Wednesday, 30 July 2014

LUANG PRABANG - a quiet and peaceful former capital in Northern Laos

I have posted this report on a trip to Luang Prabang with kind permission of Tran Hoang Yen, who visited LP in July 2014. It has a lot of good info and insights for anyone considering a visit to this world heritage listed town. Over to Yen for her report:

Mekong River

This note is to express my feelings after my trip to Luang Prabang (LP) and to share with my thoughts and some information with friends who would like to visit this place in the future.

Travel to LP

From Hanoi, the best and most convenient way to reach LP is by airplane. There are direct flights operated jointly by Vietnam airlines (VNA) and Lao airlines using ART72 planes. I traveled at the peak time of airlines risk but I am not afraid of that. Flying with ATR is not always as smooth as a Boeing or Airbus but it is ok when you fly short distances, only about an hour.

The price of ticket from Hanoi to LP is around 300USD return; however, if you are lucky and book in advance, you can have quite a cheap fare. If you fly with a Lao plane, they will serve you a light snack and drink (include beer Lao), however, if you fly with VNA, they only serve you water J. I think I was lucky as on the way back I boarded on a quite new Lao plane and it was good trip back.

When you reach LP international airport, you can catch an airport taxi that costs you around 100,000 Kip to town. However, I prefer to take a private car, kind of taxi without taxi meter sign on top. Just step outside of the airport and ask for that, it will cost you 60,000 Kip for 2 persons. Or you can catch a Tuk Tuk for the same price, so I think a car would be better.

The exchange rate is 1 USD = 8000 Kip.

Stay in LP

LP has plenty of guesthouses and a number of hotels. Just get on Google you find all the information you need on the accommodation there. However, if you have never been there, it is hard to imagine the location of the place you would like to stay. After being there, I can share with you that, basically, LP has 4 main roads along the town. 2 roads go along 2 rivers banks, Mekong and Nam Khan. In fact, these two roads are a loop around the main town. The other two roads are in the town. All the nice guesthouses, hotels and restaurants face to the two rivers banks. From my observation, those that are facing Nam Khan River are normally more expensive than the other side. And of course those inside the town are cheaper. I myself prefer to choose a guesthouse facing the Mekong River bank as the price is better. If you go in the low season like me, the room will be cheaper, only 20-30 USD you can have a nice room on this side.

Food in LP

It is fair to say that, this is a tourist destination but the price of food there is reasonable and many
buffet at market
options for you to choose.

You can have a 10,000 Kip buffet dinner in the night market. You will be given a plate and you can choose your dinner from more than 20 dishes per time with the price of 10,000 Kip. And if you want, you can treat yourself better with a grilled fresh fish with the price of 25,000 Kip and a big bottle of beer Lao with 10,000 Kip. In short, a dinner here with beer will cost you around 30,000 Kip if you go with a group more than 2 persons.

You can also try Lao style BBQ-hotpot buffet along the Mekong River bank at the cost of 60,000 Kip per head. This place is always full of people, not only tourists but also local people. The food here is very nice and fresh and the service is also very good. BBQ uses 100% charcoal for cooking.

Along the 2 rivers banks, there are many restaurants and cafes for you to choose and the price is quite reasonable. They normally have a picture menu with price in front of the shops for your convenience. I spent 4 days there and I love one place called the Bakery Café, a small café shop with about 5 tables located along Mekong River, which has a great view, nice food & drinks, free wifi and reasonable prices. I visited this place once or twice a day breakfast, lunch or for a drink. If you visit LP, I recommend you to try this place.

steel bridge

Do in LP

LP is a tourist destination, so tour agents do quite a good job. If you would like to travel around, just come to a tour agent and choose the tours you want and pay. They have plenty of tours for you to select from. If you have 2 days, you can cover some popular destinations here such as Kuangsi waterfall, Pak Ou cave, Mount Phousi, the Royal Palace museum, etc.

Once you are in LP, you should visit Kuangsi water fall, around 30km from the town, it is a beautiful
Kuangsi Waterfall
area called Kuangsi Water Park. Inside the park, besides the waterfalls there are many limestone-water-ponds where you can swim, there is also a bear rescue centre. Before this place was free but recently they charge 20,000 Kip/person and I think this is the right thing to do as you should pay for environmental service you use. This money can be used to keep this place always clean and natural as it is. I have to say that Lao friends have done a good job here to keep this place always clean.

One more thing you should do is rent a bike to ride around LP with the price 20,000 Kip/day. Before I went to LP, I saw on a friend’s FB a photo of a nice steel bridge in LP and I decided I have to cross this bridge. My friend and I rented 2 bikes and crossed this bridge. After crossing the bridge we decided to turn into a small road along the river and make a journey without a defined destination. We kept cycling to a narrow earthen road until we reached a handicraft village. We found very nice things here. The village produces traditional silk and paper. I love the way people here make paper, which is 100% natural. Paper was made from tree skin, colored by leaves and seeds, and decorated by natural leaves. The paper then produced note books, picture frames, lanterns, etc. This is really impressive and I love those environmental friendly products in this village. I also love the way people here conserve their traditional handicraft. If you want to buy some of these products, just do it as the price here is 5 times cheaper compared with those selling the same things in the airport.

In the afternoon of the day we went riding, we decided to explore the other side of Mekong River, so
paper products
we got on the ferry with bikes to cross the river. The ferry costs 10,000 Kip/trip/person. On the other side of Mekong River is Chomphet district and rarely tourists come here, it seemed that we were the only two tourists at this district.

Chomphet district has a number of villages and each village located from 3 to 5 km to the next one. The roads here are totally earthen made, and are really, really bumpy and quite hilly. In addition, there was almost no one on the roads; I was a bit worried when riding along this road as we rarely met people as well as houses along the road. However, similar to the morning, we decided to have another journey without specific destination, we thought that we will reach 2 or 3 villages then will turn back. There was nothing much along the road except for quietness and the beautiful landscape.

We reached the 3rd village and saw that it was going to rain, so we decided to turn back. Lucky us, if we met the rain on the way back, it would be hard to ride as the road can be very slippery. Honestly, it is nothing special on this side, however, we love to see the different things around and have a good afternoon exercise so the day after that both of us had pains in our legs and arms. I told my friend that cycling along this district felt like we had done a “Tour de Luang Prabang”.

Wow, I wrote quite a lot already. I can say that LP is a very peaceful and interesting destination. I
waiting for the monks
love the way people here live, gently with each other and gently with the environment. Be warned that if you like active and noisy places, please do not come here as you may feel it is too quiet sometimes both at day time and night time. There is one cultural activity I almost forget to tell you about - at around 5:30 -6:00 am, many monks start the day by seeking alms along the main street. This is a daily activity in this town.

HN 27/7/2014

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