We spent a short three nights in Luang Prabang, Laos. We had heard from some people it was a great town to visit and it has easily become one of our favorite places so far on our travels. The town itself is a Unesco World Heritage and to quote Wikipedia, "It was listed in 1995 for unique and 'remarkably' well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, a blend of the rural and urban developments over several centuries, including the French Colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries." Read on and check out our gallery here.
Luang Prabang was a quick 50-minute flight from Hanoi, but it could not have been further away from the craziness of Vietnam. Situated right on the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, the town was calm, peaceful and for the first time since we arrived in SE Asia people actually stopped for us in crosswalks. Furthermore, you could immediately feel the kindness of the people and the rich heritage they cherish.
We will highlight our top three favorite parts about Luang Prabang and can definitely say we wish we had spent more time here. If anyone is in the region we would highly recommend visiting, it is well worth it!
# 1 – The Food
Laotian cuisine is delicious and the staple is sticky rice. In fact, a common meal for locals is to eat sticky rice with their hands and dip it in various sauces. We had sticky rice with just about everything we ate and we dove right in with our hands. We also learned that since most people eat with their hands, they are very hygenic and take great care in the cleanliness of their bodies and how their food is prepared (again, a big change of pace).
Furthermore, as most of you know, we literally cannot survive without coffee. Laos had some of the best coffee we have sampled. They feature a slightly sweeter version of a cold brew that is espresso-based. It made us feel right at home and was the perfect way to start each day in the heat of Laos!
# 2 – The Waterfalls
We had heard a lot about Laos’ famous waterfalls in Luang Prabang: Kuang Si and Tad Se Falls. We had also done our research and seen a ton of gorgeous pictures of the falls. However, nothing could prepare us for experiencing them in person. The gorgeous teal blue water, the series of pools and the fact we could swim pretty much wherever we wanted. It was awesome!
We opted to do Kuang Si Falls and made a day of it because it was a bit far out of town. Furthermore, we had heard about the elephant riding park in Tad Se and we didn’t want to support it. Kuang Si was incredible and the main falls in the back towered at least 10 stories into the jungle canopy. It was beautiful and easily one of the most amazing falls we have ever seen.
# 3 – The Heritage
The Laotian people were so kind to us and welcomed us with open arms. We could also tell they are very proud of their culture and their town. We saw it everyday, but perhaps the most polarizing was the daily alms giving ritual. Every morning, hundreds of monks emerge from the various monasteries and walk the streets of Laung Prabang. The local residents line the streets and offer the monks their daily meals, which typically consist of sticky rice, fruits and vegetables.
We must take a moment to address the fact that this ritual has been around for centuries and is quite sacred. Yet, in this modern day a lot of tourists choose to be awful. We heard horror stories of people going to great efforts to shove cameras in the monks faces and just get in the way. Furthermore, many hotels offer "alms packages" so tourists can take part in the ritual themselves. This is entirely against the point as the ritual is supposed to be about giving one's time, preparing a meal yourself and making a sacrifice to give.
We definitely did not want to be "those people" so opted to stay on a quiet side street and watch from a safe distance. Luckily there were no other tourists around and we got to observe a few villagers waiting patiently to give their rice to the monks who walked by. After the giving, the monks surround the locals and chanted a blessing. It was very cool to see and experience. We could see and feel how deeply the Laotian people cared for one another, visitors and their traditions. It just made us feel right at home!
*BONUS*- THE NIGHT MARKET
Although we have seen quite a few night markets in SE Asia, the one in Luang Prabang was our favorite so far (or really just Kirby's favorite, since Nolan doesn't particularly enjoy shopping). Contrary to other night markets we have been to, the vendors in Luang Prabang were laid back and didn't pressure you to buy anything, allowing you to "window shop" without feeling like you would be hassled. And even though we only bought a few pairs of local clothing (fun colored pants!) due to space issues in our backpacks, Kirby said she would come back someday with a large empty suitcase to fill :)