Luang Prabang, The Hidden Gem of Laos
Prior to my trip to South East Asia (SEA), I didn't know anything about Luang Prabang. My original plan was to spend two days in Vientiane (the capital of Laos) instead. It so happens that during my trip I met several travelers who had been to Laos and advised me to visit that city instead of Vientiane. It was a tough decision for me because I had already booked my flights and hotel in Vientiane. I had limited money after the robbery in Vietnam but whatever I had left, I decided to go for it! I booked a ticket from Siem Reap to Luang Pragang, Laos instead through Lao Airlines .
I arrived in Luang Prabang as the sun was setting, it was full moon and a spectacular view during landing. Luang Prabang is located in the dense mountains of Laos. It is surrounded by rainforest and it is such a quiet and secluded small city (town). I took a shared van to my hotel Sabaidee Guesthouse near the city center. I enjoyed my stay at this guest house. It was a comfortable and affordable ($35 USD/night) compared to other hotels near by. The hotel manager recommended that I take a day tour to the Kuang Si waterfall. I also wanted to visit the elephant sanctuary Elephant Village in Luang Prabang, Laos so I booked a morning and afternoon tour for the next day.
There was one very important thing I also wanted to do while in Luang Prabang, that is the Tak Bat (Alms giving ceremony). This is a ceremony or parade by Shaolin monks which takes place every morning before dawn through the streets of Luang Prabang. During this ceremony the monks go out on the streets after payer and collect food donations by the locals and tourists. I have heard mixed reviews about this ceremony by fellow travelers. Some people support it and others are completely against it; however, I will not discuss that in this post. I will say that I did wake up at 5am the next morning and rode my rental bicycle to the city center to watch this parade unfold. I saw it from a cultural perspective and although I did not participate in the "giving of the alms," I did take a moment to appreciate this event, take photos, and meditate in my own giving of alms (to my creator) through a silent prayer. Below are some photos of this parade.
After this parade was over I returned back to my hotel for breakfast and was picked up for my first tour of the day. They drove me and my group to the elephant sanctuary, taught us about the lives of these elephants and the initiatives they are taking to prevent animal abuse. One shocking factor to me was to learn that 70% of all elephants in Laos currently live in captivity and are enslaved by farmers and locals and forced to work moving heavy building materials such as logs, rocks, etc. Only 30% of the elephants are not enslaved. Out of this 30%, 10% are in sanctuaries, zoos, rehabilitation centers and 20% are in the wild. Learning this really broke my heart. I encourage travelers to help to spread the word through social media to help these animals who are abused and enslaved in countries such as Laos. Below are some photos of my visit to the sanctuary.
After the visit to the elephant sanctuary. We headed over to Kuang Si waterfalls. We had to walk for a bit before getting to the waterfall. I have to say, I was blown away by the sight of these waterfall. I had seen photos of it before but no photos can compare to the beauty of this place. I was excited to go but never imagined I would be blown away. This waterfall is a must see if you travel to Laos. We spent the full afternoon bathing and enjoying the sounds of nature. This place is completely secluded from any city and the air is so fresh, the water is crystal clear, and if you need a place to relax for a day this is it! It was absolutely stunning (See below photos).
After our visit to the waterfall we headed back to our hotels and then my tour group decided to meet up at the famous bar Utopia - Home | Facebook . After a sunset yoga class in front of the Mekong river, we enjoyed some food and drinks under the moonlight and kept ourselves warm with the multiple fire pits throughout the bar. I loved this place and highly recommend it.
The next morning I decided to go see the monk parade once again (because I wanted better photos) and returned to my hotel afterwards. My second day in Luang Prabang was all about discovering this city on my own. I grabbed my camera and took off on my bicycle to explore all the temples and nature near the city. I stopped at every temple (out of hundreds) of temples in the city. This city has so many beautiful sites. It reminded me so much of Bali where there was a temple after every other house, shop, hotel, or restaurant. One of the things that I loved so much about this city was how colorful it was. Food here was also outstanding! I ate street food the whole time I was in Luang Prabang. There is a day and a night market so you will never run out of street food here. Below are some fotos of my second day in Luang Prabang.
As the sun was setting, I came back to my hotel to enjoy the pool for a while before dinner. Then I went to bed early since I had an early morning flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This concluded my visit to Luang Prabang. I was so happy that I made the decision to go there instead of Vientiane. The truth is, if you have the time to spend in both cities I suggest you do that because Vientiane also has some nice landmarks; however, if you are pressed with time and have to pick between one or the other, I would highly recommend you go to Luang Prabang. It is a small and colorful city, rich in culture, nature, and life.... It is the hidden gem of Laos!