Friday, November 9, 2012

Luang Prabang, Laos 29 Oct - 1 Nov 2012

The journey from Phonsavanh to Luang Prabang was long, we took the minibus option because it will be faster than the bus but it still took us 7 hours. The guy sitting next to me was vomiting the whole way, yuk! He is a local. I thought as a local one should be used to the local road. :-( All 9 other foreigners in the minivan were ok. The 7 hours ride was bumpy and windy, passing top of mountains with amazing scenery. We arrived to the minivan station, 5km from town. The Lao government is pretty smart in creating opportunity to the local, they built the station far away from town so to create work for the tuk tuk and taxi driver. Good thing is they don't quote us crazy price like any other place in SEA (except Myanmar) we don't have to bargain very hard, sometime it's even reasonable to pay that amount.

Ban Vat That street
We found a guesthouse at Ban Vat That street, here almost every house is converted to a guesthouse. Looks like the only income is from tourism. The family of the guesthouse was very nice and humble people, in fact the daughter was married to a Malaysian, she could speak malay with us. :-) What a coincident! We settled down and Thomas is already in patient to go take his sunset shot at the Mekong river. The best thing about this place is that it is near to everywhere in town. 50m to the left is the Mekong river, 50m to the right is the Alms ceremony in the morning and 100m away is the night market yet it still lies in a quiet and charming little street. We highly recommend this guesthouse to everyone who is visiting Luang Prabang.

The Mekong river and Nam Khan river made a peninsular out of this town. That means in most direction you walk you will end up at the river bank. :-) Mekong is the 7th longest river in SEA. It runs through 6 countries - China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I wonder if there is a boat cruise that leaves from Yunnan, China where the river begins and finished in South China Sea.

Night market
We had a beautiful sunset by Mekong river and stroll to the night market. Wow! Now I understand why the Night Market is so famous here. There were lines of stalls, hundreds of them selling souvenirs, handicraft, tea, painting, stones, etc. All at a very reasonable price depending on your bargaining skill.

Alms ceremony
On the 2nd day, we woke up at 5:30am in the morning to see the well known Alms ceremony. Just before dawn, hundreds of locals and some tourist lined up on the street kneeling down to prepare for the alms ceremony. They prepared food like rice, fruits, cookies, sweets, cakes, etc to offer to monks. There were only about 100 monks from several different monastery came walking in line. Each of them have their alms bowl filled with food, they even have extra to give to kids that were following them with a huge basket (the basket is bigger than the monk's alms bowl)

Vat Xieng Toung
We then rented a bicycle for the day, I don't remember having seen my brother Thomas on bicycle. :-) Good thing is everyone ride gently and politely here, so even thought Laos is a Left Hand drive country, we could still manage. We visited the oldest monastery in town - Vat Xieng Toung and just cycled around town to take photos. In the evening, we hiked up to Phou Si Hill to see the sunset. The top was packed with tourist waiting to take a good shot of the sunset. The local food market just by the entrance of the night market has some really awesome food at 10,000kip per plate, fill it up as much as you can.

Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill

The 3rd day, we rented a scooter to Kuang Si Fall, about 29km south of Luang Prabang. As usual, we had our daily noodle soup breakfast and local coffee before heading out. The way to Kuang Si Fall was very straight forward, we just missed one turn and the local already shouting at us "Kuang Si Fall" pointing the the correct direction. :-) We arrived at the entrance full of souvenirs stalls, parked at the "secured" parking spot, even though we could just park it by the street.

The park is well kept and maintained, we took the jungle path to the fall where it lead us to the Bear Rescue Center, it has an enclosure for endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been rescued from poachers. They are much bigger than the Sun Bear in Malaysia. We saw one of the bear relaxing in the huge hammock, that must be Kayasin, the oldest and the biggest in the care center.

Kuang Si Fall
We proceed to the waterfall, pass several turquoise blue pools, picnic area before arriving at the main fall with a 60m cascade. The area is surrounded by thick forest, really nice to chill out and spend the day. We took our time taking photos of the fall, pool and insects hidden in the forest. On the way back to town, we decided to go to the golden temple that we saw across from Phou Si Hill. It wasn't difficult to find it as it was on top of a hill. In the temple, there were display of hundreds of golden Buddha statues.

Today is a big festival day called Awk Phansaa Festival and also a public holiday in Laos.We were told that it is the 2nd biggest celebration day after the Lao New Year. Everyone is celebrating the big day, they made many banana leave boat to be lighted up at night and release into the river. There was a parade at night where lines of banana leave boats were lighted up by candles followed by music, fireworks and offering of incense and small flower boats that were release into the river. Some believe that the offering is an act to pay respect to nagas that lives in the rivers, while others send the lighted boats down the river to ask for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. This colorful ritual was an eye opening event to me.

Banana leave boat

This ended our 3 days in Luang Prabang, we are moving on to Vangvieng, a small town which is famous with young foreigner partying and drunk, floating down the river. But we are not there for this, stay tune and find out more about our next destination.

Wat That guesthouse ( - 130,000kip (tripple) with aircon, attached bathroom and wifi

Bicycle rental for the day - 35,000kip for 3 bicycle
Wat Xiang Thong entrance - 20,000kip each
Scooter rental for the day - 140,000kip each
Kuang Xi WF entrance - 20,000kip each
Parking at Kuang Xi WF - 2,000kip each

Tuk tuk from Minivan station to guesthouse - 40,000kip
Tuk tuk to bus terminal - 30,000kip
Bus to Vangvieng - 150,000kip each

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