A Travellerspoint blog

Laos: Luang Prabang

View Advensha on advensha's travel map.

Eventually we arrived at Sa Sa Lao; a hostel-style accommodation set right on the Nam Khan riverside and overflowing with luscious tropical foliage and vegetables. We had our very own hut (we're getting pretty accustomed to bamboo boxes by now) complete with a netted double bed, en suite bathroom, fan and plenty of geckos, ants and mozzies.

The cloudy and comparatively chilly weather we'd been introduced to on the Mekong was hanging around and so we were still wrapped up in long pants and hoodies. Still feeling like shit I was in no state to eat dinner so Lauren ate something at the hostel's little bar/cafe and not long after we went to bed.

One of the interesting things about staying in a hut is the orchestra of multifarious noises you're serenaded with of an evening. Geckos are common culprits; making sounds ranging from squeaks right up to loud high-pitched meows. Here at Sa Sa Lao, the familiar geckos were joined by the resident dogs (who were actually very cute and friendly), the occasional cat, a smattering of birds and the eternally open karaoke bar opposite. So each night at around 7pm, all of the dogs within a 10 mile radius would start shouting at each other and a Lao gentleman with a hugely inflated sense of talent would start screaming into a microphone. This was our lullaby. Although mildly annoyed by our aural experience, it didn't for the most part affect our sleep; either our tolerance is increasing or we're going deaf.

I wasn't feeling much brighter the following morning but I could still muster up the energy to do some exploring of our new destination. With the help of the French hotel manager and a badly photocopied map, we found our way to Luang Prabang centre. Getting to the centre meant crossing the bamboo bridge which, shockingly, is a walking bridge that crosses over the Nam Khan river made entirely of bamboo. This bridge is built, maintained and dismantled by a local family every year who charge 5000 kip (approx. 45p) per person for a return journey across it. It only exists in the dry season and in the wet season, it is either removed in advance or washed away. The bridge is rudimentary to say the least, but it functions perfectly well and makes the journey to town much quicker for those on the 'wrong' side of the river. Here's some moving pictures of our first bamboo bridge expedition. If you listen carefully you'll hear Lauren berating me for taking 'deep steps'...

After a crap, overpriced breakfast, we stomped about the town a bit, taking in the colonial buildings, the tourist-centric souvenir and craft shops and enjoying the mild temperature and chilled-out atmosphere. The town actually felt a little Wild Wild West in terms of its layout and aesthetic. There is a thriving tourist industry in Luang Prabang and this is very apparent. The majority of the people we walked past weren't Lao, and the streets were overrun with travel agencies, European cafés and shops. We didn't mind this too much as the demographic seemed to be older than your average backpacker (25+) and a little more middle class. Not completely our crowd but the placidity was both enjoyable and infectious.
On our way back to the hotel we stumbled past a well-reviewed little pizza restaurant owned by a Lao-American couple (called Pizza Phan Lung). It was literally in their back garden with a handful of tables around a proper outdoor stone pizza-oven. A small amount of shame washed over us for buying Italian food on our first proper day in Laos but we quickly forgave ourselves as by this point I just really couldn't stomach Asian food.

The next day, a Sunday, we had another disappointing and expensive breakfast in town, redeemed by a great visit to the Laos Ethnology Centre. We also hopped on a mini bus to KouangXi waterfall 30km away. The waterfalls were incredibly beautiful; bright turquoise water surrounded by the green of huge trees and plants, decorated with hundreds of colourful butterflies. Unfortunately we hadn't packed our swimming costumes so we couldn't jump in but we did a little bit of paddling and that was enough for us. The water was too bloody cold anyway. There were lots of tourists of all ages splashing around in the water, mostly taking selfies, and a few were back-flipping off high rocks into the pools.

At the bottom of the falls is a bear sanctuary that rescues Asian black bears and sun bears from poachers (their gall bladders are used in Chinese medicine) and animal shows. The bears were gorgeous and seemed to have been provided a brilliant habitat. We were a little irked by the fact the WIRE fence protecting us from these bears (or vice versa) was only about 5 foot high. We didn't hang around too long.

On the drive back I started to feel really dodgy again so when we got back to town Lauren had a quick (and crap) plate of fried rice in the first restaurant we found, followed by a street crepe and we hurried back so I could climb into bed. That evening I felt really ill. I couldn't regulate my temperature and I had a horrible throbbing nausea and banging head ache. Although nothing was coming out of me I had all the symptoms of a stomach bug or food poisoning. As I'd gradually gotten worse over the last week we decided it would be best if I spent a day in bed, starving and feeling incredibly sorry for myself. So nothing to report on this day except Lauren having to go out on her own for lunch only to find the bamboo bridge closed off because of fast running water - ha. Luckily there were a handful of cafés on our side of the river she could make-do with.

The day of abstinence really did help and the next morning I felt super-perky (and hungry) so we headed to town but this time had to take the long-route across the motorbike bridge as the bamboo bridge was still closed. This motorbike bridge is as described but has a narrow pedestrian walkway tacked on the side of it with only crude wooden floorboards separating walkers from the river 300 feet below. We finally had a decent (but still pricey) breakfast at Novelty Café and then burnt it off by walking the 300 steps up Phousi mountain to see all of the Buddha images, temples and, most notably, the Buddha's footprint. It turns out Buddha was an actual giant as his footprint was 7 foot long... An interesting part of being up there was that we got talking to a very charismatic 19 year old monk who was soon to be leaving the monkhood after 8 years. He was very excited at the prospect of drinking and being with women and was asking us falangs (foreigners) all about our life experiences. We didn't tell him we were a couple as we thought his head might explode. This was the first time we'd had a one-on-one conversation with a Buddhist monk and it was great. Turns out (as we suspected) they're pretty normal guys. And, contrary to what I though, they're not all vegetarians. They eat whatever they're given (with most of the time is meat).

Back down at ground level we made our way to Big Brother Mouse; a charity centre where Lao children can go (for free) to learn English from both educated Laotians and foreign volunteers. Unfortunately we arrived at the wrong time and so couldn't get involved in the storytelling session we'd hoped to. Instead we bought some books that were written by students and published at the centre and I also poked my head into a Lao sign language class and showed the deaf students some BSL signs. This amazing spontaneous interaction really made my day and also brought a little tear to my eye (I'm a wet fish I know).

Clearly a little concerned that we weren't being selfish enough we then went for a hand and foot massage at a nearby centre which apparently gives 20% of its profits to local villages. During the massage (which was very good), one of the ladies asked Lauren "do you have a baby?" and pointed to her stomach. Upon hearing that Lauren was carrying a food baby and not a human baby the girl was very apologetic but luckily neither of us are easily offended. If anything it gave me a good laugh for the rest of the evening. Later that evening, in an effort to diminish said faux-foetus, Lauren demolished a burger and french fries at a local trendy joint called Utopia. We're kings of weight loss.

High on MSG and feeling brave we walked the 30 minutes back to our hostel in the dark (but we had a torch) and tried not to get mowed down/eaten by dogs/kidnapped by guerillas. You'll be glad to hear dear reader that we made it back without even a mosquito bite and were greeted by our favourite little puppy too. The rest of the night was spent packing up our things and preparing for our early morning bus to Vientiane.

Posted by advensha 03:11 Archived in Laos Tagged monk laos luang_prabang travellers bears backpackers mekong_river utopia big_brother_mouse stomach_bug kuang_si_waterfall

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Woo-hoo! Amazing stuff. I hope you are still feeling much better, Aisha? You seem to have been feeling less than well for ages. Look after yourself, love.
One of the major Buddhist practices is to aim to do no harm, but if you live in, say, Tibet, you're up a gum tree if you're veggie or vegan, since everything they use pretty much comes from yaks - food, clothing, tea, oil for lamps etc. So in Buddhist practice, "no meat" is something to aim for if it's practicable, but buddhism is very realistic about what can and can't be done.

Lots of love to you both xxx

by patty

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.