Written by Owen Lipsett on 12 May, 2013
As one of the best preserved historic cities in Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang attracts thousands of visitors interested in absorbing its beautiful scenery and slow pace of life. I likewise visited with the intention of experiencing these delights and also with the hope of…Read More
As one of the best preserved historic cities in Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang attracts thousands of visitors interested in absorbing its beautiful scenery and slow pace of life. I likewise visited with the intention of experiencing these delights and also with the hope of volunteering. Although many places quite reasonably expect visitors to make a commitment of weeks or months in order to volunteer, there are places in Luang Prabang where one can do drop-in volunteering.I had initially planned to help students with their English at Big Brother Mouse (http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/englishpractice.html) a local organization that seeks to increase child literacy. As well as publishing and selling inexpensive books written in Lao (an occasionally English as well), they run a drop-in volunteering program. Volunteers can read to small children or help older ones with their conversational English each day at 9 am and 5 pm. It’s a wonderful organization and while I both bought one of their books and donated money to them, I actually ended up volunteering teaching English to novices (young monks in training) because of a chance meeting.Although its population is just 50,000, Luang Prabang has 33 temples. They are not only numerous, but prominent and their grounds occupy much of the old city. This in turn results in the presence of an exceptionally large number of monks (or more accurately, novices, I’ll explain the difference) in the city center. As a result the monks’ dawn alms round has become one of the city’s biggest attractions, so popular that it has created a cottage industry of scammers who sell low-quality rice that is literally fit only for farm animals at inflated prices. It’s also notable in that the participants in the alms round are almost all novices and thus are aged between 11 and 20.After giving to the monks during the alms round on my first morning in the city, I went to a temple to meditate. After I left, a young man named Khamchanh whom I assumed to be a monk greeted me and asked me if I’d been praying since I had bowed three times before meditating, as is traditional in Thailand. We quickly began talking and it emerged that he, like most of the inhabitants of the temples, was a novice, not a monk. Although they dress identically to monks and many of the same religious duties, novices are young men who serve in the temple who are subject to the ten Buddhist precepts, rather than 227 monastic rules. Most are sent by their families or villages as a way both of gaining religious merit and also an education, since high schools are relatively rare in rural Laos, where three quarters of the country’s people live. Being students and away from home with no adults to assist them outside of school, these young men need help with both their schoolwork and their English (which is usually taught by non-native speakers). As a result, I learned that while they find it inconvenient that visitors come to their temples just to take pictures, they’re appreciative of anyone who is able to chat with them in English. By my third visit, Khamchanh, who spoke very good English (made even more impressive by the fact that he’s never been outside Laos), had brought a number of other novices to come meet me specifically to practice their English. Some had come from other temples (which is not quite as surprising at it seems since novices from different temples attend school together and several temples adjoin one another). Given this incredible level of interest I made sure to return daily and was invited by the novices for both prayers and the drum ceremony (where they drive away evil spirits by ringing a giant drum).Even with some of the students’ limited English, these conversations were fascinating as they challenged many of my perceptions. For example, when they are not in school or engaged in chores at their temple, novices are able to largely do as they please, provided they observe Buddhist precepts. The most onerous of these, I suspect, is that they are forbidden from physical contact with women (or with any object that a woman is touching), which also means they are not supposed to spend time outside their temple alone with women. (This also includes family members.) As temples are relatively well off by local standards, novices generally have phones, including smartphones in some cases.Whether you volunteer by working with monks or at Big Brother Mouse, you will gain a greater understanding of Laos, and your students will likewise gain by your presence. If your time doesn’t allow either, buying books (which cost as little as 7,000 kip / about $1.50) from Big Brother Mouse and giving them to children wherever you go is another way of making a difference.Note: Lao means the ethnic group and their language, Laotian means from the country of Laos Close
Written by dkm1981 on 28 Mar, 2013
Luang Prabang in Laos is an amazing city. It has so much culture and history, but it is a fantastically simple place and the best way to get around it is equally simple. Riding a bike means that you can enjoy the city at the…Read More
Luang Prabang in Laos is an amazing city. It has so much culture and history, but it is a fantastically simple place and the best way to get around it is equally simple. Riding a bike means that you can enjoy the city at the sedate pace that it was meant to be enjoyed at. We had bike hire included at our hotel and many others offer the same, but you can hire a bike for a day for only a couple of pounds from a few places on the high street. If you are going to do this (and you should), here is the route we took, which will cover all of the main sites nicely.We started on the other side of the Nam Khan river from the main city (this was where our hotel was) and you should do this as part of your journey because there are lots of little streets and villages that you can explore. The locals here are very friendly and the children will be delighted to here you shout hello to them as you ride past.To get over the river to the city proper, you'll need to use one of the two permanent bridges. I'd recommend the old bridge because it is open only to pedestrians, bicycles and mopeds and isn't as busy as the other one. You'll have to put up with mopeds driving fairly close behind you - it's not too bad though!From there, you can take the road that runs alongside of the river down to the bottom where the two rivers join and then come up the other side. The roads are very quiet so you don't have to worry if you don't do much, or any, road cycling normally. The views are spectacular and there are plenty of places along the way to stop for photo opportunities. Around the other side you can follow the signs up through the houses to the Wat Xieng Temple where you should stop for a wander around. It costs less than a pound to get in and some of the buildings are wonderful. You can park your bike outside the entrance - the entire city is so safe that there is no fear of anything being stolen!From here you can drive through the main street past all of the little shops and tour centres. Now would be a good time to stop for a drink or a nice ice cream in one of the little cafes. From here you can carry on up to the Royal Palace which is another great place to stop for a good photograph. The Royal Palace has some lovely gardens to wander around too. If you carry on to the top of this road and turn left you will end up back at the old bridge that goes across the river so this is pretty much a full circle. If you are staying on the city side of the river, you should head across here to see all the local villages like I said. Overall, with stops, the tour took us about three hours, cycling at a leisurely pace and stopping where I've said. It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the time and see most of the things the city has to offer, so I would definitely recommend it. Close
We spent three days in Luang Prabang and it really is a wonderful city with so much to do. It is a chilled out city that has stood the test of time thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are plenty…Read More
We spent three days in Luang Prabang and it really is a wonderful city with so much to do. It is a chilled out city that has stood the test of time thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and watch the world go by, but if you want to be a bit more active, I'd recommend the following five things:1) Take an elephant trek.We booked through All Lao Travel services which is on the main high street. The staff were very friendly and helpful and there are lots of choices for elephant trek, depending on what level of involvement you want. You can go on all day trips that involve trekking through the jungle and washing the elephants with scrubbing brushes! We opted for an hour long trek and it cost about £20 each. This included transfers to the trek start which is only about 15 minutes from the city centre. We got to sit on howdahs (seats on the back of the elephant) whilst the guide took us through some beautiful scenery. There was a stop in the middle whilst the guide took photographs and then my husband got to take the reigns and ride on the elephant's back, which he loved! There is an opportunity to feed the elephants at the end which was amazing. We loved our little taster trek and would definitely recommend it if you are short on time.2) Watch the alms giving ceremony.Luang Prabang is one of the very few places in the world where this deeply religious ceremony takes place. It basically involves the local monks receiving food donations from local residents in return for a blessing. It takes place very early each morning throughout the city - ask at your hotel for details of specific times and routes that the monks take. I'm not a religious person but I really enjoyed the simplicity and spirituality of the ceremony. There are a few things to bear in mind when you are watching: don't offer food unless it means something to you, don't approach the monks and be respectful of what they are doing.3) Visit a temple.Luang Prabang is nicknamed the city of a thousand pagodas. it is a self explanitory nickname really, but you should definitely make time to visit one of the impressive temples that are scattered throughout the city. We enjoyed Wat Xieng Temple which is on a little complex and includes a number of different religious buildings. it costs a few pennies to get in and there are lots of big and small buildings to explore. It's a nice introduction to temples in general. Another thing to bear in mind when visiting is that the monks are happy to talk to visitors about their experiences - especially if it means they can practice their English.4) Try some local foodLao food is different to anything you'll find anywhere else in the world. It isn't as heavy and rich as some of the dishes you get from neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Thailand. Instead it focuses more on fresh ingredients and lovely flavours like lemongrass and chilli. There are a couple of places where you can get a good local meal. For first time visitors you should try Tamarind which is a restaurant and cooking school. They have a tasting platter set menu which gives you a little bit of everything. The best thing about this restaurant is that the staff will explain what each dish is and how to eat it which we loved. We also went to another place across the river called Dyen Sabai, a restaurant where the signature dish is fondue. This is a cook your own dish where you get plenty of fresh ingredients for not much money. The ambience of the restaurant is great and it's a lot of fun.5) Visit a waterfallKuang Si waterfalls are about a half hour drive from the city centre, but they are so worth a visit. You can organise a trip through one of the many tour operators on the high street and you can visit by themselves or combine it with lunch and an elephant trip for not much money. (About £10 for just the falls and £30 per person for the combination). The falls are in a beautiful almost jungle like setting and the walk to them is lovely. The colour of the water is just amazing; a lovely turquoise green colour. If you are feeling adventurous, you can monkey swing into the water from one of the trees above, but beware the water is cold and there are lots of little fish in there! On the way out of the falls area, there is a little enclosure that houses rescued Malaysian Sun bears. Its quite interesting and is included in the entrance price. There are a few shops outside the park where you can get cheap food and souvenirs.However long you are in Luang Prabang, you should do at least some, if not all, of the things above so that you can really get the most out of your stay. Close
Written by Overlander on 23 Jun, 2001
Visitors should be aware that Laos is not Thailand, or Malaysia, or Singapore. It is much less well-developed, having barely emerged from a Communist past. People are poorer, the sanitation is not as good, the chances of getting sick are higher. All…Read More
Visitors should be aware that Laos is not Thailand, or Malaysia, or Singapore. It is much less well-developed, having barely emerged from a Communist past. People are poorer, the sanitation is not as good, the chances of getting sick are higher. All that said, it is (possibly) the only country in SE Asia that bares any resemblance to what the region once was: culturally unique. To me, it reminds me a lot of the Thailand of the late 1960s, when I was first there.
Visas: Nationals of countries with money, i.e., the West and Japan, can enter the country without a visa at either the Freedom Bridge opposite Nong Khai (Thailand) or at Vientiane Airport. For US $50, cash they stamp in the visa and off you go. As I recall it was valid for 14 days. If you want to stay longer, visas may be extendable in the country; I would check at a Lao Embassy to make sure, however. Whether it is now possible to get a visa at Luang Prabang Airport, I don't know. It would be worth checking. Otherwise, you''ll have to get it in advance, and that means, almost inevitably, a stop in Bangkok.
The highway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is still not finished; much of it is only dirt or gravel, so travel over it during the rainy season is problematic at best. Additionally, there are still occasional bandit/guerilla attacks on trucks and buses; hence, it's wiser to fly in or arrive on a Mekong ferry.
Most restaurants seem to be pretty safe; street stalls are very likely less so. I didn't take any chances. Having said that, Lao food is pretty interesting. I had a quite remarkable fish concoction that was rather like a French terrine that had been steamed in a banana leaf. It's not as fabulously hot as Thai food, either, so you aren't as likely to feel as if your head was about to explode after biting into an especially nasty Thai chili.
Because of Laos' French colonial past, you find baguettes and brioches almost everywhere, which is absolutely amazing considering where one is... Close
Written by roseboard on 08 Nov, 2005
Intially I had planned to spend two and a half weeks in Laos with Tammy and her sister Mary. This was to be my outdoor adventure holiday, and it was. Our trip started with the taxi, plane, bus, tuk tuk, bus, border crossing, and taxi…Read More
Intially I had planned to spend two and a half weeks in Laos with Tammy and her sister Mary. This was to be my outdoor adventure holiday, and it was. Our trip started with the taxi, plane, bus, tuk tuk, bus, border crossing, and taxi relay to go from Bangkok to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We made a short stop on the Thai side of the border to visit the somewhat freakish statue garden filled with 8-story cement statues of Buddhas, Hindu gods, and snakes with too many heads built by a grateful Laotian man who was saved from some civil strife sometime during the strife riddled history of Laos (one of the most heavily bombed countries on Earth).
Crossing the Friendship Bridge over the muddied Mekong in an over-packed, non-air-conditioned bus, Mary asked, "Where's the chickens?" and you knew you were in a truly third-world nation. Laos is like a laid-back Thailand (if that's possible) with French colonial and communist influences. The traditional food, language, and demeanor of the people is very similar to that of Thailand. Add some baguettes, la vache qui ri, and spam posing as pate and you can see how the French left their mark. The Soviet-era cars with the doors held together by string and Communist flags give a different flavor. We spent little time in the capital tooling around on rented bikes to see some wats and the fake Arc de Triomphe, then headed northwest to Vang Viang.
Our outdoor adventure begins with kayaking, caving, and swimming for the afternoon. If you prefer adventures of the more nefarious sort, those are available, too. Although we kayaked down the nam song, many chose to go by inner tube with lots of stops for beerlaos and other narcotic specialties of the region.
Then we left the next morning for Luang Prabang, winding our way up steep mountain passes on the VIP bus. It was a beautiful trip, with mountains, jungles, and Hmong villages along the way. It must have been roof-making season. All along the road the Hmong were drying reeds or pounding them on the roadway to be assembled into straw-like roofs. We also saw rice pounding, communal bathing in the evening, delousing of the scalp, children playing, and other standard village-type activities. The driver was excellent in his navigation of the winding road whilst dodging potholes, pigs, chickens, and oncoming traffic. Dubbed the jewel of southeast Asia, the city of Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site. On the banks of the great Mekong, LP has lots of cute guesthouses, delicious food, and a great night market with nice silk tapestries. We stayed here for 5 days. I hooked up with some friends from school who were also visiting Laos and did a 2-day trek and spent the night in a Hmong village. I'm not sure if they were more fascinated by us or us with them. Again, it was your typical village life: mud floors, no electricity, more chickens and pigs, basic schoolhouse with wooden benches and tables, schleping water, schleping corn, schleping bamboo, schleping firewood--a lot of schleping. My education about fowl and pigs has expanded many fold. Roosters - hate 'em. They don't know what time it is. They cock-a-doodle-do ALL day and night. What good are they for other than fertilizing eggs and coq au vin?
We got back Christmas Eve. Christmas morning Tammy had stockings for me and Mary (actually they were her socks filled with a juice box, chocolates, trial-size shampoo, and gum). Traditionally I get an orange and a can of tuna (don't ask) among other things in my stocking. There weren't any cans of tuna available, but Tammy made sure I had orange juice. Christmas involved eating, wandering, eating again, reading and massage and herbal sauna, drinking, eating again, and a little shopping. Apparently in LP they turn off the electricity on Saturdays. My intent was a holiday email, but alas, no. We parted the next day.
Having seen enough of Laos, Tammy and I headed back to Thailand for some rock climbing in Chiang Mai. Thinking the 7-hour speed boat preferable to the 11-hour overnight slow boat, we booked our tickets, bundled up, and waterproofed our packs. This was not preferable. Imagine 8 full-grown adults sitting on the floor of a boat shaped like a pointy triangle with knees to chins, helmets, life vests, and lots and lots of layers. For 7 hours. Once you're in, that's it: no moving, no adjusting, no scratching your chin. You're folded up like an accordion--for 7 hours. At first we were in the back getting soaked and cold. Then we were in the front getting windblown and jostled around every time we hit a whirlpool. But it was beautiful--for 7 hours. This day was December 26, 2004, Boxing Day, the date when the ocean floor slipped, causing a huge wave to cover Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. Thank God, I was on the Mekong and not the Andaman Sea.
Written by Kez on 02 Mar, 2006
The Lotus au Laos offers traditional Laos massage and is clean and well run.
According to their advertising, it is the only place in LP that guarantees to change the mat that you are laying on after the person before. Always a nice thought to…Read More
The Lotus au Laos offers traditional Laos massage and is clean and well run.
According to their advertising, it is the only place in LP that guarantees to change the mat that you are laying on after the person before. Always a nice thought to hold on to when you are laying with your face buried in it.
You are taken to a private room to shower first and prepare for a full rubdown.
The massage we tried was a Relaxation Massage, it was so relaxing that I fell asleep. That is until the slapping part began and then I was truly awake. Just kidding, the slapping wasn't too bad—more invigorating than anything.
Cost was $5 for 1 hour.
Bliss for those aching muscles.
Written by Quraishi on 27 Jun, 2001
If you are going to Luang Prabang from Vientiane, definitely stop for a few days in between at Vang Vieng. Huge cliffs raise straight out of the ground and are surrounded by rice paddies and they are wonderfully scenic. There are a lot…Read More
If you are going to Luang Prabang from Vientiane, definitely stop for a few days in between at Vang Vieng. Huge cliffs raise straight out of the ground and are surrounded by rice paddies and they are wonderfully scenic. There are a lot of fine caves there, too. You can also hire an innertube and float down the river for a few hours. Rent bikes and explore on your own. There are some fantastic swimming holes and caves nearby.
If you are leaving Luang Prabang, don't do the two day boat journey if going back to northern Thailand. Instead, go north in the back of a truck for a day or two and explore. If you thought there weren't many foreigners before, their scarcity now will come as a nice surprise. Then you can get another truck going back down to where the two day boats normally stop for the night and sleep there.
Resist the urge to get back to where things are "happening." I didn't spend as much time in Laos as I should have, I thought I was tired of the slow pace. But as soon as I got back to Thailand I missed the simplicity of traveling in Laos.