Our first stop in Laos was Luang Prabang. It’s a small town on the Mekong river, that boasts waterfalls, cooking schools, markets, and 34 temples. The temples fill the town, making it a home for many monks and giving it it’s UNESCO world heritage badge. Among all the day trips and activities, Luang Prabang is a great place to relax. Have a pancake in the night market, watch the sunset from the hilltop or sip a beer on the banks of the river.
The temples of Luang Prabang fill the town like daisies in a field; they’re everywhere. The most impressive one is Wat Xieng Thong. For a few kip, you have access to four buildings, but around those are outhouses and monasteries, which are beautifully secret, almost sacred. Instead of the usual shrine to Buddha, Wat Xieng Thong is filled with a long three headed dragon boat. Inside said boat are three jar-like objects*, along the walls are murals, and across the back of the room, are lots of old broken Buddha statues. The room is a wonderland of gold and red. Cross the square and explore the other buildings, where you’ll find a dramatic sloping roof and tiles paintings glittering up the walls.
Other temples have the same old, magical feel to them. Much are over 400 years old and are used often by the novice monks. I found that monks are not so far removed from ourselves. Here in South East Asia, they integrate themselves among the community, they are respected and treated well. Most families have members studying in the temples, and many of the men spent time learning there as a boy. You might ask why I haven’t mentioned ‘alms’ yet. This is the traditional giving of rice to monks at sunrise. It is to be given by the community, to show their support for the monks cause (I think). It’s a beautiful tradition, and an important part of the their spiritual day. We didn’t go. Why? Because we were made aware of how imposing foreigners can be. To keep their rituals sacred, I should keep my nose out. Other little things that are worth knowing: women cannot touch monks, monks receive free transport in most places, orange is worn simply ‘because’.
The Mekong river stretches through a hefty part of this region, starting in western China and opening into the sea just beyond Ho Chi Minh City. From its banks in Luang Prabang, you can sip a cold beer Laos and watch the fishermen or you can join in, with a slow beautiful boat ride in a phenomenal flow of nature/water system. Unsurprisingly, prices vary, with more people and more stubbornness getting the lower prices. The river is beautiful at all times of day, but the big ‘wow’ comes at sunset. The brown waters are calm, tickled with the light as the hills darken and the town lights up. We saw a few friendly fishermen on our little cruise, and the famous bamboo brigade too. The river is probably a lot of amazing geographical superlatives, but honestly, I can only tell you that it’s a damn good boat ride.
Asia: The Land of Rice. In Laos, rice is eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner, particularly sticky rice. We spent the day at The Living Land Farm, learning about how rice is farmed. Harder than you think. It takes fourteen steps, over 6 months, a buffalo and a whole lot of man power to get rice from grain to plate. It was a day to remember, with mud up to our ears and grain everywhere. The big highlight for me was ploughing with the buffalo, chatting to the local kids, and -of course- eating it all. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s the kind of experience I came out here for. Even if it’s out of your budget, or you hadn’t thought of doing something like this, do it. Be enriched by the Laos was of life.
[on a side note, the farm runs English classes in the evenings for the local children. We volunteered for the intermediate class, with children aged around 12-14 years old. It wasn’t in our plan for Laos, but I’m glad we did it. The children are lovely, awkward and shy but we all are at the age right? We were split into groups, talking with them and playing games. I even got a round of ‘I went to the shop and I bought….’ going. For me, the fun wasn’t in playing games, but was in talking to locals that weren’t receptionists or Tuk Tuk drivers. It felt nice to actually talk to people, about themselves. It topped off an already great day at the farm.]
Kwang Si Waterfall
We’ve seen a few waterfalls in South East Asia, and although it’s not as impressive as Victoria or Igauzu, Kwang Si waterfall is a must see (I mean it). The waters run in streams through the woods, which grow to pools and rivers as you climb further up. At the top is your reward and the waterfall itself. The 15+ tiered waterfall is dramatic to say the least, pouring down in bright blues and greens, and spraying visitors faces with a heavy mist. The story behind the waterfall follows a legend, whereby a man called the water up from below to nourish the land. Here, where the water came up, a golden deer lived behind a large rock in the waterfall. The site is important and sacred to locals, and to visitors it’s a work of nature you can swim in! Bring a cozy, and something to eat, and prepare for a brisk swim.
The falls are about forty minutes out of town, a Tuk Tuk or bike can get you there easily enough. Take note, you’ll need 20,000 kip alongside your camera and swimming gear, for the entry fee. But bonus! The fee also gets you into the bear sanctuary! Learn a bit about the sun and moon bears of Asia, see a few of them up close, and support the hard work of the centre. The waterfall is a gem of Luang Prabang, an exhilarating, blue, pretty gem, that should be on everyone’s Laos bucket list.
Other things to see and do in Luang Prabang upinclude markets, buffet Laos food, pancakes, ferrying to the other side of the river, and getting boozy in Uptoia. Luang Prabang may be touristy, but thats for a reason.