We’ve been in the lovely city of Hanoi for about two weeks now, so I thought this might be a nice time to look back over our stay in Luang Prabang. When we arrived in the city we were planning to stay for a week. Following the directions we’d been given to some affordable accommodation we headed for a small alley next to the Nam Khan river.
By the end of our first day, we had fallen head-over-heels in love with Luang Prabang and decided to settle here for a while. My memories of this time will be filled with beer Nam Khong, eating lots (check out my guide) and making wonderful friends. What did I love most about Luang Prabang?
- The beautiful and friendly people
- Great and cheap massages
- Did I already mention food?
- How incredibly beautiful the city and the countryside around it is
- Watching monks go about their daily duties
I found it incredibly hard to narrow down which pictures to share, so here goes!
Temples and Monks
The city is filled with temples, and therefore monks. Everywhere we went there were wonderfully robed men close by. I think this in one of the things that makes it such a beautiful place to visit. Here are some pictures of the monks and one of our many days spent exploring different temples around the city.
Having the opportunity to join in a baci celebration at Villa Merry 1 was amazing. In Laos, a baci is used to celebrate an important event, like the birth of a child or a wedding. The baci we attended was to welcome the new managers to the hotel. To begin, a group of monks blessed the building with incense, water and chanting. They were then presented with offerings of food to take back to the temple. After the monks left the actual baci ceremony began. White strings are tied around the wrists of everyone involved, whilst the person tying the string wishes good luck, health and happiness to the receiver. The strings are believed to preserve the luck, and to trap any escaped spirits back in the body.
Pak Ou Caves
One of the more popular tourist day trips is a boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves. I’ve heard two separate stories of how the Buddhas came here. The first is simply the monks take old or damaged statues that are no longer suitable for use in the temple to a cave. It is believed that no Buddha should ever be destroyed, instead the Buddhas retire in caves, which I think is pretty cool. The second story says that during the Secret War, monks would take the Buddha statues into the protection of the caves to keep them safe during air strikes. I think, though I don’t know for sure, that it’s perhaps a mix of of the two. If you are in Luang Prabang, it is a lovely trip out to the caves. The boat ride takes about two hours to get there, and is quicker on the way back. If you’re lucky, like we were, you might spot some of the elephants from the village taking a bath on the east bank of the river. The caves themselves are lovely to see, though it’s unlikely you’d want to pay them a second visit.
Lhai Heua Fai, The Festival of Light
The Festival of Light is held to celebrate the end of monk Lent and is held all across Laos. The most famous place for the festival is Chiang Mai in Thailand, where thousands of lanterns are let into the sky. In Laos, Luang Prabang is arguably the most beautiful place to celebrate. I spent some time at one of the museums that had a free crafts day, teaching tourists how to make banana floats to put in the Mekong that night. The floats are made from banana tree trunk, leaves, flowers, candles and incense and are placed in the water along with money and food. Locals also make boats that they parade through the old quarter and then take down into the Mekong. After we set my float free, lit a lantern and had watched some of the parade, we headed down stream to watch the floats and boats go past. The temples are also filled with hundreds of tea-lights, which are incredible to see.
Dinner on the Mekong
One night, a wonderful friend named Liz took us out for a sunset dinner on the Mekong. We arrived on our boat, and tucked straight into a G&T each. It was an incredibly magical night, floating up and down the river, watching the sun set and eating some great food. After the sun was down and it was almost time to head back to dry land, the boat pulled over on the opposite bank, where a group of local dancers and musicians were waiting to perform for the diners. As we watched the dancers delicate moves, a loud crowd of locals gathered behind the stage, chatting and playing some phat dance beats on their phone, apparently unaware of the performance they were interrupting. It was quite funny though.
Volunteering in Luang Prabang
One of the things we did quite quickly after arriving in Luang Prabang was buy a couple of push bikes so we could get out and explore the area. On one of our outings we came across a sign for an English centre. Keen to do some volunteering whilst in the area, we decided to cycle up the dirt path to the small building. After this, I cycled to the LEOT centre most weekdays to help out in the morning beginners class. Personally, I think volunteering whilst travelling is a great way to meet locals, learn about culture and help the community you are visiting. I was also fortunate enough to attend their Christmas party, which was a wonderful Loas style feast.
If you are interested in volunteering in Luang Prabang, here’s a post with some of the education projects you can get involved with.
Every morning monks from every temple walk around the city giving and receiving alms. Traditionally, monks do not touch money or have any belongings. This also includes food. So, as the sun comes up, the streets fill with locals offering food to the monks. This is then the food that the monks eat that day. On the street, there are also people too poor to buy their own food. As the monks pass them, they take food they have been given and place it in the box in front of the person, so they too can eat that day. It’s an early start (around 5am) but it’s lovely to see. If you get there early, you can also watch as people arrive to give offerings. It’s like a little morning ritual, in which the locals gather for a bit of a natter before they start their day.
Laung Prabang’s Waterfalls
Undoubtedly, Kuang Si is the most famous waterfall in the area. And it is beautiful. There is a number of places you can swim, the falls are breathtaking, and you can climb to the top. However, it is really crowded. I would recommend going to both Tad Thong and Tad Sae falls. Tuk-tuk drivers will usually offer to take you to both Tad Sae and Kuang Si on the same trip. To get to Tad Sae, the tuk-tuk driver drops you by the river where you can take a boat the rest of the way. The site has loads to offer, included elephant rides and baths, zip lines and restaurants, all whilst being less busy than Kuang Si. It’s not quite as pretty, but being quieter makes up for it. Tad Thong is quieter still. We have been twice, and both times there have been few to no other tourists around.
Here are some other pictures from out and about in Luang Prabang that I just love. The picture of Graham on his bike chasing after me in a tuk-tuk never fails to put a smile on my face. And the kitten from Garden of Eden was just too cute for words!