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Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos 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.

High Season
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.

Town Center
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.

Low Funds
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
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.

Ending Thoughts
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.

--- TheLoneRider

Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam

the sleeping bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang offered beds instead of seats stopping by a cafe in Luang Prabang to get our bearings Luang Prabang has many grand pagodas the pictures inside this temple, Wat Pa Hououak, dates back to 1860
street food is always good and aplenty dried meat comes in all forms and shapes an alley has a line of restaurants, one after another offering everything from snacks, vegetables, bbq, etc. at the Night Market
garments from Laotian culture abound at the Night Market delicate paper lanterns Luang Prabang is adorned with French colonial architecture Luang Prabang is charming at night with all the ambient lights
artsy decor at the front of Villa Nagara with a beer promo at this riverside resto, Tuyen and I chilled out for the evening alfresco night cooking school visiting another pagoda
a stupa? not sure chill zone at Utopia before sundown, it gets busy for the night market resto with French colonial architecture
the resto have a consistent theme white wall, dark mahogany columns...dramatic lighting...Luang Prabang! fireworks! monks in their early morning alms ritual
eat-all-you-can at the market a painting from one of the galleries best way to explore Luang Prabang is by bicycle Buddha shrine on a mountain top
mountain cave with a shrine inside not all statues are about Buddha..some are about exalted monks Buddha on a rock outcropping phallic symbolism
young monks on a leisurely walk charming cafe Tuyen in front of an antique shop quaint village life
communist flag on a hip resto crossing the wooden bridge to the other side is a good idea...but there is a fee night market for locals a Vietnamese eating place in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Cost Index, backpacker places (US$1 = Kip 8,100 = Php 44.50)

  • Kip 10-12,000 one big bottle Beerlao beer
  • Kip 5,000 1.5 liter drinking water
  • Kip 40,000/hour Lao traditional massage
  • Kip 10-20,000 baguette sandwich (banh mi)
  • Kip 15,000 noodle soup with meat
  • Kip 5-10,000 coffee
  • Kip 15-20,000/day bicycle rental
  • Kip 8-10,000/kilo laundry
  • Kip 170,000 sleeping bus to Vientiane (150,000 if seated bus)
  • Kip 80,000 double bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
  • Kip 12,000/hour internet cafe
  • Kip 100-130,000/day motorbike rental
  • Kip 10,000 crepe
  • Kip 10,000 tuk-tuk ride from bus terminal to city center

Luang Prabang FYI / Tips

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
  • 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

Early Morning Alms Giving (Tak Bat) FYI / Tips

  • 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

Things to do, Places to go in Luang Prabang

  1. Wat Xieng Thong
  2. Royal Palace
  3. Mount Phous
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2014: A Year in Review lucid

2014: A Year in Review

(Dec 31, 2014) After traveling around the Philippines, I set my eyes outside the country and began my Southeast Asian backpacking, starting with Cambodia for my 10-day Vipassana course. I toured the rest of Cambodia, journeyed to Thailand, then extensively traveled across Vietnam with Tuyen, and finally to Laos.....more »»

»» next Traveling story: Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi Jan 4-7, 2015
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