We hadn’t spent much time in the air, nor had we changed time zones, but we were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived at Luang Prabang airport. Caro also had cramps from the devil, sadly real life does interfere with travelling on occasion, and all either of us wanted to do was curl up in some air conditioning. Fortunately, the drive from the airport is a short one. Also fortunate, lying down is pretty much what Laos was made for. James absorbed more on the ride from the airport but we were both able to appreciate how sleepy the streets seemed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Soon Caro was installed with painkillers and Netflix and James hurried out to find a king size bar of chocolate which, after an hour or so, returned Caro to normal. We didn’t feel like we had wasted time, we were knackered and needed to rest and on a scorching hot day like this we figured there was a good chance that most sane people were spending the afternoon lying down.
We did poke our noses out of the door once the sun had set, in search of food. We didn’t have to look far; Luang Prabang’s famous night market was a couple of hundred metres from our hotel. Row after row of scarves and elephant trousers beckoned to Caro, but first sustenance was required and we dived left down an alleyway full to bursting with food stalls. We picked up some excellent pork dumplings and ate as we walked among the stalls and got a feel for Luang Prabang.
After eyeing up many potential purchases we headed back to the lane of food stalls for a proper dinner from one of the buffet stalls. There was a huge selection of noodles and veg in various forms. You could also get some awesome looking BBQ fish and meat, but we gave that a miss on what had been a fairly slow day.
After 10 hours sleep we were revived ready to explore. It was overcast and quite cool when we headed out but this only lasted a short while and it was soon baking again. Luang Prabang is about 50% temples so we just wandered vaguely in the direction of the former Royal Palace dipping in and out of the temples we passed. They were all beautiful and we particularly liked the glass mosaics.
The royal palace was really lovely, it’s one of the few sites in town that you have to pay to get in to but we thought that it was worth it. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside so we aren’t able to share any here but we thought the reception room with its walls covered in Japanese glass mosaics and absolutely everything else covered in gold was spectacular, once you got over the initial visual shock of so much gold and glittering glass. The temple on the palace grounds, Haw Phang Bang, is the most striking one in town.
We readily admit that we forgot the names of the temples as soon as we left them and have no idea which one is which anymore but they were very beautiful and we have hundreds of photographs to remember them by.
The one that did stand out for us, we can’t even find the name of. We found it down a small street between the main drag and the Mekong. It’s only small but there were plants everywhere and the monks’ orange robes were hung out to dry and it was just a lovely quiet spot.
Caro had forgotten to bring her hat out with her so between temples she used her “temple visiting scarf” as a hat, really capping off the superb traveller get-up.
We spent the afternoon hiding again and then set out to catch sunset at the top of Phusi. The night market was just setting up as we walked to the base of the hill so Caro had to put her blinkers on to get through. Haw Phang Bang was gorgeous floating above the market stalls in the evening sun.
Having read about the climb we expected it to be horrible but it was nowhere near as bad as we had been expecting. It probably took us about 20 minutes to climb the steps to the top and you are rewarded with a beautiful view out over the city on one side and the Mekong on the other.
We had been surprised by how few tourists we had seen so far, given that Luang Prabang is a tourist hub. We now realised where they had all been: up at the top of Phusi waiting for sunset. We soaked up the view and took our pictures and went back down the hill before the actual sunset, there were so many people we didn’t think it was worth hanging around in the crowd. That evening we went to eat in the night market again, this time indulging in noodles and some of the barbequed fish and meat, which was very tasty and superb value for money.
On day two we hopped in a shared minivan with ineffective air conditioning and made the hour journey to Kuang Si waterfall. We parked up amongst all of the other minivans and walked along the short jungle trail that leads to the falls. We had known in advance that there is a bear rescue centre in the same area; what we hadn’t realised is that you walk straight through the centre to get to the falls. Before we knew it, we were within 20 metres of, and staring goggle-eyed at, a snoozing moon bear. As ever with places like this, we weren’t sure what to think of the set-up, the bears are still very much captive after all, and we hadn’t been prepared to come face to face with the bears so quickly. We dashed through the centre and out the other side, thinking that we would come back and take a better look later.
As we ascended the path to along the edge of the river were surprised to see that there weren’t that many people swimming, the falls certainly looked enticing enough but they also looked pretty damn cold.
We walked past a couple of levels of pools before reaching the main drop in the waterfall. It was fantastic, perhaps the most beautiful one that we have seen so far (and we’ve seen a lot). The water came thundering over and an incredible rate, the spray reaching us easily as we stood open mouthed on the bridge across the water.
You can keep climbing to the top of the waterfall but Caro took one look at the perilous path and opted out, preferring to find a shady spot by one of the pools to read. James made the climb to the top and was absolutely sure that Caro had made the right choice.
After the climb it was time for a swim and we edged gingerly in to the water. It wasn’t so much that it was cold but rather that we couldn’t see through the milky to water to the bottom. It was also cold. We stayed close to the steps, swam around a bit and got back out again.
We went back to take a better look at the bears. The enclosures seemed pretty good, a little on the small side but they all had water flowing through, sleeping platforms and places to hide. A definite improvement on the cages that they had been kept in previously in the bile farms.
So, we felt ok about wandering around having a look at the bears and buying a t-shirt to support the Free the Bears cause. We didn’t get any good pictures of the bears in the larger enclosures, so all we have is one some new arrivals being quarantined and acclimatised before release in to the larger enclosures. Please have a read about the plight of bears in bile farms. Free the Bears has lots of information on its website and is doing great work on rescuing bears and pushing to end the unecessary extraction of bile from live animals, which can now be manufactured without torturing wildlife.
Unable to resist the draw of more BBQ, we went back to the night market for our third dinner in a row. This time we decided to sample something a bit more adventurous.
Just kidding! BBQ fish and pork was as exciting as the menu got.
We’d like to say that we were just being cautious ahead of a long bus journey the next day, but the reality is that we are wimps.