Luang Prabang is in the north of Laos, on the Mekong River, and is the main tourist destination in the country. Getting a cappuccino there is easier than anywhere else we’ve been recently!
As well as tourists, the town is well-supplied with temples (dozens of wats – more than the average light bulb). These temples provide a home for hundreds of monks, and early in the morning you can see them in procession to receive gifts of food from the local people. We got up in the pre-dawn mist to see this event, and the rows of orange-clad monks appearing from all directions made an impressive sight.
We visited so many wats that they tend to blur, but one or two deserve special mention. Wat Xiengthong is the most famous in Laos, and is highly decorated with paintings in gold on black, as well as glass mosaics which sparkle in the sun.
Phousi Hill in the centre of town has several wats, stupas, statues of Buddha (including one for every day of the week), naga-lined stairways as well as an impressive view all round from the top. It even has a cave with a statue of Obi Wan Kenobi surrounded by Buddhas.
We visited the Royal Palace museum, which has an elaborately decorated throne room and a beautiful green and gold building which houses the funerary carriages of past Lao kings.
We attended a couple of Lao dance shows. One was at a restaurant, with just three girls doing some folk dances. The other was the Lao Royal Ballet performance at the palace, which was poorly attended but had a large cast performing more traditional dance, including an enactment of part of the Ramayana.
Another interesting sight we witnessed was the rebuilding of the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan, a tributary of the Mekong. This is swept away annually in the wet season and has to be reconstructed in the dry season.
Up the Nam Ou River
From Luang Prabang we did a two-day excursion up another tributary of the Mekong, the Nam Ou. The boat was small and crowded, with no onboard facilities (we stopped twice at a convenient riverbank…..). It took about eight hours to sail up the river as far as the town of Nong Khiaw, where we stayed overnight. On the way there was some impressive scenery, as well as several minor rapids, but the next day we went upriver for another hour to the village of Muong Noi, where the scenery was quite fantastic – towering mist-shrouded hills all round. Sadly, we couldn’t stay long, but had to take the boat back to Nong Khiaw and a minibus to return to Luang Prabang.
Kouang Si Waterfall
Another trip out of the city, for just half a day, was to the Kouang Si waterfall. The waterfall itself is picturesque, and there are a number of pools below the main falls where young people can jump in from overhanging trees. In addition, there is a Bear Rescue place, where you can see a number of bears which have been rescued from captivity and allowed to live in peace.
Slow Boat to Thailand
After several days in Luang Prabang and around, we said farewell and set off for the Thai border on a slow boat up the Mekong. This is a two-day journey, with an overnight stop at a little riverside town called Pak Beng. On the way we saw some great scenery, and glimpses of the life of the local people along the riverside.
The boats making this journey are comparatively well-appointed, with an onboard toilet and bar where you can get drinks. There were occasional stops to load passengers and cargo, including a massive wooden dining table (though the tabletop went on the roof) as well as a motorbike.
At the end of the trip is another riverside town called Houayxai, only a short ferry ride across the river from Thailand, our next destination.