I visit Luang Prabang. Photos, stories, and bucket list sucesses.
Luang Prabang is one of the main cities of Laos, and although we never ended up visiting the capitol city of Vientiane, I thought that Luang Prabang had much more to offer us as tourists.
Luang Prabang is particularly famous for the morning Alms ceremony where hundreds of orange-robed monks walk through the city, accepting rice offerings from Buddhist civilians.
However, this practice has become a major tourist attraction, taking away from the religious significance of the ceremony. Hotels offer “alms packages” to travelers, giving them rice to hand to the monks, and encouraging photos. While this alone wouldn’t be invasive or nagative, a lot of tourists get too close to the monks, taking intrusive photographs, posing disrespectfully, and in some cases even touching the monks (very bad, especially if you are a woman).
We decided that, even though watching the monks make their way through the town, it wasn’t worth waking up at 6am to be part of.
That being said, I was lucky enough to see some monks during the day walking down the same famous street
This was the very first leg of the trip spent on our own, without having to stick to the itinerary with our study abroad program. We road a Sawngthaew through Chiang Mai for the last time, looking at eachother and communicating without words. We were headed on a great adventure, and life is beautiful. That wordless moment we shared is honestly one of my favorite memories from my entire summer in Southeast Asia.
We piled into a miniscule plane and flew from Chiang Mai to Laos.
Luang Prabang Night Market
We were anxious to get out and start exporing, and luckily our hostel was right around the corner from the Luang Prabang night market. The first food we all shared were egg rolls.
They were absolutely delicious, and came with a little baggie of peanut sauce on the side. After a couple months of Thai food, the mint and coriander based herbs were a refreshing change, and we gobbled up the rice-paper covered noodles and fresh veggies.
From there, we went down a tight alley way. While smoothie and snack carts were distributed throughout the main night market, full meals were more commonly sold in the surrounding side streets. Buffet after buffet were layed out, with all sorts of unfamiliar dishes. Fried vegetables and noodles made up the majority of the cuisine, and I tried to get a tiny bit of everything squished onto my bowl.
It felt a little scary to eat food that was sitting at room temperature exposed to such a crowded room, but this was all part of the experience, and we all made it out without food poisoning.
From there, we explored the seemingly endless Luang Prabang night market, one of the city’s main attractions. You can read more about the beautiful line of vendors here.
After digesting and strolling for a bit, three of my travel companions headed back to the hostel to finish our very last assignment for our class. Luckily myself and one other travel companion had finished the night before, and were free to explore the town a bit.
That endeavor soon proved to be fruitless, as Luang Prabang’s nightlife is relatively nonexistant. However, we stumbled across one of Southeast Asia’s bizarre random gems that can’t be found in any travel guide.
A carnival was in town. At least, we’re assuming it was only passing through. Located on a muddy stretch of fairground scattered with trash was a handful of stalls and carnival rides. It reminded us of classic Americana, but with an Asian twist and a creepy middle-of-nowhere feel. Stalls selling knockoff trying-to-say-English-words clothing items were hung up in fluorescently lit stalls, and we had a blast reading the “Engrish” phrases.
From the second we had arrived in Hong Kong, an ongoing game was to try and spot the most ridiculus English phrases (dubbed not-so-politically correct as “Engrish”). This carnival definitely contained some of my favorites.
In addition to the flea-market style clothing and trinket stalls, there were also what first appeared to be classic carnival games–you know, the ones that rip you off and give you giant stuffed animals? At least, that’s what we assumed. Upon closer inspection, we saw that these were places to gamble and place bets. We walked along the row of stalls for some people watching, although I didn’t take any pictures, since it felt a bit invasive. There were also a few non-gambling stalls, including one where you could pay to paint your own ceramic rooster.
We both decided to be adventurous and pay 2000 kip (about $0.25)to ride on the ferris wheel. We were the only ones on the ride, which involved us squeezing into a tiny, rusty, metal can that creaked and squeaked for our entire ride, the duration of which felt eternal. I swear, the guy running the ferris wheel just let us go up and around for a solid 20 minutes.
We laughed at the ridiculousness of this situation, and also at the roller coaster shaped like a rat-caterpiller wearing a sombrero.
You can’t make this type of thing up, people.
Sleepy Luang Prabang
Walking through Luang Prabang was very relaxing. This was definitely not the most exciting portion of our trip, but I thought that the city was beautiful.
Kuang Xi Waterfalls
One of the most amazing parts of Southeast Asia, and absolutely the highlight of Luang Prabang is the famous Kuang Xi Waterfalls. You can read about my experience visiting this natural wonder here.
One of my favorite moments of Luang Prabang was biking though the town on wobbly bikes.
It was only a couple of dollars to rent a bicycle for an entire day. One of us had to leave a passport with the bicycle guy, but other than that, it was a stress-free transaction.
The bikes we received were wobbly, with less-than reliable breaks. I am personally not a very confident cyclest, and it was pretty stressful adjusting to the fact that we were about to bike through busy streets without helmets.
However, after a few minutes of getting used to the wobble and keeping up with my friends, the experience turned from stressful to wonderful.
A light sprinkling fell on us, and sunlight streamed through rainy clouds.
After spending over a month in the sweltering heat of Southeast Asia, the breeze on our faces felt amazing as we zipped through the town.
We stopped at the Mekong for a bit and watched boats drift by. A hauntingly beautiful voice could be heard singing from the other side of the river.
Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is Luang Prabang’s most famous temple, and arguably Laos’ most famous. The Buddhist temple’s mosaic artwork made it unique. You can see my photos from the temple here.
Mount Phousi is a vantage point high above Luang Prabang, and offered spectacular views of the city. You can read briefly about my experience here.
Luang Prabang’s nightlife scene is nonexistant. There are one or two bars, but everything closes down (by law) at a relatively early hour. The only business that is running after-hours is a bowling alley on the outskirts of town. All evening, we had been approached by tuk tuk drivers asking if we wanted to go to bowling. As our evening progressed, we became more frustrated at the drivers’ insistant pestering. No, we didn’t want to go bowling. We were in Asia! We wanted to do things that weren’t commonplace back in America. We wanted to experience uniquely what Luang Prabang had to offer.
However… we soon realized that bowling was our only option, as every single other business had closed down. We reluctantly gave in to the relentless Tuk Tuk offers and allowed ourselves to be carted to the alley.
The bowling alley was odd, to say the least. I didn’t take any photos because it looked just like any other American bowling alley, but with Laotian characters on the signs.
I got a bit of culture shock, feeling like I was suddenly back in America while simultaneously feeling like I had been transported somewhere wholly unique. You could buy beer and smoke cigarettes. I didn’t win at bowling, but it was definitely a moment that very few people have had the opportunity to experience.
Kounsavan Guest House
Our hostel in Laos was definitely the most sketchy that we stayed in. Not in terms of safety; I never once felt unsafe in all my time in Southeast Asia (with maybe the exception of walking through Siem Reap at night). It was sketchy for a couple minor reasons:
- We were 5 people who booked a miniscule 4-person room, and had to double up.
- Construction at about 5am woke us up in a loud array of jackhammer symphonies.
- A Laos employee barged into our room on checkout morning and started cleaning up, despite the fact that we were obviously getting dressed (two of us didn’t have pants on when he walked in) and packing up our things.
- One of my friends was scolded by a Laos woman in the bathrooms for her indecent state of dress.