Back in November, as the traffic and curfews related to ASEM closed in on us here in Vientiane, and our workplaces closed for a few days, my friend Sam and I decided to escape the capital city for Luang Prabang. As the country’s crown jewel of tourism, Luang Prabang has no shortage of things to do, but this was the fourth or fifth trip for both of us, so we already knew the usual temples and caves quite well.
So what did we do on this repeat visit to Luang Prabang?
1. Relax. Although it’s the Luang Prabang cliche (and some apply it to the whole country), it really is “laid-back,” to quote every guidebook’s accurate assessment. Despite the touristy-ness of some parts of Luang Prabang, especially the downtown, after a few days it was hard to think that I would actually have to leave and go back to work. Massage, pool, coffee/cocktail/fruit shake by the river, afternoon reading on the bamboo porch at the appropriately named Utopia restaurant. After being here a few times, it’s an even better place to relax, without the self-imposed pressure to see as much as possible.
2. Eat, drink. Our “must-eat” list was equal length as our “to-do” list upon arrival. Northern Lao specialties like khai pen (dried riverweed) and sai oua (sausage), and the best French food in Laos, at L’Elephant.
3. Shop. No matter how many times I’ve been to the night market here, it’s always worth a perusal, though now with a more discerning eye. We also rode out to the OckPopTock living crafts centre to watch weavers in action and get a glimpse at how traditional textiles are made, from silk worms to dyeing.
4. Follow the signs. As neither of us had any specific things we wanted to do or see in the city, that left our time open to just following our whims. We saw that the annual bamboo bridge, which is built temporarily over the Nam Kham river each year during the dry season, was almost finished, so we walked over it. We saw signs for an ethnic fashion show and hip hop performance, so we sat and watched girls model sinhs transformed into pants, and young Lao guys break dancing. We discovered that there was an ethnic museum and restaurant that neither of us had heard of in town and tasted Akha meatballs and Tai Leu salad.
5. Revisit. Although both of us had been to Kuang Si waterfall before, we decided it was worth a revisit, but this time rented a motorbike to drive out there, rather than going with a tourist songataew. It was a whole different experience. While fighting off numbness caused by the 45 minute ride, instead of car sickness, there was much more to notice in the open air. Trees opened up into rice paddies ringed with mountains, albino water buffalo crossed the road, and just after 4pm, the road was filled with kids of every age cycling home from school. Coming from Vientiane, where the Toyota Vigo Hilux is king, or at least a Honda motorbike, it was amazing to see so many bicycles slowly moving across the pavement.