It is a long way from Viang Xai to Luang Prabang (the biggest city in the north of Laos), especially when you are two people with two backpacks on one scooter. Our butts can take approximately 5 hours before uncontrollable, irritable mood swings begin. Therefore we had to make two stops before getting to Luang Prabang. The first stop was a very small town called Xieng Thong (some people and the signage leading to it still call it Muang Hiam). The second leg of the journey was a stop in Nong Khiaw, another really small town but with a waterfall you can pay $30 to go see…no thanks. Not trying to sound snobbish but we have seen many awesome waterfalls and therefore couldn’t justify forking over $60 to see this one. We stayed at the Phouisak Guesthouse for 60,000 kip/night ($7.50). It is the low season so that is why the rooms are so cheap and there are hardly any travelers around. We tried Laos’ version of Hot Pot, is was much more delicious than the Vietnamese version (sorry Vietnam). Despite its deliciousness, I would not order it again. First of all, it’s hot, I mean like working in a coal factory hot. Second of all it’s a lot of work, I mean like working in a coal factory.
Both legs of the ride on the motorbike were worth it. I don’t think the experience would have been as good on a bus. The landscape is so beautiful it’s like looking into a National Geographic magazine. Finally after 420 kilometers we made it to Luang Prabang, the largest city in the north known it’s charm and historical character. Luang Prabang is like the Hoi An of Laos. It is quaint, colonial, inviting, charming, and…Frenchy (like from France). We stayed at the Hoxieng Guesthouse for 120,000 kip/night ($15/night). It was a very clean guesthouse and in the perfect location – walking distance to the Mekong River, night market, and other interests in the old town.
We hiked to the top of Mount Phousi which provided us great views of the city and many interesting Buddhist statues. There is a large hole in the rock which the people claim to be Buddha’s footprint. Personally, I think it could be evidence for a Laotian Sasquatch, but I’m not scientist. It costs 20,000 kip/person ($2.50) to go to the top and see all these wonderful things.
We walked around the old town and saw many temples where monks reside. Every morning at dawn the monks come out in a precession for alms. My closest experience of this was one morning from my guesthouse I heard low-pitched chanting and the slow beat of a drum, then I rolled over in bed. The night market is great but don’t expect to get any great bargains. Laotians are hard sellers and most refuse to haggle. The street food is pretty good which we ate every night. Luang Prabang is known for these little sausages you can buy on the street. I believe they’re made with pork belly and they are so, so devilishly delicious but they will kill you if you eat them every day.
My favorite thing we did was going to the amazing Kuang Si waterfall. It took us about 45 min to get there from Luang Prabang by motorbike. It costs 20,000 kip/person ($2.50) to enter and included a sun bear exhibition. This is a sanctuary where they have saved sun bears from the evil Chinese people who think it is good for your health to drink their bile. Poachers will capture these sweet animals, keep them in small cages and put drains in them to extract the bile.
The falls begin after the sun bear exhibit and start out small. The water is usually aqua blue in color. Due to the heavy rains the water was more green than blue, yet still beautiful. The smaller falls almost seem man-made because of how they go on and on until you get to the BIG waterfall. Gawp for a moment but it isn’t over. Everyone rushes to the bridge to play in the spray from the falls. If you look to the left of the falls there is a secret staircase. It will take you to the top of the falls where there are far fewer people. At the top, there’s a nice, and cold, natural swimming pool and places where you can walk all the way to the edge of the falls. It sounds dangerous and it was definitely exhilarating but it was totally safe because there was this totally safe wooden rail made by the locals to protect you from falling in. Lets just say that in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we would never be allowed to go that close to the waterfall.
So far Laos has been pretty amazing. I love the green and lushness of the land. However, the road less traveled isn’t for everyone. Since crossing the border the road has been VERY rural. Google maps isn’t up to date in Laos. Often times we would see the name of a city but nothing else. There is no plan. I don’t know if there is a gas station coming up or if there is a guesthouse or hotel when we stop. If I started to worry I always told myself, we have money so we will be ok…