We finally arrived in Luoyang Prabang at 10pm after a 30 hour bus ride from Hanoi
Food in Laos – first thoughts
The food is Laos is a lot more varied compared to in Vietnam, especially from a veggie perspective. I got a little obsessed by vegetable and tofu pad Thai whilst in LP – it always seemed to be on the menu and the crunchy peanuts coupled with a sweet chilli sauce on the noodles topped off with lime is just my perfect dish…. There are also lots of different curries to try – red, green and yellow – where the meat is easily subbed for more vegetables or tofu!
Luoyang Prabang is a fruit lovers paradise! Although the fruit might be a little more expensive that in southern Vietnam, LP’s streets are full of smoothie stalls selling lots of different varieties. There’s a main strip of smoothie stalls by the night market that seemed to be open all day everyday, along the river front, as well as in every restaurant.
Whilst here I barely ate any fruit (which is very rare for me) but must’ve drunk at least 2 or 3 smoothies a day…. My favourite was mango and passion fruit – all you need to do is ask for no milk and no sugar and all of the options will probably be good!
It’s quite odd that the smoothies are so cheap (10,000k) when the price of fruit is really high. Leah and I tried to buy 2 mangoes from a market stall and they wanted 30,000k for them. Whereas in the smoothies you each get a whole mango plus any other fruit you want mixed in… It doesn’t make much sense!
If you really need your fruit craving satisfied there is a stall on the night market that sells fresh fruit salad every evening. I bought some one evening and put in the refrigerator at our hostel and it kept nicely!
The smoothie stalls also sell freshly made baguettes throughout the day – the avocado and tofu one was really good! Especially with chilli sauce!
Luoyang Prabang streets and the river front
Luoyang Prabang is circled by 2 rivers; the Mekong and the Nam Kahn. The whole town is less than a 7km loop and you never seem to be more than a few hundred metres from the riverbed wherever you stand.
Due to this proximity, the riverside is a great walk to get a feel for the town. Restaurants line the streets while fruit smoothie stalls are parked on the riverside. Locals are also there selling paintings and other little trinkets.
The centre of town is also pretty busy in comparison to how many people there are in LP!
The night market in LP is actually really good! There’s lots of different stalls selling clothes, bags, jewellery, food etc and the produce is quite varied.
Both leah and I bought a dress each from the market (2 for 60,000k) and I also bought a skirt from a different stall the following evening for 40,000k. The quality of the clothes here are a lot better than some of the night markets we saw in Vietnam!
The food on the night market is pretty good too. The first night we arrived in LP all of the restaurants were closed by 10pm but a few of the night market food stalls were still open so we headed there. I got noodles (10,000k) and three skewers of tofu and vegetables (10,000k) which was all really good.
The skewers had pineapple on too which spiced it up a little! Leah had fresh spring rolls and was able to mix and match the meat and vegetable varieties (10,000k).
Besides from the fresh fruit stall that I mentioned earlier, there is also a specifically vegan/ vegetarian dedicated stall which we couldn’t find but it must be somewhere near the fruit stall. There’s also a stall selling baked goods as well as a nice Bahn Mi stall.
Kung Si Waterfall
The Kung Si waterfall is one of the main reasons why tourists visit LP.
Getting to the waterfall
We jumped in taxi to the waterfall for (40,000k return). The way that all of the tuktuk and taxi drivers seem to operate is by either charging you a 200,000k set fare, or filling every available seat in the car and charging everyone 40,000k return. We luckily filled up two of the last spaces of one taxi that had been driving around for 15 minutes looking for more customers (even though it already had 10 people in the car…)
If money’s no option and you want to get there quick go for the private tuk tuk because the taxi was very squashed!
Once at the waterfall we could go off and explore for 3 hours before the driver would collect us and take us back to LP.
After paying the entrance fee (20,000k) we walked through the bear sanctuary on the way to the waterfall. Part of the entrance fee goes towards keeping the bear sanctuary functioning as well as private donations by tourists and locals alike. The Bears have all been rescued and are unable to be released back into the wild.
The waterfall was well worth the journey there. It was beautiful!
Luckily it wasn’t very busy when we got there (just before 12pm) so we were able to go for a swim and climb up some of the rocks before it got really busy (around 2pm).
There are a few different levels that you can swim in – the largest seemed the most popular.
The whole setting is really peaceful, except from the little fish that bite at your feet (these only seemed to be in the larger pool). I say bite because I was expecting a little nibble but they full on nip at your toes if you stand up in the water – they seem to stay away if you tread water…
We bought our own lunch to the waterfall (a baguette from one of the smoothie stalls) so ate that as we dried off on one of the nearby benches.
There were some restaurants outside of the main grounds as well as stalls selling smoothies (the pineapple and coconut was really good) as well as dried bananas, cassava and sweet potatoes (really good too!)
Mekong river trip to the caves
Due to LP’s proximity to the Mekong delta we thought it would be nice to take a ride on a boat to see how it compared to our boat ride in Saigon (Vietnam).
We booked onto a tour the night before and arranged to be picked up from our hostel at 8am to board the boat by the pier at 8.30. We were still waiting outside our hostel at 8.20 so had to use the hostels phone to call the company and remind them that they needed to come and get us – they had forgotten!
A few minutes later a tuk tuk driver pulled up outside our hostel and we were shuttled to the pier.
The boat we got on was a little bit rustic (a nicer word for shabby) but it all added to the experience – who else can say that they almost fell into the Mekong river on numerous occasions? Aside from the safety aspect of the boat the views were pretty spectacular – they wouldn’t be misplaced in the Jurassic park movies.
The whiskey village
After about 10 minutes on the boat we made a quick pit stop at one of the villages along the Mekong that made and sold whiskey. The only route across to the riverbed was by clambering over the numerous boats docked on the creaky wooden pontoon and then wobbling along the little bridge up the riverbank!
Whisky in Laos is really popular and we were shown fermenting the process as well as being offered a state of the fresh batch. We also had a chance to buy hand made scarves and other trinkets from the market stalls nearby.
Halfway into our boat ride we arrived at the caves. These were pretty underwhelming as far as temples or cave systems go – this was sort of in between. The cave had been chosen as a place of worship by the king and therefore all of the Buddha figures inside look really forced. They were the type of figures that you could easily buy from the night market rather than something that looked like it belonged. It was actually a little like a tourist attraction.
The top cave was a little better because it was our first experience with a dark cave and you had to use your light to see any of the features of the Buddha images in there!
We woke up at 5.30am on Saturday to watch the weekly monks alms processions. We’d heard good things about it by other travellers as well as reading about it in our lonely planet travel guide but the whole thing was a little odd.
Locals and tourists lined the streets on mats with bowls full of food in their laps. A few moments later large groups of monks and novice monks passed by with empty bowls and each person placed a little something inside.
Rather than one person giving the food to one monk, people would give half a handful of rice to one monk followed by the other half handful to the monk behind, even though all the food gets mixed together back in the wat.
The whole situation was pretty unhygienic actually if you think about it!
The monks alms has also become a little bit of a tourist show as there were streets sellers around in the morning with food to buy specifically to give to the monks….
There are lots of wats in LP but we only chose a few to visit; Wat Xiang Thong and Wat Siphouthabat Thippharam. In Laos they seem to be a lot stricter on dress code when entering places of religious worship so we had to ensure that our shoulders and knees were covered.
Although you can rent scarves and skirts to wear from the temple for 5,000 per item, we chose to use our own scarves.
We looked a little funny but it did the job!
The first temple we went to had beautiful good engravings on the walls of the temple as well as a large shrine in the centre. It was quite busy when we went there and the site is pretty small so we didn’t spend much time looking around.
Although the footprint was a bit funny we did get to have a good discussion with one of the novice monks nearby. A lot of the novice monks are young boys who don’t yet seem to know what they want to do in life. They seem to enjoy practising the English that they learn in school to lots of foreigners.
Big brother mouse
Both Leah and I attended an English lesson at the big brother mouse school where local children and adults can come to practise their English skills with tourists.
It was a really nice experience and is something I’d recommend everyone try atleast once.
The sessions run daily from 5-7pm and it runs in a drop in fashion. English speakers turn up and join a local sitting at one of the tables and just have a conversation. It’s really simple (especially if your first language is English).
It was pretty quiet when Leah and I arrived so we both spoke to one guy who we found out was actually an English teacher in a nearby school. As more people from Laos arrived Leah and I separated and I spoke to two 18 year old guys from the town. Their English was so good!
The session basically ended up with them educating me about the customs and traditions of their tribes; I learned all about the Laos New Years events (December 10th) as well as how to cook Mekong weed! I did help them with the meaning of Justin beiber song lyrics (provided by them) and teach them a little about English expressions aswell; two guys from Laos will now be using the terms needle in a haystack and let sleeping dogs lie…
On our travels in Vietnam one bar in LP kept getting mentioned to us – Utopia- so we knew that we had to check it out whilst we were here.
Utopia bar and restaurant is like a travellers Eden/ utopia (no pun intended).
The bar is set back away from the road, down a few alleyways with a veranda overlooking the Mekong. It’s full of beds and chill out areas aswell as a bar area to order drinks and food. The mood is so chilled!
Leah and I stayed there for few hours one day just drinking beer Laos, eating casaba fries with salsa and catching up with our journals. Only to return again in the evening after dinner to a relaxed party vibe. The music was playing but everyone was still laying down on the mattresses in the centre of the room.
The utopia bar would not be out of place on a beach in Ibiza….
Running in Luoyang Prabang
Due to the layout of the town there is a good 7km run around the edge along the river. There’s a few gentle hills as well as one or two more strenuous ones to run but then you get to coast back down the other side!
I tended to run in the morning around 6-7am, just after sunrise and the streets were pretty empty when I started- save for a few monks walking around and people setting up for the markets.
By 7.30am however the streets start to fill up with people going to work and children making their way to school.
The dogs in LP aren’t too bad either – although I am pretty cautious when I run by them (more so since leah got chased at the Laos border…)