Saturday, 26 June 2010

Laos: Luang Prabang

We flew into Luang Prabang on a Saturday. We’d booked the first flight out of Vientiane, but it was cancelled (we learned this is usually the case on the Saturday morning flight). A two hour delay allowed us to have a leisurely breakfast and poke around the capital a little more.

Despite hearing that the bus ride between Vientiane and Luang Prabang was a phenomenal sight through untouched countryside, we opted for air travel. The bus would take 11 hours and though it’s spectacular, we couldn’t afford the time on a five day trip.

The town of Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage sight nestled between the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers.

You can get lost in the tiny streets reminiscent of its French colonial past.

Despite the fact that this is a town almost totally geared toward tourists, it’s very peaceful and manages to avoid the pratfalls of most tourist towns. Almost all the restaurants, guesthouses, and shops contribute to sustainable tourism.

It was a 20 minute walk into the main bit of the town. This is actually far in the hot sun, but the Bel Air provides free bicycles which is easily the best way to view the area.

Crossing the wooden bridge was a little harrowing.

Especially the night we walked home and the street lights were off and spiderwebs caught our faces with every step. But this just adds to the adventure!

Our first day we decided to bike to a village about 5km from town (further if you follow Lonely Planet's map which points you in the wrong direction). How many men does it take to put air in a bike tire?



Wrong. Apparently four.

We peddled into Banxangk hong during a shower which quickly turned the dirt roads to mud.

More adventure!

There are a number of small shops here mostly devoted to hand woven tapestries and hand made paper.

We found a shop, Mut Mee (, that raises its own silkworms and dyes the silk with natural herbs and leaves. I LOVE the tapestry we bought (though I didn’t take a photo).

This was one of the proprietor’s sons just before he threw a bowl full of water at Mr. Happy (aka Mr. Wet and Happy).

We rode our bikes back to town and feasted on the main roadside food – scrumptious, delectable baguette sandwiches!!!

If you don’t live in Asia, you probably don’t realize the joy I feel biting into this wonderful bread. It’s so rare to find it in this part of the world. Take that Subway!

You can order so many different combinations and they cost $1US. (Our favorites: Egg noodles, tofu, onion, cucumber, and tomato. Brie and tomato. Nutella and Banana!!)

The following morning we woke up around 5am in order to view the alms ceremony.

The monks walk through town and villagers offer them food and water. It’s so beautiful, but has become a bit touristy. We were there in the off season so it wasn’t too bad, but it was sad to see some tourists with cameras getting right up in the faces of the monks and disturbing the ceremony.

Main rules to mind when visiting the Alms Ceremony

1. Stay a respectful distance away from the procession.

2. Don’t buy the rice from street side vendors to offer to the monks. It’s very poor quality and the monks cannot eat it.

3. If you attend, please dress appropriately – women must cover their shoulders and knees. This is a religious ceremony and you must show respect.

Later in the day we took a private boat cruise down the Mekong.

Fill ‘er up!

Some luxurious digs!

We did some temple hopping.

We also climbed Phou Si Hill to take in the views at the Vipassana Temple.

The views were breathtaking.

It's the hot spot to take in sunset.


We even squeezed in a cultural show, massages at the Peninsula Hotel, and a buying spree at the Night Market.

I generally opted to leave my camera in the guest house during dinners, but we had some really terrific meals. If you visit Luang Prabang, definitely try out L’Elephant. We dined there for our “special” night out. Their tasting menus are wonderful and the house wine was surprisingly good. We’d heard Three Nagas is very good, but it was always empty when we went past.

We also enjoyed the newly opened Coconut Garden (sit in the rear courtyard and try the Laos tasting menu).

Lots of people enjoy Tamarind, but the night we went they didn’t have a lot of things on the menu (ie noodles!!??), so it was a bit of a letdown.

Mr. Happy and I enjoyed the easy going, laid back style of Luang Prabang.

A young girl hacks open our coconuts.

Some dangerously cheap whisky.

Rice cakes drying in the sun.

Bottle cap checkers.

“Get your baskets!”

We didn’t tick every “to do” box on our trip there, but we hit the important ones – rest, relaxation, and good food.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Laos - Vientiane

Mr. Happy and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Laos. For the geographically challenged, Laos is a small country bordered by Burma, China, and Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

We flew from KL to the capital city Vientiane. Most people travel to Laos to visit Luang Prabang and we were no different. But we decided to spend a couple of days in Vientiane and were pleasantly surprised at the city's offerings. (Travel tip: the airport is only about 4km from town. Taxi rates from the airport are EXORBITANT. When you exit the airport just walk toward the street. You’ll be able to get a taxi or tuktuk there for about 20,000-30,000 kip).

We stayed at the Hotel Khamvongsa, a small boutique hotel that costs approx $30 USD/night. It was in a great location and we could walk everywhere from here. Ah, rules.
In our hotel “welcome book” in Luang Prabang it specifically said you could not “make love to people not your spouse” and you may not “film pornographic movies in the room”. Apparently, the state regulates that all hotels must publish these rules. Obviously, Mr. Happy and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves!

Vientiane is located on the bank of the Mekong River. Unfortunately, construction dredging is taking place so you won’t get much of a view.

Our second night, we walked about 2km to take in sunset at Sunset Bar away from the bulldozers. You head west and follow a bumpy, dirt road almost to the end and you’ll reach this little gem of a bar constructed from old boat timbers. A large Beerlao will run you 10,000 kip (a little over $1usd) and they had the best papaya salad in town!

A former French colony, the food in Vientiane is oh la la! We had some great baguette sandwiches, coffee, and pastries at La Croissant d'Or.

Our favorite dinner was at Makphet. It’s operated by an organization called Friend’s International. They provide jobs to “street kids.” There were a few language barriers here, but the servers were SO friendly. There’s also a fantastic gift shop attached to the restaurant. If you have an older Lonely Planet guide, Makphet has moved to a new location. It’s about 2 blocks away from the original. (main about 30,000kip)

Vientiane has some great galleries and shops. We bought some Laos Wood pieces (the sales people were unable to translate what tree “Laos Wood” is from).

And, of course, there are always Buddhist temples to fill your day.

Scaffolding gets creative in a developing country!

You can take in all of Vientiane's sights in about one day. If you're torn on what to do, I suggest skipping the market as it was the (sorry to say) junkiest outdoor market I've come across in Asia. Also, if you'd like try a massage, Lonely Planet suggested a place called Papaya Spa. Avoid it! It's a long walk and it turned out to be dirty and expensive. We just left and went to a bar for sundowners - much more relaxing.