Welcome to Luang Prabang

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As my plane left Cambodia and flew over to Laos, I noticed immediately how green and gorgeous the Laos countryside is. Unlike Siem Reap which is mostly flat and covered in dry, golden farmland, Laos is lush with rolling dark green mountains, with small, quaint farmlands wrapping rows of crops around the curves of the hills. It was absolutely stunning. No wonder so many people had told me to go to Laos.

I was weary of spending the night at my pre-reserved hostel – Xayana Guesthouse – in Luang Prabang. While it was dirt cheap (just $5 a night), people had been complaining about the smelly bathrooms and the lack of security in the building – plus the unhelpful staff. When I got to my room, I found that it was made up of 8 dorm bunk beds – in which the top bunks were kind of like loft spaces. Kinda cute, but yeah the bathrooms were a little smelly – and they were in the room. I noticed immediately that unlike Thailand, travelers here were not that friendly. Sure, they’d say a soft “hi” to you if you said hi to them, but they otherwise just ignored you and hung out with their friends. Not what I expected at all from a hostel.

As I went out to explore the town, I heard sudden burst of excited shouting to my right. I turned my head just in time to see some local folks sending large, glowing paper lanterns up into the sky – like something straight out of Spirited Away. I went towards the lights and found a large Lao family eating dinner in their front yard. They had been lighting lanterns for the New Year and were sending them off into the sky; I guess it’s kind of like sending prayers – the candles inside the lanterns generate the energy needed to carry them up and away.

The night market in LP is INSANE – it’s SOOOOOO PREEETTTTYYYYY!! Stall after stall is lit up with glowing white lights. It’s like an explosion of colors and crafts all around you as you walk down the aisles. I had never seen some of the things before — lacquered and painted wooden playing cards, silver machetes, tiny sewn pillows with messages like “I love Mom” on them, scarves and bed sheets in an array of colors and traditional patterns, and the most intricate silver jewelry that I’ve ever seen! I wanted to buy everything! The Hmong cultural influence in Laos makes everything so damn gorgeous.

One thing that sucks about Luang Prabang, however is the lack of good, cheap authentic food. Yeah, there are food vendors at the market and the side streets, but LP is covered in 1) guesthouses, and 2) Western or bad Southeast Asian food restaurants. I’ve never seen a place so covered in hotels in my life. Expensive ones too! I later tried to look for another guesthouse to stay at and found one that was $100 USD a night. While it was hella nice, it wasn’t like it was the Hilton or anything.

When I got back to my hostel I found that everyone in my room was asleep, so I couldn’t hang out there. My guesthouse has no computer lab, so I just kicked it outside in the outdoor tables area where some of the other backpackers were hanging out. Some hung out with their friends and talked quietly among themselves, but there were a lot of bolo travelers like me. One guy kept laughing to whoever he was chatting with on his iTouch. I kept to myself and planned out the rest of my 3 days stay in LP.

* * * * *

The next day, I went to an agency to set up a tour (it was recommended by Lonely Planet) but found that the guy wouldn’t let me book it. “How many people in your group?” he asked me. I replied that it was just me. He told me that I should just take the bus to the falls on my own instead, since it would be cheaper. I was pretty discouraged. The whole point of doing a group tour is to meet people and have a guide!

From my (limited) observations – Luang Prabang seems to be a place where people tend to travel in GROUPS. Or as couples. Or even families. Very few people go there alone, it seems. Or maybe they just meet and clique up fast. Wherever I went, hoardes of young Aussies, Brits, and other Europeans were hanging out in large groups. While Thailand seems to be the friendly “meet people” country, Laos (or at least LP) seems to be where all the “too cool for school” kids hang out. They all look like hipsters that used to go to Berkeley High school. I wonder if they think they’re special for going to a “lesser known” Asian country.

I later found another tour company that let me hitch a ride on their van to go to the waterfalls for a small price. I also found a new guesthouse called the Thanaboune GH on the main street to stay at – I was done with the dirty hosteling and decided to splurge by spending $20 a night on my own private room with its own bathroom. The downstairs lobby area also had a computer lab that folks could use. The whole deal was pretty sweet; although I also found the drains there to be smelly. It must be a general LP problem.

After finally getting picked up by the tour van (the guy was like 30 min late, and spent another hour picking up people from other tour companies), we headed over to the falls. The drive itself is hella pretty – you get to pass by farmlands, small towns, and families or kids coming home from school or going to work.

When you get to the Kwang Si waterfalls, you get to pass by a bear sanctuary on the way up — which is pretty amusing. Behind the fences, black bears lounge in tire swings and rope hammocks, chillin and sometimes bulling each other for space.

The waterfalls themselves were GORGEOUS!!!! Oh my fucking god, I’ve never seen such pretty cascades in my entire life!! Fall after fall after fall rushed down into light teal colored pools. There’s a couple of main pools that visitors can hang out at – I spent most of my time at the main pool that had a rope swing attached to a tree branch. Unfortunately, since the day was overcast and the water wasn’t too warm, a lot of people just hung out by the side of the pools and didn’t venture to go in.

I pretty much spent the whole day on the rope swing; I just like jumping into water. Most of the people who tried to swing had a hard time with the angle – some of them either swung back INTO the tree and fell into the water, or just ate shit on the way down. Not very graceful rope swinging. I was pretty much the only one that could jump off with at least a little bit of grace. These two Chinese kids in speedos were taking turns with me – they were having a really, really hard time trying to use the swing – and jumping off. They kinda reminded me of a bad Japanese game show where contestants are forced to do weird stunts and look like total goofballs when they fuck up or fall into the water.

At the side of the pool, a group of tan, good-looking, and “cool” young French and European tourist kids hung out in a pack and smoked rolled cigarettes. I thought it was a pretty comedy sight – who are the fuck are they trying to impress, after all…

After coming back to the heart of the city, I decided to take a walk up to Phousi Hill (pronounced Pu-See) to see the Buddhist temples and catch the sunset that LP is famous for. The trip up the hill is really nice – you get to see 360 degrees of Luang Prabang city-scape and countryside as you spiral and ascend up the hill…from the wide rivers, to the neat red-roofed houses on the hills, to the green and forested/farm-covered mountains. Amaaazing.

At the very top of the hill, hordes of Asian, European, and American tourists gathered with their small point-and-shoot cameras or their tripods and DSLR’s, getting ready to take dozens of photos upon sunset. It was a bit of a wait, but well worth it – besides having the most gorgeous waterfalls that I’ve ever seen, Luang Prabang also happens to have the most amazing sunsets. This place is just outta-control beautiful.

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Posted: January 30, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Laos

Tags: , ,

  1. ryan says:

    i would like to meet ms. tiffany eng

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