Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos
GPS waypoint: 19°53'20.8"N 102°08'00.9"E (from the roundabout at the city center)
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Arriving Luang Prabang
Much of the travel guides talk about Luang Prabang as the most note-worthy destination in Laos. In 1995, it gained prominence as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a 12.5 hour sleeping bus ride from Vientiane (8:00pm to 8:20am the following day, 300 kms) on a mostly paved road, Tuyen and I finally made it to Luang Prabang. My sleep wasn't the most comfortable as the bed was 2 inches short of my height - yes, it wasn't just a reclining chair, it was an actual bed. We had to bundle up with our bonnet, jacket and scarf as the temperature was way below that of Vientiane. The town center was still a good few kilometers from the bus station, so we grouped with other tourists from the bus to fill a tuk-tuk. We thought we were smart as we negotiated a Kip 20k/person rate to Kip 15k with the driver, but later on found a sign by the river that the on-going rate was only Kip 10k/pax...oh well, let's just call it gift giving for the New Year.
Since we were arriving early in the day, we thought it best not to make an online hotel booking from Vientiane but instead, chill out at a cafe in Luang Prabang upon arrival and scan the town for the best lodging deal. Turns out New Year is high season. The low rates we saw online were no longer available and most lodging places were already booked until the new year - sigh! Luckily, Tuyen found a decent lodging place in an obscure street but still within city limits with reasonable room rates ($11/night) with one last vacant room - we took it! We were just relieved to find lodging - now we could relax and roam town for what's happening.
Luang Prabang City is the capital of Luang Prabang province resting on a rugged mountain range about 2,120 meters above sea level. it is one of the oldest cities in Laos dating back 1200 years ago. It's altitude make it a chilly place, specially at night at this time of the year. The town center is flanked by the Mekong River to the north and the Nam Khan River to the east with hotels and restaurants lined-up along its banks which make for a charming riverside ambience.
The touristy center of Luang Prabang seem like a page from a poetry book - it almost looks like a movie set. The river banks are lined-up by quaint restaurants, galleries, cafes and shops, all consistently architectured in the French colonial style. Even the building colors are uniformly themed - predominantly white with dark brown columns or posts. At night particularly with clever and artistic lighting, the shops and restos evoke a moody atmosphere. The whole town seem to be a 3D rendition of a Christmas carol. The other place that resembles Luang Prabang is Hoi An Ancient Town in Vietnam.
With my continuing cash outflow, my belt-tightening measure was once again pulled to a tighter hole. In a way, it made for a more meaningful travel - always being on the lookout for deals and doing creative measures to stretch the buck. It would be boring if I had a trust fund and would slide a credit card on everything I wanted. Here, it's the salivation of something I could not have that made it more memorable.
Night market in Luang Prabang is one of its many attractions. Unlike some places where the goods are mostly cheap knock-offs from China, here, they put a lot of their culture in what they sell - minority clothing and styling, crafts from locally made materials, etc. They close-off a street and shoppers squeeze themselves along narrow pathways between vendor stalls. With all its charm, it's quite an experience.
Early Morning Alms-Giving Ritual
In the early morning, people line up the streets, seated on the sidewalk, waiting for the monks to walk down the street in single-file for their morning alms ritual. It's an age-old tradition that has become quite a tourist attraction - vendors jockeying for position to sell tourists what they can offer the monks, and tourists coming early to save their space in the line.
In order to bring order into this solemn ritual, notices are posted across town about the dos and donts of alms-giving.
Of the 3 destinations I'd been to in Laos (Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang), Luang Prabang is by far, the best. If you only have time or money for one destination in Laos, make it Luang Prabang. For now, it's time to leave Laos and head back to Vietnam and explore the north.
There are a few posted signs around the village which help visitors understand the conventions of the place and also enable the locals to happily receive tourists as their guests
- one big bottle Beerlao beer
- 1.5 liter drinking water
- Lao traditional massage
- baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- noodle soup with meat
- bicycle rental
- sleeping bus to Vientiane (150,000 if seated bus)
- double bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
- internet cafe
- motorbike rental
- tuk-tuk ride from bus terminal to city center
- bars close at 11:30pm
- the tourist area (where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are) is centered at the roundabout corner Kitsalat St. and Sisavangvong Road
- women (and men) are not allowed to touch the monks (like when taking pictures with them)
- inside the temple, take hats and shoes off and cover shoulders and knees as a sign of respect
- no drugs in Laos!
- do not encourage begging - instead, make a donation to the village elders
- being loud is offensive in Laos
- in the countryside village, ask before taking pictures
- showing the flesh is offensive - dress appropriately around town (like guys can't walk around without shirts and revealing clothing around town for women)
- no public display of affection
- support the local economy by buying local products (buy traditional )
- look after your personal hygiene (or be laughed at)
- do not buy antiques - you will be fined
- observe the ritual in silence
- give only when your volition is good
- keep a distance when you are not making an offering - do not get in the way of the procession or the people who are making an offering
- if offering sticky rice, buy it at the market earlier in the day and not from the street vendors
- do not stand too close to the monks when taking pictures - no flash photography
- dress appropriately - don't show too much skin
- do not make physical contact with the monks
- do not follow the procession on a bus - buses are disturbing, you tend to stand higher than the monks which is deemed disrespectful
- Wat Xieng Thong
- Royal Palace
- Mount Phous
- Laotians hardly speak or understand English
- like Switzerland, Laos is land-locked by its neighbors - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China
- Laos is a communist country and has close ties with Vietnam, its communist neighbor. Best not to talk anything negative about the government
- some establishments will accept US$ for big purchases but it's best to exchange your dollars to Kip for the small day-to-day expenses
- Laotians are generally honest people with a calm demeanor, much like Cambodians
- like Cambodia, Laos is steeped in its devotion to Buddha - pagodas abound and monks are an integral part of the landscape
- best place to exchange currencies is at the border. City money exchange centers won't give you the best rates
- best to exchange US dollars to Kip for good rates. If you exchange Vietnamese Dong to Laotian Kip, the rate is horribly low
- Exploring Huay Xai, Laos May 9-11, 2016
- Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
- Exploring the off-the-beaten-path of Pakse, Laos Dec 17, 2014
- Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park Dec 27, 2014
- Exploring Laos' Capital, Vientiane Dec 24-29, 2014
Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
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Luang Prabang, Laos
Chitchareune Mouang Luang Hotel
Luang Prabang, Laos