After the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, we have thoroughly enjoyed a more restful time in Laos.
We work up early and got on to our small plane with maybe only 20 other people on board. Because of this, boarding was so easy that even the flight attendant started drifting off to sleep during take-off. One hour and one bite of one disgusting sandwich later (couldn’t even tell you what meat was slopped between slices of bread) we touched down in Luang Prabang’s tiny international airport and got a tuk tuk to our hostel.
After a slight rest we went to the restaurant that is rated number 1 for cheap eats on trip advisor and had some noodles. Although the food was nice, both Ammun and I were dying in the 35 degree heat and my head was absolutely banging with my cold/sinusitis. So we made the obvious choice to return to the hostel and spend our day sleeping and planning what we’re going to do in Laos. Ammun managed an impressive 4 naps this day.
In the evening we felt a bit more revived and went to the night market to have some dinner and do some souvenir shopping! For dinner we shared a large sweetcorn, noodles and spring rolls and it cost us only £1.25 each!! The market was so big that we didn’t even manage to walk to the end of it. The best thing about this market however, is the people. We’ve been to a lot of markets since travelling but it’s started to really agitate me when sellers try and grab you and start a conversation with “hello what do you want to buy” and then get offended that you only want to look. Here is a whole different story. Sellers will approach you and say “Sabaidee” (hello in Lao) and then let you browse and leave peacefully. I had heard a lot about how calm Lao people are as their type of Buddhism disfavours extreme emotions. We didn’t buy anything at the night market as we knew we would be back!
The next day I was still feeling pretty rough so we had a quick nap after breakfast and headed out just before lunchtime to see some temples which is what Luang Prabang is known for. We walked past quite a few riverside restaurants that all looked very fancy but we decided on the one that looked the cheapest. Whilst I had my go-to fried rice and vegetables and Ammun tried a Luang Prabang salad, we watched some young monks play in the Nam Khan river. They were splashing each other and doing backflips off a rock and in 38 degree weather, I don’t blame them!
After the longest lunch ever, we walked up to the Wat Xieng Thong. It is one of the most important of Lao monasteries and remains a significant monument to the spirit of religion, royalty and traditional art. There are over twenty structures on the grounds including shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of various flowers, shrubs and trees. We enjoyed walking around and seeing all the glass mosaic on many of the walls and we were even treated to some music by some of the young monks. It was very repetitive but made a relaxing atmosphere.
After what felt like a pretty long walk (and a quick stop to buy cold drinks), we reached Mount Phou Si. It is a 100 m high hill in the heart of the old town peninsula and is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other side by the Nam Khan River. The hill is a local religious site, and houses several Buddhist shrines. At the summit of the hill is Wat Chom Si, which is a Buddhist temple. We sat here for a while and watched the sun set along with a lot of other tourists. For dinner we went back to the night market but after our food we headed straight back and got an early night.
The next morning I woke up still feeling pretty headachey and rough but powered through because we had a very exciting day planned! At 11.30 we were picked up by a minibus so hot that I nearly passed out and drove for almost an hour to Kuang Si Waterfalls. The first thing we saw was Free The Bears Rescue Centre.All these bears were previously captured and some had been tortured so it was nice to see that all of them had large enclosures with lots of fun things to play with. It was a very educational site (except we powered past to get to the waterfalls) and they show the brutality bears and other animals go through. Here’s a picture of me in an actual size cage that some of the bears spent time in.
Although I enjoyed watching all the bears, one in particular caught my attention because he was missing a front paw. I’m not sure why but he walked around just fine and then splashed and played in some water which was lovely to see, knowing what he might have gone through.
We had the best few hours ever. It wasn’t as rammed with tourists as we had thought and the higher you got, the less people there were. We enjoyed swimming in the beautiful coloured water and got out ankles nibbled by fish – which actually kinda hurt! There was a place where you can jump off a tree trunk into the water but I didn’t want to get my hair wet and make my illness worse. Instead, I ended up getting my hair wet by climbing behind the waterfall! I have wanted to sit in a cave behind a waterfall since I was 6 years old and I finally got to do it!! It was a very small cave but a cave nonetheless! It was the best day ever.
Sadly in the evening, our dinner didn’t continue the best day ever. We went to a restaurant that looked okay but had a great selection on their menu. I spent £5 on a steak and chips and it was very average. My orange juice was below average and our wine was very very below average. However we really enjoyed the music – thanks to the restaurant next door! Again, we had quite an early night because we wanted to get up very early the next day.
5am the next day my alarm went off and I felt very dazed and confused. It’s been a while since I woke up that early. Normally when we do wake up early it’s to get a bus or flight somewhere but on this day I rolled out of bed, put on my clothes, grabbed my phone, camera and water and we went out into the streets. We went to see a very unique thing where locals give alms to the monks. People line the streets (mostly women and quite a few tourists) and silently give food such as rice balls to the 200 monks of the city. This happens every morning and has been going since the 14th century. It made me very happy to see people stick to their beliefs and do something like this for the monks but some tourists ruined it for me. If you do go and see this, please read this great blog post on how to not be, well, a dick.
We watched the monks from about 5.50-6.30 and then went back to the hostel for a nap. After our nap we went to a yoga class at Utopia. I have been looking forward to a yoga class for so long to ease my back and it’s felt so much better since! Normally I do Pilates so I forgot how spiritual yoga was. The woman was telling us to breath in happiness and joy and I just wanted to laugh it was so weird. However, I still absolutely loved it!
We got back to the hostel just after 9am and enjoyed our free breakfast and then slept until midday.
I could have spent even longer sleeping but we knew we had to do something with our day so we walked to La Pistoche swimming pool. It was a sweltering 38 degrees so as soon as we got there we got straight in the pool! We swam a lap of the pool and happened to end up at the swim up bar so got a cocktail each and ordered some lunch. The day was spent relaxing, I wrote my blog, Ammun wrote her journal and we left feeling rejuvenated.
For dinner we went back to our favourite place, the night market and enjoyed some more noodles and rice. Then it was time for serious business: souvenir shopping. We had made a list of everything we wanted and made sure we got it all! By the time everyone started packing up we were pooped. Literally shopped til we dropped.
A lot of people come to Luang Prabang for yoga retreats or to stay in nice spa hotels and I can completely see why. If I ever get to the point in the future where I am an over worked (yet successful) business woman, I will try to return to Luang Prabang for a nice rest to rejuvenate!
Our week wasn’t all yoga and being spiritual. After a few days in Vang Vieng we also celebrated the Irish dedication to Saint Patrick. We started in the food market which we had never noticed was part of the night market and paid 15,000kip (about £1.50) for a bowl which I could fill as high as I wanted with food! It was beautiful and I was so happy.
We then went for a few drinks at Utopia which people in our room had recommended, completely forgetting it was St Paddy’s Day and it was rammed with people relaxing and drinking Lao beer. At 11.30 the whole thing shut down and everyone piled into tuk tuks and headed for the bowling alley which is only open 10.30-2am! We made friends with two people and played a game with them and it was so much fun! Drunk bowling needs to be done more often! There was also archery outside but I was so tired that I didn’t want to miss them all and kill my self-esteem. I like archery (I think) so hopefully I’ll find it somewhere else!
Our last morning included a first for Ammun: her first bike ride! The only time she’d been on a bike before was in my street when I first started teaching her how to ride a bike before our trip to Amsterdam. I ran alongside while she mastered stopping and starting and then I followed on my bike while we went straight. Luckily, Luang Prabang is fairly flat and very quiet so it was a good place to learn. We then moved onto corners and cycled around for almost two hours. I’m so proud of her because she nailed it!!
My most special memory from here will be the monks. Not just giving alms in the morning but seeing them everywhere at any time of day. Although I’m not particularly religious myself, I appreciate when people are willing to devote themselves so much to something they love. In Laos (and Cambodia to an extent) all the men become monks in their youth for a few months or a few years and it makes them more peaceful and loving as an adult. I think that’s lovely and I wonder what England would be like if all the English men devoted themselves for a while….