Luang Prabang recommended

If this town is not on your list yet: put it on there NOW!
It’s friendly, cute, sweet, just homely atmosphere draws in many backpackers, yet it doesn’t feel touristy.

Luang Prabang Unesco World Herritage, Laos

That should say enough. You’ll love this place from the moment you arrive and it will capture an eternal spot in your heart as it did in mine.

– Transportation:
In the city you won’t need more than your two feet to carry you.
To go out of town just take a tuktuk. Renting a bike would be another option.
– Do:
Kuang Si waterfalls: the most beautiful water you’ll ever see! Though the main pool might be crowded, take a hike off the beaten path and find a universe all to yourself in no time. There is no end to the explorings you can do in this huge playground of falls.
It’s a 45 minute tuktukdrive out of the city, which will cost you, and the five others it takes to fill up the ride, just 30.000 kip each. The entrance fee is 20.000 kip. Rounds up to a $5 well spend.
Right before the gate you’ll find a market where you can get your cooled beers and snacks to take up into the park.

Alms giving is another big thing in LPB. I didn’t go to see it; I never pulled an all nighter or got up at 6am.
That’s as early as it happens. Locals line up along the main road with a prepared dish to hand out to the monks that parade with big bowls to collect food for their community.

Big Brother Mouse is a book club, teaching English and inviting foreigners to help in doing so. Class starts at 9am. It’s a great way to give back to your hosts.
To find a volunteering job you could also raid the schools and hostels for adds or just ask around. Plenty of help wanted anywhere and plenty to do!

The Doughnut Factory, in the alley between the nightmarket and Daramarket, likes to show you around in their making of sweet treats in the homelike ‘factory’. At the end of their day they take their goods to Kitsalat Road to have the young ones sell from their little cart.

Go down to the river at the end of Sakkaline Road to swim in the Nam Khan with the local kids and enjoy a beautiful sunset, finding utter inner peace at the beach.
Girls: be sure to wear your sarongs, or be stared at in a not-too-friendly manner. Buddhist culture prescribes women to dress shoulders to knees at all times.
(Wearing just a bikini is accepted at Kuang Si though.)

Climb up to the temples is another I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, but didn’t. They’re hard to miss, making up the center of town upon Mount Phu Si.

– Eat:
In the late morning, have breakfast on the market where those sweet ladies will make you any kind of sandwich -5.000 to 10.000 kip- and all kinds of delicious shakes -5.000 kip- Be sure to try an oreo- and a lemon-mint shake!

For breaky or an afternoon bagel go to Joma’s Bakery. Good sweets too. More expensive though, as might be expected of this more western orrientated chain, also housing a branch in Vientiane (Laos) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

For dinner, take the first alley on you left, coming from the square where the market starts. Too much choice, all the tastiest food and just for 10.000 kip a plate; unbelievable!
The way you’re put at a table is the best way to meet new friends to spend the rest of your night with – or have a great conversation and then to never meet again.

The Lao Garden has a nice terras. Their prices were a bit of a shocker to a budget traveler like me. But if you like to really go out for dinner it’s a fine place to do so.
They offer a free welcome shot of laolao to all their guests.
And that I got a foodpoisoning after eating there doesn’t mean this was the place I got it.

– Drink:
Utopia was where I spend my nights, as do many of the backpackers that wash up in this town. Their drinks are priced reasonably, their service is great, and the volleyball court gives opportunity to meet and play with some locals.
It’s ran by a friendly Aussie dude who likes to come over and check if his guests are enjoying themselves.

The beach just down the left of Kingkitsarath Road is a good hangout any night. Be a good guest though; don’t disturb the locals, keep it down, and clean up your mess.

Bowling Alley is the one place open after midnight. I haven’t been though and would imagine it to be a bit of a part-party place with lots of drunk folks.
Outside of any bar you’ll find tuktuks more than willing to take you there.

– Sleep:
I wouldn’t send you anywhere else than Spicy Laos Hostel! The friendly family running it, the homely vibe, the cozy balcony, the comfortable hammocks, the roomy dorms; it’s all great! Plus there’s grandma’s stand to fix you up with any meal or drink at any time of day, there’s a good laundry service, a movie room, free wifi and a computer at your disposal.
A night won’t cost you more than 30.000 kip. It’ll be a fanned night, but who wants AC anyway? That’ll just get you a cold.

[Here are a few shots I took when in April 2012]

Luang Prabang smells beautiful

next destination:
LUANG PRABANG, Unesco Wold Herritage
population: ± 50.000

Day XV – April 2

I put my alarm extra early, so I’d be in time to capture the unveiling of the hills. I end up being too early, waiting around for almost an hour before the mist starts to clear.
It’s the most amazing show to wake up to, swinging back and forth that hammock like an impatient child, camera at the ready.

Before getting back on the road we visit a cave, famous for being a hideout to a communist community of 170 people, during the Vietnam War. Amongst them were some important polical figures, still acting as such from that cave.
It makes me feel a little claustrophibic, to imagine such a large group living a space this small and resolute for 7 years.

After a few hours we get off the bus and pass through a little nomans town. There’s an owl chained to a shop. Shop meaning: a fridge for sodas and a little counter with some snacks, on a porch.
When we finally do meet people, they use their lines, trying to tempt us into buying some traditionally handmade Laotian shawls, almost robotical. Our guide James steers us to a slowboat that takes us to the other side. There we visit the Tham Ting cave, decorated with thousands of Buddha statues.
Something about this whole scene makes me feel as magical yet itchy as I did that first time I saw Spirited Away.

Then we drift down the Mekong for a good hour.

Luang Prabang smells beautiful! Of soft crème and sweet syrup. It has a smalltown-feel but looks rather crowded. I’m looking forward to spending a few days here!

Check in to Spicy Laos Hostel, finally an actual dorm.
I was supposed to be booked in a different place, that was full, so with many apologies James brought me here – the rest of them are staying in some hotel. And I’m so much happier for it!

I have some stuff to take care of. Handing in my laundry so I’ll finally have some clean clothes. Get some more digital space for my Nikon.* Take out some kip, but all the ATMs in walking distance are down so that one fails.
I wanted to see about maybe sending a box home, with stuff I know now unnecessary, like that musquitonet and those spare jeans. But that turns out to be really expensive, about 360.000k; I’ll just drag it along.

Then finally can I sit down, with some random strangers. Right away it feels very homely. Everyone is nice and friendly.
It’s funny how this friend making works out here. It reminds me of festival, but more intense even, and you don’t have your basecamp at walking distance to fall back on.
Everyone here at the Spicy balcony knows each other already, if only just for a day. And I join the conversation the way back home people would look at you, like “Who the fuck are you?” But it’s all good and the same night I feel as much part of ‘the group’ as I would with my own friends back home.

“Where are you going next?” and “Have you already been to … ?” or “Oh, if you’re going there you have to go see …” are the lines I’ve heard most so far. Talk of the road ahead and beyond. Talk of visas and busses, exchanging tips and tricks. “Are you taking malaria-tablets?” and “Do you still spray muzzy?”
Names may come up upon meeting, but usually it’s not until the second or third day; no use bothering if you’re spending less than that amount of time together anyway. “Where are you from?” comes first, and then easier than names is Welsh or Finnish.
I still feel a bit of a layman though, just two weeks out.

Here in the hostel I do hear quite a lot of Dutch. Then again, people have been saying to me for weeks they’ve been meeting a lot of Dutch on the road. Guess it’s time for me to meet them too now…

Anything-goes Asia: Where cattle like dogs, goose, chickens, piglets and cows etc run free over land and road.

* SDmemory and other digital attributes are no cheaper here than in Europe. So get it in Singapore or get stacking discount back home.