A few days in Luang Prabang

We awoke to a cool drizzly day on our first morning in UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang. We got our first sight of our lovely view from the balcony outside our room and were very chuffed with our choice. Oui’s Guesthouse is run by 3 sisters and they are very friendly and helpful.

We got bicycles from the guesthouse and headed off to explore. Luang Prabang is a perfect cycling town as it is flat and there is plenty to see and do within a 15 minute cycle.

The French heritage is very much evident in the buildings and fantastic bakeries.

We decided to visit 100m-tall Mount Phu Si in the relative coolness of the morning – however, even the coolness didn’t last and halfway up the 329 steps to the top I was melting! The 24m gilded stupa, That Chomsi, makes the climb worth it as does the 360o view of the city and the Mekong! We were astounded at how many people just walked up spent e couple of minutes getting the perfect photo and left again. We spent quite some time there. Another thing that irked us was the lack of respect that some westerners show – there were people at he bottom of the climb “selling” tiny birds in tiny cages to be released at the summit for “good luck” – it is all good and well to have an opinion about caged birds but to lambaste the believers is offsides. It may not conform to our beliefs but we have a choice to not participate it is not our place to tell them it is wrong.

We had read a lot about the Buddhist Monks sunrise alms giving ceremony and decided to go to see this the following morning. We always try and familiarise ourselves with local customs and acceptable conduct. Unfortunately, it would appear that we are alone in this. The alms ceremony is an age old tradition dating back to the 14th century and yet many Lao still wake before dawn to cook food to give to the Monks who walk the streets at dawn to collect alms for their one meal a day. It is sad that there are greedy tour operators who rely on those who do not respect the tradition and spirituality of the occasion to make a quick buck and we witnessed people getting really up close to the Monks to take pictures and being really disrespectful of this ceremony. We kept our distance and go a few pics from the other side of the road without interfering or even being noticed.

We booked a private tuk tuk to go to Kuang Si Waterfall early the next morning (very much a case of the early bird gets the worm – or in fact doesn’t get overtrodden by tourists). The falls truly are every bit as beautiful as all the guide books say and we ventured to the top via the steps and paths alongside them – I say ventured to the top – I did bail as I had stubbed my baby toe and could wear my takkies (trainers) so the wet clay pathways were a little too treacherous for me – but I made a valiant effort. After descending I went for a swim in 2 of the pools – the water was certainly fresh and luminescent blue – I unfortunately (and I might add inadvertently) joined the “disrespectful masses” by swimming in my cozzie – I only noticed the signs regarding the dress code when we were leaving.

There is also a bear sanctuary where they have various Asian bears that have been rescued from poachers. Whilst not in favour of the captivity aspect of this the intention behind it is noble – the bears did not move at all from the time we first walked past them on the way to the falls to when we returned much later and we had a good chuckle at one of the signs which said we would witness the bears “playful antics”.

The following morning, we opted to head off to the bakery for an early morning fix and as it is near the first temples where the monks depart for the Alms ceremony we again got to witness this and this time without the masses which was much better.

We wandered around the local market – but we have discovered that once you have been to one market you have been to most in SEA. We were again astounded at how expensive food and drink was in comparison to Hanoi (we have become a bit spoilt at our good cost of living).

Our favourite part of the day enjoying a couple of cold beers on out veranda watching the movement on the river and the majestic mountains behind. The boat races take place there next month so we could watch some of the teams practising.

We had opted to take the slow boat up the Mekong to Huay Xai on the Thailand border and had read that we could get tickets at the Navigation office on the Mekong in the town. We spent many hours searching for this office, and it was clearly marked on our map! It turns out this office and the slow boat pier has moved a fair distance out of town (approx. 7km). We purchased out tickets via a booking agent in town and while this did turn out more expensive than it would have been if we had just gone to the pier – we were well aware of the cost of the tuk tuks and at the end of the day it probably didn’t cost too much more as we were collected at our guest house on the morning of the trip and arrived in good time to start our slow boat journey.

But that – as they say in the classics – is a story for another day!

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