After a 6 hour bus ride full of hairpin turns and incredible views you’ll find yourself in Luang Prabang, the gem of Laos. If you’re coming from Vang Vieng you’re in for quite the difference.
Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of Laos and sits on the conjunction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. The entire town has been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site for it’s well preserved French Colonial architecture, religious monuments and cultural heritage. It is a far cry from the craziness of Vang Vieng and serves as a much needed detox, rest and relaxation location.
The town itself is small and quiet and has many cafes and eateries to enjoy. There is a prominent temple atop a hill in the center that offers a
good view of the town below.
I spent most of the day walking around the town, visiting temples and popping into various cafes for coffee or food. Time seems to slow down in Luang Prabang and that’s not a bad thing.
I couldn’t help feeling a sense of adventure here. It wasn’t because I was doing crazy activities, it was because Luang Prabang feels a million miles away. It’s not crowded with tourists or buzzing with motorbikes and cars. The people there seem to live simply, something I could get used to.
Boun Awk Pansa in Luang Prabang
As luck would have it, I happened to be there for the Boun Awk Pansa which marks the end of Buddhist Lent. There is a big festival that is capped off by a parade at night. 40 or so “Fire Boats” move down the street in procession. They are decorated with flowers and lit candles and are believed to exterminate bad luck and bring in good luck.
I don’t think I believe all the luck voodoo but it was a really fun festival to be at. Then again, I did get lucky and was there at the right time so who knows…
Finally, make sure you try some of the street food, it’s to die for! I recommend the skewers but the sandwiches are good as well as the Laos version of the crepe. You can literally get a full chicken on a stick if you want. Everything costs less than $1 so go nuts!
Kuang Si Waterfall
One of the main day trips out of Luang Prabang is the 30 minute ride to Kuang Si Waterfall. Upon reaching the falls it’s clear why this is. Powerful, large and pretty; this waterfall is special and needs to be on your itinerary if you find yourself in Luang Prabang.
Note: There is a fence and a sign that prohibits you from climbing up to the main falls as seen in the picture above but after seeing my buddy go up there, I had to as well.
There is quite a lot to do at Kuang Si. There are countless pools to swim and relax in and there is also an Asian Black Bear sanctuary that’s worth the walk through. It will take up a good part of your day so either pack a lunch or buy from the many overpriced vendors near the falls.
You can also walk to the top of the falls but that was a bit disappointing. It’s a fairly tough hike and you don’t really get a good view. However, the entire jungle is flooded up there which then consolidates to make Kuang Si Waterfall which is pretty neat.
The Slow Boat from Laos To Thailand
The next stop on my list was Thailand and I decided I was going to take the slow boat to get there. The slow boat is, well, slow. It takes two full days on the river to get from Luang Prabang to Huay Xi, the port city you’ll exit Laos from.
A slow boat is a long, slender wooden boat. Some are nicer than others and it just depends on the luck of the draw and the day of the week you take off. Make sure to pack some food too. They have a small food cart on the boat but the selection is limited to instant noodles and cookies.
Since you’re moving against the current, each day will take a full 8 hours (6 hours the other way) so bring a book or a deck of cards or something. While the scenery is beautiful and full of mountains, farms, villages and fisherman, there is no way you can spend 8 hours looking at them.
At the end of the first day you come to a town called Pak Beng. This is where you’ll stay overnight. We paid $3 for the hostel, so we weren’t expecting much but it did the trick.
Out of Laos and Into Thailand
After 2 full days on the Mekong River, trust me when I say, you’ll be ready to get off that damn boat. I think taking the slow boat was an awesome experience and I’m glad I did it but it’s definitely a one time thing for me. If you’re debating on whether or not to take the slow boat or a faster option, take the slow boat, you won’t regret it. Just don’t do it twice.
Once you reach Huay Xi there will be a host of Tuk Tuk drivers willing to take you to the “Friendship Bridge”. This is where you’ll get your exit stamp out of Laos and take a bus over to Thai immigration. You’ll receive your entrance stamp and officially enter Thailand!
This marked my 30th country. Not a bad number but still a lot more to go.
Thailand is gonna be a fun time for me. I’m going to spend 3 months here building a couple websites with a partner. There’s also going to be plenty of traveling and adventures!