As I recall, we made the decision to visit Luang Prabang in Laos based on the advice of a rather “interesting” Swede from our guesthouse in Siem Reap. This took the place of going to Phuket where our primary draw was going to end up being affordable rotax rentals. I can’t recall if we flew Laos Airlines in or out but it was the only prop plane I’ve been on in some time, it was a nice, smooth enjoyable flight though.
We stayed at the Manichan Guesthouse which I found on Agoda. As I recall, I wasn’t having a lot of luck on airbnb for this location. The room and owners were nice and helpful in recommending things for us to do and organizing outings with other guests, although I also think they keep some cash for themselves as well, as that is how everything in SE Asia seems to operate. So how you go about getting to and fro doing what you do the transport cost is something to keep in mind, if you care about a few bucks here or there, although I think it is rarely an amount to get excited over. Josh and some other guests while we are waiting for the owners/keys – I think these were Canadian bikers as on a tour…
We hopped down a random alley in town at night for our first dinner. I was feeling adventurous and went for some Mekong River fish the waitress said she liked. I’m not sure if Josh knew what he was ordering or not. I felt less adventurous when I got the fishy.
I did more picking at the white meat than scarfing it down whole. Whatever Josh had was pretty good and he is a more daring fish eater than I and thankfully offered up a trade at some point. He at the eyes too, not something I had ever stuck in my maw before. Not something that changed that day either.
For some reason I enjoyed poking around the night market here more than other places, although no pics of it. Markets all around though. During the day:
Morning off our street:
Night snackies… these were about $1.25 USD
We did not see the Alms Giving Ceremony, although got up early enough one day to go. We instead climbed up the stairs to Wat Chom Si atop Mount Phou Si. Online and from other guests there are many stories of disrespectful and ill behaving tourists during the ceremony and I think Josh wanted to avoid feeling the strong urge to throw some in the river. Unfortunately the view from this place is not that great in the morning; too foggy to see much, perhaps better at night. It was good exercise though. Walking past some monks to the stairs (another day, which is why it’s bright here.) No pics looking out at the foggy city, but one inside the temple with a Buddha cat.
Some other pics from walking around town – plenty by the Mekong River which we also crossed and poked around town at.
Our guesthouse organized a trip for us to go by long boat to the Kuang Si Falls. We were going with a German couple from our place as well as a Belgian girl who the owner had met but did not have a room for and advised someone down the street to stay with. A Dutch couple was also going to the falls this day although had already rented a scooter. Online there are lots of stories of scams strongly discouraging tourists from renting scooters in this area. The Dutch couple seemed to get through everything in their stay without a problem however.
Pics from the ride over:
I don’t recall our boat driver speaking much English. We stopped in a village and then we were apparently supposed to go with a tuk-tuk driver the remainder of the way, however there was none to be found, and the driver even disappeared for a while. We used this time to explore around the village a little while the Euros used it to mostly freak out, particularly about getting ripped off. The Belgian girl had a guide book that noted that sometimes the boat drivers stop at an earlier town where they have a buddy and you end up paying more than you need to to actually get to the waterfalls. I was mostly thinking ‘who cares, I just don’t want to have to poop here’ – eventually we found out boat driver again and through some form of communication the Euros communicated that he should be dropping us off further down the river. Some pics from the village –
Germans and Belgian girl. I think she had a bit of a warped view on being ripped off, particularly since she was out in nowhere prior to here. I think the Euros were all pretty annoyed that the boat guy was trying to dupe us a little but the Belgian girl in particular was upset about being treated like a stupid tourist and how dare anyone try to take advantage of her. As I recall she thought our guesthouse was pricey; we had two beds and our own bathroom and the current rate for that room is $24. From where she just came from it sounded like she stayed somewhere for like $2 or something a night? It also sounded like she literally came from nowhere though. She’s probably steaming mad here still, grrr
Once we got to the next village, it was a bit of a hike up from the river into it. It would be sketchy in the rain, or perhaps so if your body is not working like it used to. The houses were a bit nicer.
The guide was not too helpful once in town again. We all just walked through and up to the road, not too clear on where to go and expecting we could hoof it. We saw some trucks with people heading one way, and just pointed out the obvious – just follow the white people! We began the trek, although it was pretty hot and at some point not too far out of town decided to turn back to see if we could hitch a ride up. No one else was walking and it seemed like a decent trek. The scarf girl in town got us a guy, who we paid to take us up in his mini truck. I was pretty glad we took it while on the way – it would have been a serious uphill walk. Wouldn’t recommend it.
We met the Dutch couple up here and had lunch with them. I recall them smoking a lot and the guy being pretty entertained by youtube videos of Americans challenging cops about stopping them or asking them questions and whatnot – he seemed shocked anyone would actually do that, kind of funny. He went swimming, which was one of the big attractions among the series of pools and falls although I think he was the only one of any of our group that hit the water that day. The food was pretty good.
Before the falls there’s a small store area and parking area. No ATM. Also, terrifying terrifying squat toilets, I almost had a religious experience there. Not just because they were squat toilets but also because their condition would have resulted in a life-changing experience – they were like – not so good. Once the falls area is entered there is also some kind of bear exhibit on the way to the falls.
There’s a foot path up to the falls – but also a road as well, where some of the tour buses go past the initial parking area that we got off at. This is where to go to avoid the squat toilet religious experience, which still happened to be the shoddiest bathroom I used in SE Asia; a bowl of water to manually scoop water out of and into the (western style) toilet – for the ones not out of order – that had no tp, so SE Asia tip — bring some of your own with too, everywhere you go in case of emergency!
Eventually we gathered ourselves together and headed back to the boat, with our Belgian anchor slowly dragging behind us. I swear she got stuck in town arguing with the scarf girl over 50 cents for 15 minutes – I think I’m even being conservative here! Once she finally got back to the boat we were ready to head back into town again. No future endeavors included the Belgian guest…
No pics of the “new” airport we used, but it was very recently built and opened (June 2013) – we passed the old one when heading to the current one and it was already looking pretty overrun and overgrown by January 2014. Visa on arrival was available for $35, requiring a passport photo, or an additional dollar if they need to scan a pic of your passport photo. Bring USD. From the airport to our guesthouse, we took a shared taxi/van with a ticket purchased inside the airport just before the exit doors. I vaguely remember having some ATM challenges – I recall seeking out ATMs that noted they accepted MasterCard as some others labeled with Visa did not allow transactions to go through. Guess there is some competition and/or it still actually matters in this part of the world?? Compared to everywhere else we visited, Laos was definitely the slowest and most relaxing spot to just sit and chill, and a nice place to visit if one is looking to take a break from the fast pace of the larger Asian cities likely on the itinerary.