06.12.2017 - 08.12.2017
Travelling to Luang Prabang in northern Laos on the road from Ubon Ratchathani in north east of Thailand was quite an experience and I felt everything was moving very quickly in this journey. Though it took me 2 days to reached my intended destination-Luang Prabang, it never felt exhausted as the journey was rather smooth though at times, motion sickness set in due to the many sharp curves road condition as a result of the thick mountain valleys that the roads being built upon. At times the bumpy and bad road condition worsened the situation but in fact the road journey from Ubon Ratchathani to Luang Prabang can be rated overall as "not difficult" and comfort level was above average. The journey to Luang Prabang started with 9 am bus from Ubon and arriving at Khon Kaen at 2 pm. The journey then continued from Khon Kaen to Loei at 2 pm and arriving at Loei at about 7 pm. After a one night stay in Loei, the next morning, the journey then continued onwards to Luang Prabang through the Thai-Lao International Bus departing at 9 am passing through the Thai-Laos border of Ban Nakrasang Immigration Border Gate which was near Thali and Chiang Khan within Loei province while on Laos side, it was Namheung International Border Checkpoint in Sayabouly province. Crossing this Thai-Laos border was of less hassle and things was processed quickly and the queues were manageable. The journey took about 10 hours, reaching Luang Prabang at about 7 pm. From Naluang Bus Station, the tuk-tuk costs 30,000 kips for a shared ride to downtown of Luang Prabang. Since the sun has set down and I did not book a place, it took sometime to settled down. I was lucky as not too long after searching and through recommendation from the locals, I managed to get a room within a Lao traditional guest house settings. So everything was settled on the day I arrived at Luang Prabang and time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
AN OLD SCHOOL BUILDING IN DOWNTOWN LUANG PRABANG
CHECK OUT AND SHOP AT THE NIGHT MARKET
The night market at Luang Prabang offers a huge selection of goods and items suitable for all group of ages and you definitely will not want to miss a visit to this market. Other than items for personal use, souvenirs, accessories, kitchenwares, general items for daily use, clothings, decorative items and many more items on sale, there was also a designated food street within the night market and some other food vendors where a range of food selections available to choose from. When in Laos,my favourite food is always the french baguette with variety of fillings. It has a very close food culture with Vietnam's version of Banh Mi. The other favourite Lao food of mine include the sticky rice with "larb moo" which consist of minced pork with combination of sour, salty and spicy. It has a very strong and distinctive taste that will leave you wanted for more each time it was eaten with the sticky rice and can also include other meat variety. The night market is the best place to find inexpensive Lao food. Because the night market was located at Sisavangvong road which has many french colonial style architecture shop houses, there were also dozens of restaurants set-up within the shop houses dotted Sisavangvong road and within the night market area. Buying items from the night market especially those of handmade may do some help to those who produced it as these items were not easy to produced and most likely those who produced them came from poor background.
EXPLORE THE TOWN AND ADMIRE THE FRENCH COLONIAL STYLE BUILDINGS & TRADITIONAL LAO HOUSES
The fact that Luang Prabang was awarded the UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE was all about how well the building owners or investors, whatever you may called them, in their effort preserving these historic structures. There were massively huge number of old colonial style shop houses, homes,buildings and schools as well as traditional Lao homes dotted the road and streets within Luang Prabang town. Almost all these structures were intact and very well maintained. Some were being rebuilt, others were renovated, while there were also being refurbished and repainted as well as structures being enhanced and extended. All these efforts by the group of these invaluable historically old buildings' owners had paid handsomely not only to the owners but also to Luang Prabang town. Many of these building were turned into restaurants, cafes, guest house,hotels, convenience stores and antique shops making them one of the most interesting sights and great place for dining as well as good & comfortable place to stay. One of the classic example of interesting hospitality in a traditional Lao style of stay was the place I stayed which was a simple 2 storey semi wooden Lao style traditional house which has a lovely living hall with settings of wooden chairs and tables for relaxation over coffee and watch people pass by on a quiet street.
VISIT SOME BEAUTIFUL WATS IN TOWN
Within the centre of Luang Prabang town there were quite a number of temples worth to spend some time to visit while strolling down the road and streets. One of the most publicised temple in Luang Prabang which appeared in many travel promotional items about Luang Prabang as well as travel magazines and books was Wat Xieng Thong. Wat Xieng Thong was built more than 450 years ago by King Say Setthathirath was located very close to the Mekong river. The main ubosot of Wat Xieng Thong was the most outstanding structure within the temple buildings with 2 level of multi-tiered roof, heavily decorated exterior and interior on the ubosot's wall structure with Lao influenced traditional design. Inside the ubosot, there was a main Golden Buddha statue in yellow robe on sitting position positioned on the middle of the ubosot's far end as well as a sacred monk statue on the edge of the ubosot. The rear wall of the ubosot structure has a unique bodhi tree drawings on the middle of the wall, with the background of the wall also crafted with remarkable traditional Lao style design. Another temple nearby Wat Xieng Thong was Wat Pak Khan Khammungkhun, which was a very small temple with the distinctive white paintings on its wall and a wooden structure roof. Opposite Wat Pak Khan was another distinctive colonial structure in dark yellow paint which was the Ministry of Information & Culture office Yet another temple adjacent to Wat Xieng Thong was Wat Sensoukharam. What captured my attention on Wat Sensoukharam was its similar architecture and design with that of Wat Xieng Thong. One of the significant feature of Wat Sensoukharam was the tall standing Golden Buddha structure placed in a sheltered structure similar to the Lao temple design with also significant traditional Lao decor.
STROLL ALONG MEKONG RIVER & NAM KHAN RIVER
Luang Prabang was strategically located within the Mekong river enclave and this provide an interesting atmosphere walking along the river banks of Mekong river while exploring Luang Prabang town. There were remarkable numbers of colonial style buildings dotted along the Mekong river and a walking tour of Luang Prabang town in embracing and celebrating the significance of UNESCO award on World Heritage Site added yet another excitement to the entire exploration. You can in fact crossed over the Mekong river to the village on the opposite known as Ban Chomphet where you can explore the village natural environment, temples, biking through the nook and corner of the village and enjoy some great views. Boats could also be chartered to cruise along Mekong river enjoying the views and natural surroundings. While Mekong river was on one side of Luang Prabang town centre, Nam Khan river was located on the other side of the town, One of the things to do over at Nam Khan river is to crossed the unique bamboo bridge and explore the few villages and temples located across the river.
HIKE UP MOUNT PHOUSI TO VISIT WAT PHOUSI & ENJOY THE VIEW OF LUANG PRABANG TOWN/A GLIMPSE ON NATIONAL MUSEUM
Mount Phousi was possibly the best spot to get the best bird eye view of the Luang Prabang town at the peak of the hill. To hike up Mount Phousi could also be a challenge due to the intensity of the heights of the hill and because it provides one the opportunity to have a stunning view of Luang Prabang, there indeed required some physical obstacles to reach the point of view. The highest point always provide the unrivalled view of any landscapes below it. The peak of Mount Phousi other than offers marvellous view of Luang Prabang town also housed the Wat Phousi. Wat Phousi consisted a small ubosot just below the outstanding golden stupa which formed the ultimate height of the Mount Phousi. At the base of Mount Phousi was a huge Boddhi Tree donated by Govenment of India in 1957.
The Luang Prabang National Museum was formerly the Royal Palace during the reign of King Sisavang Vong. The palace was taken over by the Lao government in 1975 after the royal hierarchy no longer in place and was turned into a museum in 1995. The national museum was located just opposite from Mount Phousi with a temple, Wat Mai built within the national museum boundary. No photos were allowed inside the main museum building including the interior of Wat Mai.
STAY AT ONE OF THE LAO TRADITIONAL HOUSE OR COLONIAL STYLE GUEST HOUSE
Because this was to get connected with Luang Prabang as this northern Laos town reason being in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site was all because of the well preservation of such historically invaluable structures. The guest house of which I enjoyed the Luang Prabang & Lao hospitality has strong Lao traditional home influence and the stay there added much to the olden days feel & atmosphere amidst a quiet neighbourhood. You can even hear the monks hitting the gong at the temple signalling the start of the morning alms round and the sounds of roosters crowing. There were also dozens of colonial style buildings turned into restaurants and cafes where enjoying early morning breakfast and coffee within these European designed shop houses or buildings can be very fascinating and captivating.
BOOK A DAY TOUR TO KUANG SI WATERFALLS
A day tour to Kuang Si Waterfalls can be arranged with any tour agents around Luang Prabang town costing 40,000 kips on s shared minibus. The entrance fee to the waterfall costs another 20,ooo kip. Kuang Si Waterfall located less than an hour drive from Luang Prabang town and shall never be a missed itinerary when visiting Luang Prabang. The clear water with combination of perhaps 3D like colour of blue and emerald emitting from the pool of water within the waterfall enclave creating such an amazing and extremely beautiful water landscape like never seen anywhere else before. The lush, clean and cool air within the background of the waterfall park yet brought in more serenity and tranquillity to the whole experience. You can bring along the swimming gears to swim where the drivers allowed for 2 and a half hours time limit to spent at the waterfall park. Once entering Kuang Si Waterfall, there was a section which bears saved from the jungle from illegal wildlife hunters being kept in an enclosure.There was even a cage where you can try to get in and feel yourself on the sufferings of being captured or confined in such a structure of which bears hunted by illegal acts suffered such treatments. Apart from swimming and enjoying the marvellous waterfall view and its natural settings,you can also hike up the mountains of which it formed the Kuang Si Waterfall. There was a mineral water cave at the peak of the mountain at Kuang Si Waterfall. A handful of curious visitors eager to checkout the existence of the cave including myself decided to hike up to the peak which too at least an hour to reached but many were seen abandoning the plan because the cave could not be sighted even deep into the jungles at the peak of the mountain.I continued my journey even when there were no longer any people seen dare to go beyond. But disappointment set in because the cave couldn't be located and the day has started to get dark. So I was left with no choice but to turned back and descended the mountain and luckily I was able to reach the base of the mountain before the minibus left for Luang Prabang.