Luang Prabang: Stay Another Day
Vientiane is the business capital, the party is in Vang Vieng, but the heart and spiritual soul of Laos is unquestionably Luang Prabang.
Nestled in the middle of the country, surrounded by hills and jungle scenery, sits a quiet and serene town that stubbornly insists on an extended stay. It’s unevenly paved roads will impede your getaway. Escapes are halted by a tasty local dish. Well made plans are broken over cocktails and river sunsets.
The town is part colonial, part Buddhist Asian, but totally laid back. Two rivers converge around the city to forge the powerful ?? River. A large hill stands in the center, just high enough for a city view, but just low enough not to overshadow the tree lined streets. streets that were made for strolling and finding new places to eat, shop and soak in Loas culture.
The Night Market
LP has one of the best tourist markets in Asia. Every evening from 5 to 6pm, the main tourist thoroughfare us roped off to auto traffic and becomes an open air markets of local handicrafts. Under tents and swaying lights, people from nearby villages peddle a variety of handmade goods. There are silk shawls, knitted purses, carved necklaces, lanterns, sculptures and anything else that can be worn, hung, admired from near or far. Everything is handmade and many of the trinkets show excellent craftsmanship and style. We particularly loved the simple oil paintings of monks and elephants on hanging canvasses.
Walking around and bartering with a smile is expected. And when your wallet is empty and your bags are full, there are stalls of baguettes, cakes, sticky rice and fresh fruit smoothies. They even have a smoothies with bananas and Oreos, not traditionally a Laos treat but that didn’t stop hordes of tourists from ordering as many as could be mixed.
If you wanted a great present to send home from far off Asia, this market was the place to get it.
Temples and Morning Alms
Like Cambodia, Buddhism in Laos is extremely important. Not comparable but still attractive are the many temples of Lumag Prabang. Every corner seems to house a stupa, temple or standing buddha. It makes for great breaks in between eating and shopping, and there is always a friendly monk to show you around.
Speaking of monks, one of the top attractions in LP is waking up before dawn to watch an age old tradition – the giving of morning alms. At 6am, while mist is till rising from the ancient streets, over 100 orange robed monks cross a wooden bridge over the river and walk barefoot, single file to receive the daily donations of rice. The old masters and young novices all bow their head and silently hold open a basket where local townspeople deposit a small quantity of stocky rice. This is a very spiritual tradition that enables the monasteries to continue operating and supposedly bestows good luck and fortune upon their benefactors. it’s the classiest begging you’ll ever see.
Land of a Million Waterfalls
If Laos is the Land of a Thousand Elephants, then it must have a million waterfalls. Two of the most beautiful are right outside the city of LP. The dry season makes a few less spectacular than usual, but the Kuang Si waterfall is a sight to see no matter what time of year.
Motorbikes are illegal for tourists to rent in LP, but with the right connections you can sneak one out for the day (shhh.) Cort and I rode our scooter through some rolling hills and beautiful country side to the fabled Kuang Si falls 35 kms into the hills. There are plenty of tourists here, but the falls are big and rambling enough to welcome all.
The area consists of at least six different sections of cascades. Near the entrance are emerald colored pools, perfect for a refreshing dip or picnic. As you make your way upstream, around tall cypress trees and lush jungle the falls build in size. Swimming pools grow larger and there is a near perfect rope swing, where the adults jostled with the children to be the next one to Tarzan their way off the branches.
The final crescendo in the aquatic symphony is a towering 100 ft multiple tiered fall that streaks it’s way from the top of a jungle ridge. Spectators can watch the action from afar or get up close and feel the spray and mist on their faces. It’s easily worth an entire day, which is yet another way that Luang Prabang keeps you around far longer than originally planned. Happily, we’ll comply.