Luang Prabang, the royal capital.
After a 6 hours mini-bus ride from Vang Vieng, we managed to find our way to Luang Prabang. We arrived in Luang Prabang at the beginning of the afternoon. Once we found our guesthouse, we were told that there was a water breakage and we were transferred to another hotel for one night (transfer included). The new hotel was pretty nice also so we were okay with it. The good part was that the hotel was located in the vicinity to where Berit was accommodated. We met Berit soon after since she had just came back from a natural dyeing class with Ock Top Pop (she highly recommends it) and we had a drink at their coffee shop.
We all decided to go on the “other side” of the town. Indeed the city center is located between 2 rivers: the Mekong and the Nam Khan (coming from the Mekong). We therefore crossed the bridge over the Nam Khan. This bridge is made of bamboo and is being re-built every year by the residents after the rainy season is over. They charge the tourists a small tax for crossing the bridge back and forth, which is quite normal.
On the other side, we went to a restaurant that I used to visit quite often: Dyen Sabai. Unfortunately the place must have change owners because the peaceful mats and bamboo tables had been replaced by dark furniture… The food was still good and we were happy to share a platter of local specialties: dried beef with garlic, Luang Prabang sausages (stuffed with lemongrass and herbs), Mekong seaweed, aubergine dip…
After our lunch we went exploring a bit the surroundings; it’s a nice tour to explore a different side of Luang Prabang, but to be honest there is not that much to see. We found our way back to the main city center and had a walk through the ex-royal buildings that are astonishing. Luang Prabang was inhabited for thousands of years and there is a special mix of new, old and high-class buildings. The city was the royal capital of the country until 1975.
Good coffee and ... Mount Phousi.
Afterwards, we went to a very nice coffee shop called Saffron: they have their own coffee farms and support local producers while offering very good coffee in a welcoming place! We recommend a stop there! After the great coffee and a delicious carrot cake, Berit and I let Silviu to focus on his work and headed to the Mount Phousi (yes, you read that right), a small hill in the middle of Luang Prabang topped by a temple and offering a beautiful view of the surroundings as well as a great spot for sunset. I was surprised to discover that they now have an entrance fee to go up… but it doesn’t change the fact that the top is crowded with amateur photographer (like us!). We were able to find a nice spot to sit and wait patiently for the sun to set down…
Easy life in the city.
In the evening we wandered around the night market and had dinner in the street food. Later on we went to Utopia, a very famous bar with a beautiful setting by the Nam Khan river and a chill atmosphere. We had a nice evening there talking with our neighbors. We also learned that they have morning yoga classes so we decided to try one out.
Unfortunately the next morning we wake up with the rain. All our morning program had to be postponed to the next day and Berit therefore decided to stay one more day. With no hurry we met at another coffee place to work a bit. At lunchtime we headed to a great restaurant that offers French- Lao fusion cuisine: Bouang (meaning spoon in lao). Although we sadly could not taste everything on their menu (we learned the hard way that it is closed on Sundays), our dishes were delicious and we particularly recommend the Gnocchi green curry and for dessert the Bouang mess! Aargh I want some of it again!
English classes to the locals.
In the afternoon we walked a bit around town and at 5pm we headed to the Big Brother Mouse. Silviu and I met some of the volunteers in the morning who explained us the concept for the english classes. We all decided to give it a try in the afternoon: as a side note, they have classes from 9-11 am and 5-7 pm every day. It is quite easy to become a volunteer: just come and speak English with young Lao people. We were not sure what to expect but ended spending 2 great (and tiring) hours talking with many young boys (unfortunately there were almost no girls) from 13 to 28 years old, eager to improve their English. It was not always easy to find conversation topics but we were truly impressed by their motivation at this exercise! Some were coming almost everyday, others once in while; some were still at school, others already working; some had some very good level, other were more shy. All in all, we had a great time!
Afterwards it was just time for us to get to the projection of the movie Chang. This silent movie was filmed in 1927 by the director of King-Kong and is taking place in Nan Province (Northern Thailand), which is very similar to Laos. Because of the sounds and the filming the movie ends up being pretty funny and we really had a good time. The movie is projected everyday in 2 different locations and it’s worth going.
Alms Giving Ceremony.
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also famous to attend one of the intangible traditions that is well preserved inside the city: the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. This is one of the most sacred Lao traditions.
The next day, as the rain stopped, we woke up at 5:30 in order to attend the Alms: the monks go around the city collecting the offerings of the population (and of some tourists, including many Chinese tourists). However, it is true that the procession of monks dressed in their bright orange dress is beautiful to watch. Also very interesting is the devotion of the local residents standing there every morning with the food they specially prepared.
One interesting fact we observed is that when their baskets gets full, the monks either put some extra in bins placed their for that purpose or give it to poor people in need (mainly kids and old people). This is not necessarily done in the main streets but rather in the smaller streets in between. We really liked the concept, especially that the number of tourists now participating must have increased a lot the amount of donated food.
Yoga in the morning.
Afterwards, since we were already woken up, we decided to do what we were not able to do the day before: yoga! The class setting just in front of the river really is beautiful! And it was also Silviu’s first time trying yoga… but I’m sure it won’t be the last time! The clouds stayed with us until the end to finally let space for the sun. A great yoga class with a very beautiful setting!
Kuang Si Waterfalls.
The sun being finally out it was now time to head to Kuang Si Waterfalls, one of my favorite place in the world! After negotiating a tuk-tuk, we were driven for about half and hour and got there around 10am. At the entrance of the park there is a Bear Rescue Center that expanded since my last time there. A good opportunity to observe Asian black bears. Most of them were in captivity before being released and transferred to this center. Some of them spent most of their lives in a tiny cage, kept as a pet. The Rescue Center also has some other “sanctuaries” in the area. It is a great initiative that I hope will be supported on the long run.
After a small walk in a beautiful forest we finally reach the first pools of the waterfalls. Rich in calcium sulfates, these pools appear turquoise in the sun. It is magic. Following the trail up we arrive to the main waterfall. This waterfall by itself is already insanely beautiful but seeing its water running down into smaller waterfalls feeling up the little turquoise pools on the way is just wonderful.
Silviu and Berit decided to do the climb up the waterfall; from my past experience there I know there is not much to see and the trail is pretty slippery on the way down so I decide to lazily wait for them by taking a small power nap next to the waterfall! The brave hikers enjoyed their little climb although there is indeed not that much to see; however they told me the trail was also leading to a cave, announced 3km away.
Once back altogether we headed down to one of the deepest pool for a swim. No surprise here: the spring water is cold! Never mind that, we swam up to the small waterfall and while talking we got surprised by the little fishes tickling our feet! It is indeed the “pedicure fishes” that you can find in many places, the ones eating your dead skin (we hope) … so, free pedicure! Perfect! We didn’t move for the next 5 minutes despite of the coldness!
The Buffalo Dairy Farm.
It was sadly time to leave this place as big groups of tourists were starting to arrive… our next stop was a place Berit heard about 2 days before: the Buffalo Dairy Farm!
We were not really sure what to expect from this place, but we were told they were making mozzarella, feta and buffalo milk ice creams … so we were sold! Unfortunately the cafe/kitchen is closed on Sundays so we could not include the degustation but we were able to get some ice-creams and buy some cheese…
Anyway here we were ready for the tour… and we loved it! Basically the tour explained us the objective of this farm: not only a milking farm (they rent female buffalos to local farmers and give them back inseminated), but also a teaching farm for local farmers on how to take care of their animals. Buffalos obviously, but also pigs, rabbits, poultries…
As visitors, we were able to visit all these animals and feed them! So cool! As for the buffalos, even though they are impressive animals we discovered that they are super peaceful! It is very impressive to get in the middle of buffalos and being able to tap and nurture them! I even got a chance to milk a buffalo! But the best was to feed the buffalo calves! So cute!
As I mentioned, we bought some mozzarella and on our way back we only had one objective in mind: finding some bread and tomatoes! It was less easy than it sounds, but once the mission was accomplished we headed back to Berit’s hostel for a degustation! To be honest the mozzarella was good but not amazing, however the full experience and expectation completely worth it!
Later on we decided to chill on our hotel terrace and went for a drink by the Mekong to enjoy the sunset. After our heart got broken by the closed doors of the restaurant Bouang, we choose a local restaurant nearby for our last dinner. The next day Berit would take a bus to Luang Namtha and Silviu and I would embark on a slow boat 2 days cruise on the Mekong, direction Thailand!
We all loved our time in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang and could have definitely stayed much longer to enjoy more of those hidden gems!