Luang Prabang, Lao Peoples Dem Rep
We entered Laos via Huay Xai, getting our visa on arrival was an experience to say the least! Basically there’s a scrum at the windows and you have to get yourself to the front to hand in your passport, forms and picture then wait a random amount of time (quicker if you’ve slipped the officials $5) at the other window for your passport to be returned with a nice visa in it before you pay, it took us 2 hours and we were worried we’d miss the next stage of our trip – the 2day slow boat to Luang Prabang – we shouldn’t have worried.
Luckily for us the boats don’t leave until 12pm which meant we got there right on time and still got decent seats. We’d read a lot about how bad the journey can be, hard wooden seats, hole in the floor toilet etc but we were very pleasantly surprised. We had really comfy seats, sort of like car seats and the facilities on the boat were OK, we’ve seen worse at some of the places we’ve stayed.
The first part of the journey was down to a little village called Pak Beng and we arrived there around 6.30pm, the scenery on the way down was lovely and there was food and more importantly Beer Lao available onboard despite the ticket seller telling us there’s be no food or drink aboard – he also said there’d be no accommodation in Pak Beng unless we booked with him but – another lie as we secured a decent room via a tout as soon as we docked.
We paid 300 baht for our room and we had a sparkling clean room with a comfy bed, fan and decent bathroom – not bad at all. Pak Beng itself has sprung up around the market in overnight passengers but we had a nice time, we had some interesting food at the restaurant we chose, I won’t say nice but it filled a hole, while we were there a massive grasshopper landed on me – scared the **** out of me!
After a decent night’s sleep we bought ourselves a packed lunch of baguettes and fruit from one of the many vendors along the street and settled in for the longest part of the journey – 9 hours on the boat!
We arrived in Luang Prabang as the sun was setting but it was still really hot, traipsing around looking for a place to stay with our backpacks was probably not ideal but despite getting lost a little bit and seeing some places we’d rather not stay we finally found a guest house just off the main street and not far from the night market which is where we headed for some food after a refreshing shower.
We spent 3 nights in Luang Prabang, it was a lot different to how we imagined, small but perfectly formed. We explored on bikes on one afternoon which was great fun and I (Ed) climbed Mount Phousi to enjoy the view, Sharlie got to the part where it says “190 more steps to the top” and decided to wait it out! We also visited the Royal Palace Museum which was interesting.
The best thing we did there though was to visit the Kuang Si waterfalls about 30 kms from the city, we swam in 2 deep swimming areas and got to cool down under the torrents – it was bliss on a hot day as the water was freezing. There’a also a bear sanctuary there too which houses bears that have been mistreated or that have people have tried to smuggle out of the country, we saw some cubs feeding that had been recovered from poachers – they were destined for China to be cut up for parts.
One evening while wandering the night market we noticed people running for cover and hurrying home – there was a slight breeze which the locals knew meant it was going to rain – and rain it did! Within minutes there was torrential rain, lightening and gusting winds! We managed to find shelter in a shop along with quite a few others and we could only watch as a gust of wind picked up several of the stalls and blew them over while it tipped it down. The rain lasted for over an hour, we hadn’t had any dinner so we had to eat at the place next door to the shop – a tiny little local place – we had noodle soup which was delicious and very cheap so something positive came of the evening, although on the walk back to our guest house we passed lots of stock that had been ruined by the rain, very sad.
From Luang Prabang we booked a VIP bus to Vang Vieng – we should have known not to expect VIP facilities!