After our unforgettable journey into Laos, we hurried to the bus station the next morning to catch a bus onto Luang Prabang. We were low on funds and thought we could only get money in one of the larger cities (for any future travelers to Laos, we now know that BCEL is in nearly every city and if the ATM isn’t working you can easily get a cash advance off your bankcard). Unfortunately in our rush, we left behind a small bag of clothes (Chris’ dirty laundry). Arriving in Luang Prabang, he noticed the bag missing and we set about trying to retrieve it.  We were told by a few tourist agencies in Luang Prabang that it was useless in calling our previous guesthouse; our stuff was gone. But when we finally got one of them to call, the guesthouse happily sent our bag on the next van out. We don’t usually leave reviews for guesthouses on our blog, but we enthusiastically recommend Vilavong Guesthouse in Udomxai (across the street from the more popular Lithavixay). It’s the kindness of strangers like this that renews our faith in people.

We spent a week in Luang Prabang, catching up with our life back home and this blog as well as resting. At first, the city surprised us in its Western prices and cuisine. In Udomxai we spent US$6 for a good guesthouse. In Luang Prabang, we couldn’t find a good value place despite our hunting and so opted to stay in considerably nicer lodging for $20.

In no time at all though, we adjusted to the new atmosphere. Sitting at a French bakery, we overheard a man ask his friend whether he was ready to return to civilization in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although we hadn’t been to Chiang Mai yet, Chris and I shot each other a look; how could you get more civilized than this?!? I mean, they had real whole grain bread here and croissants! We could even flush toilet paper down the toilet!

Luang Prabang is a city that grows on you. It use to be the capital of Laos and is home to several historical wats. Every morning, hundreds of monks walk through the morning mist collecting alms. I’m not sure why this is such a tourist magnet in Luang Prabang as the procession must take place in other cities as well, but tourists flank every major intersection on the route. On the main street, a professional photographer sets up huge umbrellas and lighting equipment as though this were a studio production to catch the perfect picture of tourists making offerings. It’s all a bit three-ring circus like. This is where we feel the most conflicted in our travels. We want to witness different cultural aspects, but we don’t want to invade or make light of important traditions. We try to be as respectful as we can, but it still feels like an invasion of privacy.

We chose to escape the mayhem on the main street and walked down to a quieter corner of Luang Prabang. Unfortunately, others witnessed our move and came with us. On our corner, the locals all gave rice. Dipping one handful at a time, they placed their offering in each monk’s alms bowl. The food the monks receive during the alms procession sustains them for the day. Watching the procession from a public health standpoint, I was alarmed by the implications presented by just one dirty hand. An outbreak investigation might be pretty difficult to complete in a situation like this one!

The following day to celebrate Chris’ 35th birthday, we headed out to the Kuang Si waterfalls. The multi-tiered waterfalls are set in lush jungle forest. The trail up to the major fall is punctuated with smaller falls and aquamarine pools. We planned to go swimming, but the weather was unnaturally cool. Instead, we decided to hike to the top of the falls.

Starting up the steep trail, we wondered how we ever managed Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail. Looking back, we saw a group of monks hot on our heals so we pushed forward. The youngest of them eventually passed us, but the older ones were having as much trouble as us. Upon reaching the top, we realized the trail crossed the top of the falls. A fence made of old branches was the only thing keeping someone from heading over the falls, but something tells me if push came to shove that fence wouldn’t hold. On either side a congregation of people lined up to cross.

As we debated whether we wanted to cross or not, the monks piled up behind us. Chris led the way over slimy rocks with me and the monks in tow. We giggled as we scrambled across and laughter suddenly erupted through the jungle as a few monks made Tarzan calls. It’s not every birthday that one gets to cross waterfalls with Tarzan-calling monks.

After wandering the park for a few more hours, we returned to Luang Prabang only to find the power was still out. We debated our options and decided to fill our time by eating crepes and getting a massage. Yes, we live a tough life. Although crepes are all over Asia, this was our first time indulging in the delicacy. And oh, boy, it was good. We’ve been missing out, that’s for sure. Chris chose to try the blueberry jam with fruit while I went all out with peanut butter and bananas. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the peanut butter was too rich for me; Chris’ crepe was heaven though.

On another day, we took a boat trip up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou caves. Two caves set within limestone cliffs are littered with hundreds of Buddha statues. Several of the buddhas are quite old, which made the caves an interesting spot to visit. On this trip, we also stopped off at a local village known for its lao whiskey production. The distiller adds rice, yeast , and water to an old oil drum. The mixture is heated by fire from below, and when the steam rises and hits the top it condenses to form a liquid which runs down a spout into a jar. It takes four jars of rice to make one jar of whiskey in two hours. Chris is already hatching a plan to make his own moonshine upon our return.

In Luang Prabang, we got to see what all the fuss was about with the Academy Awards by watching Slumdog Millionaire and Milk at the local pub. We give both films two thumbs up. It was nice to just hang out and watch films as though we were in a friend’s home.

The rest of our time was spent walking the quiet streets. We shopped in the night market and toured some of the wats. After a week, we moved on to the party capital of Laos—Vang Vieng.

To view more of our photos from Luang Prabang, see Chris’ and Jodi’s respective flickr pages.

One Response to “A taste of comfort in Luang Prabang”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Isn’t it funny how the greatest metric of civilization is whether or not you can flush toilet paper down the toilet? Although we’ve been home nearly two weeks, I STILL find myself pausing when deciding what to do with the TP!

    I love that the peanut butter is Skippy. And I love that you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire and I haven’t — too much movie catch-up to do!