bear sanctuary, the bears are very cute! As you can see from the photos, the water is such a bright blue that it almost looks artificial. The way the light reflects through calcium carbonate deposits in the water gives it this unique colour.
We decided to hike to the top of the waterfall, but by the end we wished we hadn’t as the hike is very long and steep. While the view from the top is pretty neat, I personally don’t think it’s worth it and I’d recommend spending more time at ground level instead. It was kind of overcast that day so it wasn’t the best day for a swim. However, I ended up loving this place so much I came back the next day to swim and jump off the famous tree branch!
Once back in town we checked out the Luang Prabang night market. It had a similar vibe to the night markets in Thailand but with a few differences. Most of the stalls displayed their wares right on the ground, and as you walked through the market you started to see copies of the same sorts of souvenirs: loose leaf teas, t-shirts and Laotian liquor with snakes inside! After that we grabbed some dinner on a super narrow and crowded street. There are famous vegetarian stalls here, all of the food is room temperature but it is all you can eat at a very low price. I also had my first Beerlao Dark here, it’s just as good as the original but stronger, so don’t have too many!
The next day was temple day and I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty templed out by the end of it. Temples are super fascinating, but there comes a point when you see so many that it’s hard to get too excited about them. My favourites of the day were the National Museum and Haw Pha Bang. If you’ve been reading this blog series since the beginning, this is where I had “treat yo self” meal number two. It was at a hotel-owned restaurant overlooking the Mekong River. I had chicken laab, a traditional Laotian dish with ground meat, cucumber and mint with rice on the side. It was spicy but very good!
After some more temples I headed back to my hostel, met up with a couple in the same dorm room as me and headed to Mount Phou Si for the sunset. It’s quite a hike to the top but the sunset is so worth it.
That night I had what is considered the quintessential backpacker night in Luang Prabang. First was a stop at a bar called Utopia, which is really the only option for backpackers in the city. Unfortunately, the bar closes at eleven as the locals don’t want the tourists getting too drunk I imagine. However, once the bar closes there are tons of tuk tuks waiting outside to take everyone to…a bowling alley! That’s what you guessed right? What else would you want to do until two thirty in the morning? It was truly a bizarre and unforgettable experience.
And so ended my time in Luang Prabang. Now that I was settled into this new country, I was super excited for my next destination. The next town would become one of the highlights of my entire trip, not only for all the fun things to do there but for the amazing group of people I met and shared my time with. By now I knew the drill, check out of hostel, get in minivan bus, get ready for adventure.
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