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Luang Prabang – Northern Laos

by Amelia Curran
Alms Givign in Luang Prabang

Alms Givign in Luang Prabang

The journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang was a painful one. The air conditioning on the bus decided to break down and the wheel sprung a puncture. Not unusual occurrences in Laos, but it did make for a long, extremely hot and sweaty day. The pain was, however, alleviated by the extraordinarily beautiful views surrounding us as we wound our way through central Laos. They were simply breathtaking!

We were looking forward to Luang Prabang as one of those places that everyone raves about and we were not disappointed. It is a picturesque town set on the peninsula between the Mekong and one of its tributaries, the Nam Khan river. There are lots of pretty buildings set off a few main roads and lots of brick-lined alleyways linking the 2 rivers. You almost feel that you are in a time warp especially with the’many vintage cars that dot the pavements.
It has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status due to its plethora of temples. The temples are many and quite varied and they ensure that everywhere you go around town, there are monks walking around in their amber robes. The whole thing makes for a very calm, serene and quite spiritual atmosphere. It is easy to visit the temples in the old town in half a day and the view from Phoussy Hill is definitely worth the climb. I did not have my camera with me when I did my rounds so we are sadly lacking photos of some of the intricate paintings and mosaics dotted around the temple walls and ceilings.  One morning I awoke at 5.30 am in order to go and watch the morning alms giving to the monks. All monks in Laos survive from charity and so this is an important part of their day. It was a remarkable sight to see literally hundreds of monks walking slowly along the side of the road in single file, whilst townspeople sat on the pavements with supplies of sticky rice to deposit little by little into the satchels of the monks as they went past. I found it a really pleasant and heartening tradition to watch and then enjoyed wandering around the town at that time before finding one of the many nice cafes to have a coffee and breakfast in.
The countryside surrounding Luang Prabang is also very beautiful and so offers many opportunities for trekking, kayaking and mountain biking. Due to time constraints and the fact that we had done many of these activities elsewhere, we decided not to do any of these trips, but we did spend a day with the rescued elephants. The old name for Laos is the ‘Land of the Thousand Elephants’ and yet today there are only 1,600 elephants in Laos and of these only around 1,000 are wild. The rest are mainly used in the logging industry and this is extremely hard work. Moreover, there is less and less logging taking place and so the fate of these elephants looks precarious. Various organisations have been set up in the area to try and solve some of these issues. They look to try and conserve the elephants and boost the local economy through responsible tourism. We spent a day with one such organisation (Elephant Village) and it was great.
When we arrived we had a walk through the jungle on an elephant. We began on the seat on the elephant’s back but progressed to have a sit on its head. Ours seemed to be a particularly hungry elephant and insisted on grabbing at bamboo trees that were right on the edge of the hillside – a slightly scary experience for someone sat on her head! We then learnt some basic mahout commands. This is a way of training the elephants and allows people to ride them and work with them. There were trained mahouts there to help. Ben took to this like a duck out of water and was happily directing his elephant left and right. I, however, was not such a natural and my elephant did not seem to want to follow my commands and others had to intervene! Then it was wash time! We mounted our elephants and went down to the river’s edge with them. We rode them into the water and scrubbed them down. They seemed to enjoy this as they splashed about with raised trunks. Once again, I was a little less sure and managed to fall into the river – much to the amusement of the mahots (and Ben). We then ended the day with a short trip in a long tail boat to the Ma Sae waterfall, which was extraordinary for its calm, clear turquoise water. It was a really great day. We were in the most stunning setting and felt very lucky to be so up close to those fantastic creatures.
The other thing about Luang Prabang is that it is far too easy and enjoyable to do not very much! There are some great hangouts by the river, some fantastic restaurants and food for all different price ranges and we found a great little book shop with an attached cafe with cushions on the floor where we spent many a happy hour ploughing through some more books! Shopping is one more activity on offer! There are lots of galleries and handicraft shops dotted around and in the evening the night market arrives! It has lots of amazing things to buy and as I walked through I was fighting the urge to buy all sorts of things to take home!
For those who want a little excitement, there are a number of trendy bars in town and the late night entertainment is ten pin bowling – which keeps going until 3 am!
This is a town and a part of South East Asia that I would happily return to with more time and more money! There is great countryside, great food, lovely, friendly people and a huge array of different activities to do. But for us, our time was up and we were off to Huoay Xia on the border with Thailand for our final stop before heading back to Bangkok…
‘Til next time
Harriet & Ben x

Harriet and Ben’s trip is sponsored by the Nam Hai – Vietnam’s premier luxury resort.

The Travel Forecast #1 from Experience Travel Group

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