We Love Laos Long Time

We love Laos!  Plain and simple.  Or at least we love the one Laotian city we went to; Luang Prabang, which is situated in the northern part of the country near the border with Thailand.  The laid back pace of this small town was such a welcome change after the in-your-face sales tactics of the vendors in Africa and Bangkok.  The people of Laos are quiet and mild mannered, if not completely friendly (I think perhaps they’re just shy), and the landscape is aesthetically beautiful with some French colonial buildings along tree lined streets (remnants from when Laos was part of French Indochina) and the ochre colored Mekong River which flows through it.

View from our bungalow at the Thongbay Guest House

We elected to stay about twenty minutes (by foot) outside of town in the Thongbay Guest House, several bungalows overlooking the Nam Khan River (a tributary of the Mekong) run by a Swiss man and his Laotian wife.  We wanted better value for money than in a comparable place right in town plus we figured the walking certainly wouldn’t kill us and might be just what we needed.

Franny on the walk from Thongbay Guest House to town

The town itself is the perfect size in our opinion. It’s not a sprawling metropolis like Bangkok nor is it so small and remote like some of the ten hut villages I’ve been to in other areas of South East Asia.  Both of those types are fine for a short period of time, but Luang Prabang is a place where we could stay for months if not longer.  As it was we definitely left wishing we had more time there.

The main road through Luang Prabang's tourist area

Luang Prabang also has a good mix of upscale hotels and restaurants and backpacker type food joints and bars.  One such bar is called Lao Lao Gardens (Lao Lao is the name of the (nasty) rice alcohol made in Laos) where Franny and I met a bunch of backpackers and some fellow around the world travelers while downing bottles of Million Elephant beer (Laos’ newest) beside a campfire.

Me, Fran, Michael & Sarah at Lao Lao Gardens

In fact, we made a lot of friends in Luang Prabang, certainly more than any other city so far.  It was a combination of that friendly backpacker vibe that gets people chatting and a concerted effort by Francesca and me to be more outgoing.  While we made special bonds with only a few couples (and of course by that I mean we exchanged Facebook friend invites) we met and swapped stories with many travelers of a variety of ages and nationalities and it was fun to run into people we knew in town or on a day trip sightseeing around Luang Prabang.

Entrance to Pak Ou Caves

We took two such day trips during our four days in Luang Prabang.  One was to Pak Ou,  two Buddhist caves accessible only by water that were once patronized by the King of Laos and therefore have become a tourist attraction.   While both caves provide a dizzying number Buddhist statues of varying size (4,000 to be exact) Franny and I both agreed that we could have given the caves a miss (not much to excite you even if you haven’t seen any caves before), but we both enjoyed the boat trip up the Mekong river.

Me chillaxing with my bottle of rum on the way up to the caves

We by passed the expensive tour operator option (that invariably extends the tour by routing you through two or three souvenir shops on your way home disguised as bio breaks and from whom they get a cut of any sale) and just rode our bicycles down to the dock and contracted with a guy with a boat to take us up the Mekong to the caves, a three hour round trip.

Some of the more than 4,000 Buddhist images in the Pak Ou Caves

Here is a quick video of our journey.

We made it back in time to enjoy a nice sunset at the “Mekong Sunset Beach Club” a dive bar in a shack perched on a bluff that requires crossing a neat bamboo bridge to get there.

Mekong Sunset Beach Club and the bamboo bridge

Sunset at Luang Prabang, Laos

Our second day trip was to the incredible Tat Kuang Si, a series of turquoise colored natural swimming pools leading up to a stunning waterfall about 36km kilometers from Luang Prabang.  Francesca and I rented a scooter for the day for $15 and arranged for a picnic lunch from Tamarind, a well known restaurant in town.  The ride out was awesome with the wind in our hair, great weather and the beautiful scenery of the Lao countryside flying past us.

Riding through the countryside on our way to the Tat Kuang Si waterfall

But the waterfall and pools were even more amazing!  The water was a refreshing temperature (not too cold) and there was a fun rope swing over one of the pools.

Tamarind picnic lunch at the lowest swimming hole

One of the lower falls of the Tat Kuang Si in Laos

The climb to the top of the falls was a bit more strenuous and steep than we had anticipated, but it offered some nice views.

Tat Kuong Si Waterfall

Tat Kuang Si Falls

On our way out of the waterfalls we saw one of the most bizarre sights we have ever seen.  A one or two year old Laotian child in a dog cage while his mom (and the dogs!) sit nearby.

The boy in the cage

In the running for the “Let’s Call Child Services” award this ranks right up there with the man we saw in Venice, Italy holding his infant son in one arm while smoking a cigarette in the other.  Now that’s some good parenting right there!

Foot massage in Luang Prabang

Aside from the two day trips we spent our time exploring the town of Luang Prabang (surprisingly a lot to do for such a small town), getting massages and making a few purchases at the night market.

Franny bargains for duvet covers at the night market

One morning we got up at the crack of dawn to witness the daily ritual of alms giving by the locals to a steady stream of Buddhist monks.

Locals giving early morning alms to Buddhist monks

We had read about this ritual and about how some unscrupulous guest house owners were using food that had gone bad to sell to their foreign guests who wanted to participate in the alms giving.   When the monks started getting sick at an alarming rate and said they would no longer come into town to receive alms, the local Lao government said they must come for alms or else they would hire non-monk replacements to dress in robes and receive the alms in their stead (scab monks!) because it was too big of a tourist draw.  So the monks still come.  Or at least we think they are real monks.

Monk feet do the saffron march past some alms

Monk feet do the saffron shuffle past some bamboo alms boxes

We also took a Lao food cooking class taught at Tamnak Lao (literally “Three Elephants”), another popular restaurant in town.  After a brief explanation about the dishes we were allowed to taste four of them and then choose three to make ourselves.  I don’t know about you all, but my favorite kind of cooking class is one where you get to eat first, before you even start cooking!

Fran & me make an unstoppable cooking team

Our two instructors Leng and Phia spoke in rapid fire pigeon English which was difficult for us, the British couple and the Australian mother-daughter team to understand and all but impossible for the two Swiss girls in our class.  But Franny and I persevered and made three tasty Lao dishes.

The food we lovingly prepared at the "Three Elephants" cooking class. We made tom chaeow pha, pork larp and panaeng gai

Truth be told we didn’t find Laotian food to be all that tasty (most dishes were very bland), but with Franny adding generous extra dashes of salt or chili sauce to each dish, we ended up with a very tasty meal.  If you are interested click here for the recipe for Panaeng Gai (chicken & pork in coconut sauce with chili paste) my favorite of the three dishes we made.

Colorful parasols at the night market

Country Stats:

Official Name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Official Language: Lao

Country’s Name in Native Language: Lao

Population: 6,320,000

Capital City: Vientiane

Government: Socialist Republic, Single-Party Communist State

Current Leader(s): Lt. Gen. Choummaly Sayasone (President), Bouasone Bouphavanh (Prime Minister)

For more information about Laos click here.

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2 Responses to “We Love Laos Long Time”

  1. Tom Treanor Says:

    Dan and Fran,
    Awesome trip – really enjoying checking in on what you two are doing. Keep it coming!
    Tom

    • Thanks Trean-dog! These postings are fun for me as i get to solidify my experiences, but its even more worthwhile when you know people are reading them and enjoying them. I’m almost caught up to real time….just a few Vietnam postings to go. 🙂

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