Our first destination in Laos was Luang Prabang. Taking the slow boat (it definitely is slow) down the Mekong river from northern Thailand enabled us to experience Laos culture and local life by the river. Floating down the river on a sturdy wooden boat, you pass small villages and their waving children, murky Mekong water swirling rocks with its current, and the ever changing scenery. It seems like an amusing and dangerous game when the boat driver allows more and more customers to hop on board with their heavy cargo of chicken, rice and large families. As the boat sinks lower and lower, my nerves began to increase, to the amusement of giggling locals. Passing the hours by watching the world go by, chatting to other backpackers, playing cards and singing songs (as well as watching an Aussie mate of ours tattoo himself) made the journey move much faster. Some backpackers tight on a schedule, choose to travel by fast boat. And fast it is. Journey time is a quarter of the time, although noisy and incredibly bumpy, it doesn’t offer the calming and tranquil experience we had.
Arriving in Luang Prabang we were struck with how beautiful the city is. With similar architecture to that in Hoi An in Vietnam, you are greeted with winding side streets, entrances of buildings elegantly carved in dark wood, hanging flowers that scent your path, magnificent places of worship that stand in harmony, as well as artisan shops selling funky handicrafts, Luang Prabang is a city which one immediately feels comfortable in.
As well as exploring the city and spending your time dining in the number of restaurants, losing yourself in the meandering maze of streets or simply gazing out onto the graceful and peaceful Mekong River, take a trip to the waterfalls named Kuang Si. Hiking to the top rewards yourself with a view, although it is sheltered by tree tops, which is a little bit of a disappointment. Instead, spend the time frolicking in the waterfall and jumping off its many cliffs to the cascading chilly water below. Keep moving in the waterfall pools, as the fish bite!
Kayaking to Pak Ou Caves is incredibly popular. This allows you to float along the Mekong River on a different mode of transport, seeing the towering caves above you and feel the current against your paddle. Visiting the caves, you step into the gloomy darkness, home to screeching bats, where you glimpse at ancient ruins of Buddhist monuments. When you’ve wandered, play at your future by shaking the holy and bewitching wooden stick box, seeing which will drop out first, telling you what lays in store of your future.
Climb to the top of the hill which is in the centre of town and is dotted with Buddhist monuments amongst its path. Although numerous steps, it really gives you a breath-taking view of the whole of Luang Prabang, the Royal Temple, as well as the lush mountains and greenery around the city. Go at sunset and you will be amazed at the view.
A restaurant I recommend is Laos Laos Garden, set in a pleasant garden, where you can cook your own meals on individual barbecues, the food is tasty and the service is highly commendable. As Luang Prabang is still under communist influence, all the bars and restaurants have a curfew at midnight meaning for those who want to carry on drinking- they must take a taxi to… the bowling alley. Although many might not enjoy these restrictions on their drinking cultures, the bowling alley is a hilarious experience, besides doesn’t this great social activity transport us to our childhoods and highlight that some things can be fun without drinking?