June 24, 2016
We woke up this morning well rested and ready to explore the city. We got ready and went for breakfast at the hotel restaurant just in time before breakfast ended. We finally got to see the hotel grounds in the daylight – it’s quite nice! The restaurant has a nice view of the river (although the river isn’t very clean) and the surrounding areas.
For breakfast, I had some fruit, a croissant, and they made me scrambled eggs. The selection for breakfast was pretty good and everything looked very cleanly prepared. As we were eating, it started to pour really hard for a good half hour. Even the construction workers nearby took cover. We even had to move further away from the edge of the patio because the wind was blowing the rain sideways. We stayed at the restaurant for almost an hour waiting the rain out.
Finally, the rain eased up so we put on our rain jackets and took out our umbrellas and set out to the old part of town. The hotel is located right beside the “Old Bridge” in Luang Prabang, so we decided to cross it since we saw some people crossing it earlier. When we began to walk on the bridge, we noticed that a lot of the planks were loose and not very stable. The bridge was about 150m long and pretty high up from the river. I’m not normally afraid of heights, but this bridge really freaked me out. I don’t think we’ll be crossing that bridge again.
Once we made it to the other side safely, we made our way towards the city centre. Luang Prabang is definitely more laid back than Vietnam. There are way less scooters, you can cross the street without worrying about getting hit, and it just felt a lot more peaceful. We passed by a tourist centre, so we stopped by and came across a poster of the “do’s and don’ts in Laos”. Basically, Laotians are very conservative, reserved, and non-confrontational.
Our first stop for the day was to climb up Phusi Mountain. It’s about 300 steps up a mountain and has beautiful views of Luang Prabang. By this time the rain had stopped, so it was perfect timing to begin our mini hike. There’s an entrance fee of 20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD. Along the way to the top of the mountain were a bunch of Buddhist shrines and statues which were interesting. We spent a good chunk of time at the summit taking pictures and admiring Luang Prabang and all the greenery.
We eventually made our way down the mountain towards the Luang Prabang National Museum. It was lunch time so they were closed until 2pm. We decided to have lunch and visit the museum afterwards. We walked down towards the Mekong River to check out what restaurant options we had. Tim read that restaurants along the Mekong are cheaper than the ones you’ll find on the “main street” (Sakkhaline Road).
There are many restaurants all along the river and they all looked very similar so we just picked one. We grabbed a table under an umbrella and enjoyed the views of the Mekong (although it looks quite dirty)(Tim: more muddy than dirty) and the sporadic cool breezes. Tim ordered a Lao coconut based noodle soup and I ordered morning glory with tofu and steamed rice. The food prices in Laos are about 20% more expensive than Vietnam.
As we were sitting waiting for our food, we looked around and didn’t see a kitchen. We realized that all the restaurants along the water have kitchens across the street. The food came and we both enjoyed our meals very much. Tim’s soup noodles were quite tasty and I was pretty happy with my simple lunch. The smoothies were good, very reminiscent of all the smoothies we had in Thailand.
After lunch we continued to walk along the river and ended up at a Buddhist temple named Wat Xieng Thong and took a look around. It cost 20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD pp entrance fee to get in. The temples were nice. They have their own unique style to them compared to the ones in Thailand. There were a lot of broken glass murals which I thought were very cool. As with most Buddhist temples, you cannot show your knees or bare shoulders. Since we knew we were visiting temples today and the museum (which enforces a dress code), I wore my Lululemon outfit and Tim wore his convertible pants.
We made our way back to Luang Prabang National Museum and had about an hour and a half before it closed for the day at 4pm. Entrance to the museum was 30,000 LAK = $4.77 CAD pp. To walk around the grounds of the museum is free as they only check your ticket when you enter the actual museum (which used to be the royal family’s residence). There’s another Buddhist temple at the entrance of the museum grounds which houses Luang Prabang’s golden Buddha.
Before entering the museum, you have to check in all your bags and cameras (no photography is allowed). If you’re wearing shorts, you have to rent a sarong for 5,000 KIP before entering. The residence was nice, but it wasn’t as extensive or informational as I thought it would be. The last King of Laos was a sturdy looking guy. A very North American built body as opposed to other Asian kings. There was a picture of him with Ho Chi Minh in Saigon dancing with Vietnamese dancers. We didn’t see any pictures in Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh having fun like that. Maybe that’s why we couldn’t take any pictures. Behind the former palace is a garage of the king’s former cars and pictures of all his drivers. More than half the cars there were gifts from the U.S. government in the 1960’s.
After the museum closed we walked down the main street and found a street side restaurant that served fruit smoothies for 10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD (which is the going rate in Luang Prabang). We stayed there and hung out for a while. Tim also tried the local beer, “Beer Lao”, which he said wasn’t bad. He had a 650 ml bottle to himself for 12,000 LAK = $1.90 CAD. While sitting there I was watching a street vendor set up her satay grilling station as locals came up and snacked on some street meat. While observing the vendors from all around and the locals that ate at her stall, I could sense that Luang Prabang is a very tightly knit community.
While taking a break, Tim looked up a massage parlour that had good reviews online. After walking around the main street, there were quite a few massage parlours to pick from, so looking up reviews helped.
We went to a place called Hibiscus which offered an assortment of massages, body scrubs, manicures, and pedicures. We read that Lao massages are about pressure points and are not very relaxing, so I decided to do an aromatherapy massage (more relaxing and less painful since my pain tolerance is low) and Tim tried the Lao massage. Once we decided on the type of massage, the receptionist asked if we wanted to take a shower first – I guess we looked pretty sweaty and gross. We took quick showers and changed into the massage wear and headed into the massage room. An hour goes by so quickly when you’re getting a massage, but when you’re giving a massage 5 minutes feels like forever!
After we done our massage, we both felt super relaxed. Our favourite part of Thailand was being able to get a Thai massage for $6 CAD for an hour. The prices for massages here are slightly more. Tim’s Lao massage was 60,000 LAK = $9.55 CAD (which is average for Luang Prabang) and my aromatherapy massage was 110,000 LAK = $17.50 CAD. These prices included tip and tax and were for 60 minute massages.
It was shortly after 6pm when we finished our massages which was perfect because we wanted to cross the Bamboo Bridge after 6pm, so we didn’t have to pay 5,000 LAK each. The Bamboo Bridge isn’t as scary to cross as the Old Bridge since it’s so low. There are some parts of the bridge that definitely feel a lot more secure than others though. We walked back and forth on the bridge and took a bunch of pictures.
For dinner, we decided to check out the night market which goes on every night at the far end of the main street near the post office. Most vendors were done setting up their stalls and we walked through to see what they had. There isn’t much food at the night market – mainly fruit smoothies, crepes, and some desserts. Walking through the night market was nice. It was a lot different than walking through a market in Vietnam. No one hassled you or grabbed you to come to their stall, they all just said “Sabaidee” – which is hello/welcome in Lao. Unlike Vietnamese markets, there were no fake bags or clothing. Everything was very Laotian looking and the quality of the goods sold seemed better (the backpacker pants here were a lot thicker and better quality than the ones we bought in Hoi An).
Towards the end of the night market, we went into an alley that seemed to be where a lot of people were going for food. We walked down the narrow alley and found a lot of stalls with BBQed meats and an assortment of other dishes. Many locals were getting dinner to go, so this intrigued us. There was also a stall that advertised themselves as a buffet, handing people large bowls for them to fill up. There were no locals at that stall, just western backpackers – so we stayed clear.
We ended up trying some BBQed meat at one of the stalls, we picked pork belly (10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD), chicken skin (10,000 LAK = $1.60 CAD), and chicken wings (20,000 LAK = $3.18 CAD). We ordered and grabbed a seat at the table across from the stall. The lady re-grilled the meat, cut it up, and served the meat on a banana leaf with a sweet chili sauce. The meat was very well seasoned and tasty. We were both very pleased with our dinner find. Lucky I had my vegetables at lunch!
After dinner we made our way back to the hotel. The shuttle bus wouldn’t be coming until 9pm and we had a pretty long day so we wanted to go back and rest. I didn’t want to walk over the Old Bridge again so we went back to the Bamboo Bridge (which was lit) and walked over that. Once we got to the other side, we walked through a residential neighbourhood and eventually back to our hotel. Luang Prabang feels like a very safe city.
It’s only our first full day here and we’re both really loving Luang Prabang. Laos is often a country that most people skip over when visiting SE Asia (I’m guilty of thinking of skipping it as well) but I’m really glad we came here. We have 3 nights here, and it’s probably not enough. I love the small town, laid back vibe of the city, and I love how people are friendly and not overbearing. It’s also so quiet here which has been nice. One major difference between Laos and Vietnam is drivers don’t honk! Even if there’s someone in their way, they just patiently wait until they move.
Steps today: 22,000