Soft light and quiet streets. Dusty air and an oppressive heat. With more monks clad in bright orange robes than cars and more bakeries than street vendors, Luang Prabang seemed very different to the Asia we’d seen so far. The pace of the city appeared to match the speed of the Mekong River that curled around its centre. It was the laziest and most sanguine city we’d come across so far; it almost seemed trapped in another time and was all the more alluring for it.
It was all too easy to lose the crowds of tourists in Luang Prabang. It seemed like nobody ever went to explore outside the very centre, where the night market thronged and where backpackers bars proliferated. A short 10 minute walk along the riverfront on the city’s peninsula delivered you to timeless streets and impressive temples, with beautiful blossoming trees and lazy locals dozing in the shade. Jake and I enjoyed some wonderful solitude (which was appreciated after spending two days on the slow boat with 100 other tourists) chatting about many important things such as RuPaul’s Drag Race.
With some of the aforementioned tourists, we adventurously got in a tuk tuk and headed to the Kuang Si waterfalls, an absolutely stunning place about 30km from town. Aquamarine water dramatically fell from great heights into sparkling pools and wonderfully clear swimming holes. The environment was lush and fecund and butterflies and dragonflies twirled around you. The air was deliciously fresh and the water extremely invigorating! We climbed to the top of the main waterfall to swim in what can only be described as a natural infinity pool. No photos but trust me it was awesome.
Luang Prabang is a lazy place, so we spent the rest of our time here being lazy. We enjoyed amazing almond croissants in french bakeries (a remnant of Laos’ colonisation by the French), drank a fair bit of Beer Lao with our new friends (at 80p each, how could you not?) and browsed the night market, where I practised some bartering and saved 7000Kip on a funky drawstring bag. One night we ended up drinking with a bunch of other travellers, and due to the curfew in the whole of Laos, moved to the only place you can buy alcohol in town after all the bars close; a bowling alley. We made a bunch of drunken friends and I all but won the game due to Jake stealing my last few goes and getting gutter balls on purpose… =l After our 3 nights, we took a minibus south towards our next destination, Vang Vieng.
The trip was pretty hair raising. Despite being the main road between the two largest cities in the county, the road was of very poor quality. It wound up and down the sides of mountains, often wasn’t even sealed, and had very few guard rails… Our driver didn’t seem interested in using the brakes much either, so our minibus practically drifted around the hairpin corners, offering us views out of the window towards a very rocky doom. It was the most nerve wracking bus ride I’ve ever taken, but on the bright side it was pretty cheap for a rollercoaster =) Along the way, we passed many… habitations – as in, wooden huts with no windows and electricity where presumably people lived. The locations were impossibly remote, but apparently around 75% of Laotian live rurally. It’s impossible for me to grasp what life in these places would be like so I won’t attempt to. The views along the way were stunning (we also witnessed a whole mountainside on fire) and were a good indicator of the natural beauty awaiting us in Vang Vieng.