Literally, “Royal Buddha Image”, Luang Prabang is the Royal Capital of Laos. The city is on the Mekong River and surrounded by mountains in central northern Laos.
The trip from Vang Vieng by minivan is seven hours on the badly maintained roads which are the norm in Laos. Luang Prabang is an expensive city, with the price of many things – tours, transport, food – double elsewhere in the country. Only the large number of hostels manage to keep accommodation prices down. And beer is the same price everywhere.
Luang Prabang is well-known for its temples and monasteries which accommodate many monks. Early each morning hundreds of monks walk the streets collecting alms. One of the many temples in the city is Wat Manorom…
…and, on the grounds of the Royal Palace, Haw Pha Bang…
Mt Phou Si
At the centre of old town and across the night markets from the Royal Palace is the 100 metre tall Mount Phou Si. Atop the hill’s summit is Wat Chom Si, a buddhist temple.
The steep climb to the temple is very popular among tourists especially during the hour leading up to sunset. The views before during and after the sunset are wondrous, although fighting for a position during that time was quite an adventure in itself.
On our journeys we stopped off at a village about 30 minutes out from the main city. The village, like many in the region, brews its own whiskey – Lao-Lao, plus two types of sweet rice wine – Lao-Khao and Lao-Hai.
We were able to try some of each and while some would argue that Lao-Lao isn’t whiskey but moonshine, it tasted pretty good to me. Most of the bottles include some form of local creature: usually large scorpions, cobras or lizards.
During my visit I got the opportunity to visit the Manifa Elephant Camp, home to six female elephants. The camp has a good reputation, feeding the animals well and looking after them.
To raise funds for the camp groups are taken for rides through the forest, including the feeding the animals sugar cane and bananas. Because there was an odd number in our group, I got to sit atop the largest elephant’s neck instead of the flat wooden seats. This was quite an experience as the constant moving of her front legs jabbed into my butt cheeks, making it a little sore to walk for a bit after.
Pak Ou Caves – 4000 Buddha Caves
Across the Mekong river from the Elephant Camp are a pair of caves popular with tourists. The upper cave, Tham Theung, has a pair of shrines buried in the darkness. Torches are available for those willing to provide a donation.
Tham Ting, the lower cave, is decorated by many hundreds of small buddhas sitting in any nook and cranny large enough to hold them. The number of the buddhas is ever-growing, as locals bring new ones to the caves every day.
Kuang Si Falls
Perhaps one of the more famous attractions in the city is the Kuang Si Falls. Forty-five minutes out of town, the main section of the falls where water cascades down many levels.
But the main falls are not all there is to see here. For a couple of hundred metres the river cascades into shallow turquoise blue pools. There are many such pools, with the lower areas available for swimming. As we arrived late in the day, during cool season, I wasn’t so keen to get in the icy waters.
Overall, while Luang Prabang is more expensive than the other cities in Lao, it’s just as touristic and still a fun place to spend a couple of days.
Next I take a very long bus ride to Hanoi, Vietnam.
The Lone Trail Wanderer