I will openly admit that after the slow-boat incident, Luang Prabang was a little tainted for me. As I woke up the morning of my first full day in the city, I felt hopeful that things could only get better after such a disappointing entry. I was willing to give the city and the country another chance at impressing me, and set out in search of something to do for the day. My first stop was a coffee stall on the corner of one of the main roads in town. I like sipping iced coffee as I wander the streets of a new city, as it gives my hands something to do and tastes mighty delicious on a warm morning.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be one of those mornings. Almost as soon as I was handed the flimsy paper cup, a large amount of coffee ended up down the front of my outfit. As I stood there drenched in coffee, the pregnant woman who had made my drink, and everyone else nearby for that matter, began to point and laugh at me. Now normally I have a fairly good sense of humor, and an appreciation for my odd luck, but since I suddenly found myself on the wrong end of a school-aged child’s nightmare, I quickly bowed my head and tried to be invisible as I walked back towards my guesthouse. During the next half hour or so, I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink, and changed into another outfit before heading out yet again.
I spent the day touring the royal palace museum and royal car collection, at the arts museum where I learned about tribes in Laos, and even went to a small temple where I chatted with a monk for a while. At some point in the afternoon I found my way into an artisan shop where I was invited into the back room to watch the woman weaving all the wonderful scarves, pillows, and blankets for sale in the store. All the wonderful things I had seen created a vast improvement on my day, and after a little dinner I headed out to experience the night market, and do a little shopping. And boy did I do some shopping! I hadn’t purchased any presents during my trek through Thailand, so after surveying my options I bought some presents for my family and headed back to my room. I wish I could tell you what I got, and how much I paid for everything, but since some of my family actually read my blog, this post would ruin the surprise of Christmas for them.
I started my day with some banana and jam crepes, and made the decision to tackle Phou Si – or the giant hill in the middle of town with a small temple on top of it. I went to the entrance near the Palace Museum, and made my way up the 300+ stairs ahead of me. About halfway up there is a rest area and a ticket booth. I took a seat to cool down from the first 100 or so stairs, and ended up chatting with an older gentleman, who was also from the United States, for quite a while. Eventually we both purchased our tickets and conquered the remaining stairs. The temple at the top is rather small, and not really worth mentioning, but there are some great views of Luang Prabang to make the climb worthwhile.
Now one thing to keep in mind about Phou Si is that there are two stairwells going to the top. My American friend and I wanted to go down the opposite set of stairs, and boy am I happy we made the effort to search a little for the entrance. This side of the hill is jam-packed with all sorts of cool things like an imprint of Buddha’s foot, a bunch of statues, a monks quarters, and even an old heavy artillery gun left over from the war.
After our climb down, we grabbed a light lunch and chatted before parting ways. I headed back to my room until dinner and decided to check out Utopia. I stayed there most of the night, as it seems to be the place to be in Luang Prabang, and somehow ended up at the bowling alley at 2 am with some people I had met. I’m not much of a bowler, and I was drunk by this point, so eventually I slipped away and got a tuk tuk back to my guesthouse.
I spent most of the day in bed thanks to all the fun I had the night before and a thunderstorm early in the morning. I really shouldn’t have switched to whiskey.
Since day 3 was spent in bed, I made it my mission to explore Luang Prabang a little more on day 4. I mostly wandered around town taking in the sights before doing a large temple circuit followed by another night at the market stocking up on some much-needed clothing.
After finding the post office and shipping a box of stuff back to the states, I ran into a guy named Marcus who I had met in Thailand. He invited me along to the Kuang Si waterfall just outside of the city, and since it was blazing hot outside and I had no other plans I decided to go. He had rented a motorbike, so I agreed to help cover some of the cost for riding on the back. It was amazing how quickly the city of Luang Prabang changed from the one tourists see, to the one the locals mostly live in as we drove out-of-town. The waterfall is about 35km away, so we followed the winding road through rice fields and small villages and eventually arrived at our destination. Kuang Si is located in a small park, and thanks to all the tourism it gets, a little tourist trap full of food and souvenirs has popped up just outside the entrance. Also is the park is a bear rescue center, which you pass on your way to the falls. It was a nice surprise, but not a very interesting addition to my day.
The waterfall on the other hand is a must see. It was absolutely beautiful with aqua green water and loads of tourists lounging about or jumping off any surface available. There are multiple levels, each just as beautiful as the one before. In the ponds there are small fish swimming about who eat the dead skin off your feet, adding a free spa trip to your day. Overall this was definitely worth the awkward trip and motorbike ride I took to get there. I didn’t know Marcus all that well, but by the end of the day I had a nagging feeling in my stomach that there was something overly creepy about him. Once we were back in town and went our separate ways, I made a point to avoid the place he told me to meet him later that evening. It might sound rude, but when you’re a female traveling alone it’s always best to listen to your gut.
I found myself both realizing and wondering about the length of my time in Luang Prabang, and set off to book a ticket out-of-town for the following day. Once I was done with that, I grabbed some food and made my way towards Wat Pa Phon Phao, which is the large golden temple on a hill outside of town. When I suddenly found myself a little lost, I flagged down a tuk tuk and got a ride there instead. Ultimately I’m happy I ended up flagging down a ride as the temple is on top of a rather large hill. The temple is impressive looking, but not really all that interesting in my opinion. There are, however, some rather interesting paintings on the walls worth checking out and a great view of the city from the temple. Luckily for me entrance was free, so I didn’t feel like I wasted too much money on nothing.
That evening I grabbed some dinner, packed my bag, and felt happy about the turn of events in Luang Prabang. While Laos still wasn’t my favorite country, it had grown on me a little. It was beginning to feel like my wake up call after Thailand, but since things had been going better after all the upsetting things that had welcomed me into its borders, I upgraded it to okay… for now.
Day 1 Total: 394,000 Kip or $51.52 for that cup of coffee, presents, museum entrances, food, drink, and accommodation
Day 2 Total: 300,000 Kip or $39.16 for phou si, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 3 Total: 158,000 Kip or $20.62 food , drinks, and accommodation
Day 4 Total: 301,000 Kip or $39.29 for shopping, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 5 Total: 530,000 Kip or $69.19 for shipping a package home, my half of the trip to the waterfall, food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 6 Total: 345,000 Kip or $45 for bus ticket, tuk tuk, food, drinks, and accommodation