I visited Laos seven years ago, but spent most of my time in Vientiane and Vang Vieng, which was the party capital of Laos at the time. Many people had raved about Luang Prabang, but I didn’t have time to make it there during my previous trip. It has always been in the back of my mind as a place to return to.
I spent nearly a week there recently during the rainy season, and was exceptionally lucky with the weather (some weather luck was well overdue). A number of locals told me how the waters of the Mekong river ran so high just a few weeks before, that many restaurants and bars on the riverside were flooded. However, when I was there, it barely rained at all and the waterline was a good few metres below the riverbank.
After quite a bit of moving around prior to Laos, I was keen to spend a week in one place mostly relaxing. However, early one morning I did visit Kuang Si Falls, which is around 30km from the centre. When I arrived, there was no one else around and there was a rainbow projecting from the waterfall. It was quite a magical moment. The waterfall was wild and cascading (apparently in dry season it’s calmer and the water is more turquoise). I explored the area surrounding the main waterfall for a couple of hours before having a flashback to the time I stepped on a brown snake in Australia. I panicked that I was roaming about in the snake-filled Laotian jungle alone and ran back to civilisation as fast as my legs could carry me.
Near the entrance of Kuang Si Falls there is a bear rescue centre that houses a number of Asiatic Black Bears rescued from poachers and traffickers. They seem to have a pretty comfortable life: mooching about all day, eating, sleeping and playing on swings. I caught myself dreaming about being one of those bears, but on reflection realised that my life right now isn’t wildly different to theirs anyway.
Out of the places I’ve visited in Asia over the past two months, Luang Prabang offered the best vegetarian food options. It was near impossible to find a proper vegetarian meal in The Philippines that wasn’t just rice and vegetables. In Japan, I had no idea what I was eating half the time and Cambodia was a mixed bag. However, even the tiny market stalls in Luang Prabang served tofu-based dishes (I’m aware that I may be the only person in the world to rejoice at the availability of tofu). For lunch and dinner, I ate mostly at market stalls because the food was tasty and cheap. The Night Market did a great vegetarian buffet with huge plates for 15,000 Kip (around £1.40). One of the tastiest local foods that I tried was Khao Nom Kok, which are mini squishy, coconut-filled pancakes.
Luang Prabang has quite a cafe culture. I tried a handful of them, and every one that I went to served great food and drinks. My favourite place to go for breakfast was Utopia, which is a relaxed restaurant/bar with a wooden deck of loungers overlooking the Mekong river. It’s a great place to go and read for a few hours and the coconuts there were the best I’ve tasted in all of Asia. The Canadian owner called me out on having two breakfasts one after another. He came over to my table looking confused and said, “I’m sorry, I just have to ask…Did you just eat two breakfasts in a row?” Awkward.
There were so many things that I loved about Luang Prabang. Besides the food and the waterfalls, the atmosphere of the whole place is so relaxed and the every single one of the monks that I met at Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang’s famous hill in the centre of town, was eager to chat. The Night Market was fun to wander around, with stall after stall of local artefacts. And finally, the ornate temples were incredible, even more so than the temples that I visited in Japan and much quieter.