The town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site and used to be the capital of Laos during the French Colonial rule. The French influence is clear though mainly through its architecture. The town is set between two rivers and built around the “mountain” in the middle. It was any easy place to be and we ended up staying for the next 6 days.
Having arrived in the town we hadn’t managed to book anywhere in advance which was a similar story to most of our friends from the slow boat. We all wondered through town and found a bar for a well needed Beer Lao and internet connection before picking our accommodation, parting ways and heading to check in. Our hostel was really new, it had only been open for just 4 weeks when we arrived. The setting was beautiful, with a deck which overlooked the river.
You wouldn’t think that spending two full days doing nothing on a boat would be so tiring but it really was and the temperature in Luang Prabang was HOT! We spent the day slowing wondering around the town visiting a few temples and the National Museum, which was okay but nothing special, finishing off the day with a wander around the night market.
We saw an advert for a trip to a rice farm and decided to give it a go. We spent half a day at the Living Land Farm just outside of town, here we got to learn and have a go at each of the 13 stages of rice production. Andy especially enjoyed ploughing the field with the water buffalo, yelling ‘hoy hoy’ to walk and ‘yo yo’ to stop, he has since continued to assume I am also a water buffalo and issue me with the same commands. It was really fun and interactive, if not more than just a little bit muddy!
It was a great experience which ended in enjoying a variety of different rice snacks and some amazing freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.
Following a shower and a change of clothes we strolled across town to visit the UXO museum. We weren’t sure what to expect but as it was free we felt we had nothing to lose. Going in we knew that the museum was about the unexploded bombs in Laos, known as unexploded ordnance or UXO for short, but knew nothing more than that. Although only a small 1 room museum, the exhibitions where incredibly powerful in explaining the true and mostly unreported impact of the Vietnam war on Laos. Here are a few facts we learnt whilst there:
• There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War.
• That’s equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
• Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country, with up to 30 per cent failing to explode as designed.
• More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used; up to 80 million failed to detonate, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.
• Approximately 25 per cent of the country’s villages are contaminated with UXO.
• All 17 provinces suffer from UXO contamination.
• More than 50,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents from 1964 to 2008.
• From the end of the war in 1974 to 2008, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents.
• There have been approximately 300 new casualties annually over the last decade.
• Over the last decade 40 per cent of total casualties were children.
To this day one person on Laos dies everyday as a result of the UXO, and the worst part is that most of the victims are children. After an incredibly moving experience we went to find some lunch.
The bamboo bridge was next on our list, a much lighter experience. It led across the river to the other side of town which really didn’t have much going for it other than a wall of TVs. Not the most structurally sound bridge I have ever walked on but it ticked it off the list.
That evening after dinner we headed to the bar for a game of pool, a few of our friends from the boat arrived and the evening escalated into a pool competition with the locals and number of free shots of Lao Lao (a homemade local whiskey… it is free for good reason!). Most of the bars in Laos close at 11:30pm due to licencing so the five of us jumped in a tuk-tuk to the “bowling alley”, known to be the late night go to place in Luang Prabang.
After a 15 min drive out of town we arrived, there is no way to really explain this place properly, you have to experience it to understand. It offers bowling and archery and there is a bar which sells 750ml bottles of whiskey or vodka for £5. The place is great fun, Andy won the games of bowling and I got more gutter balls than seemed fair. After a few hours of childish drunken fun we got back in our tuk-tuk to head back into town to catch the 2nd half of the England v Tunisia game in a bar which somehow had permission to stay open. The ride back to town was ridiculous, it seemed like a much better idea to ride on the outside of the tuk-tuk than on the inside, one of the guys even decided to jump off the tuk-tuk whilst it was cruising at full speed. He ended up leaving one shoe on the tuk-tuk when he went, although it was tempting to carry on without him and with his shoe, we decided to wait and let him get back on. The game was a great result and then weary eyed we headed to bed. What a day.
It was a slow start the following morning but waterfall bound, we jumped on some bikes and took the picturesque hour long ride to Kouang Si Waterfall. Having seen our fair share of waterfalls in Thailand this one was by far the most spectacular, a multi-tiered cascade of different blue/green clear water with small fish which nibbled at your feet. Many hours where spent floating around.
The park also boasted a bear sanctuary which was included in our entry however the bears weren’t that interested in posing for the camera. There was one who had a very similar bio to Andy, who I shall now refer to as Deng.
We rode back and got ready for dinner, we had booked a table at the popular Tamarind restaurant, it offered a set menu of traditional Laos dishes and some really interesting drinks. Not every dish was my kind of thing, so all the more for Deng.
Our time in Luang Prabang was approaching its end, on our final day we decided to wake up at dawn to go and see the Alms offerings where the local people set up on the street and the monks from the temples walk around collecting offerings of sticky rice as they go. We were lucky enough to watch this from a quiet part of the town where we respectfully kept our distance and observed. Later we walked further into town and it was a very different story. Fleets of minibuses had arrived with hordes of Asian tourists, many of whom were shouting to their friends and on some occasions getting in the way of the monks just to take a photo, it was disgraceful to watch such disrespectful behaviour (especially when there are so many signs explaining what not to do) so we moved on.
The final point on our Luang Prabang check list was to walk to the top of Mount Phousi. It really was more of a hill, however the view from the top was spectactular and because we did the walk so early, we had the place to ourselves.
Back to our hostel for breakfast and to pack for our next destination. Nong Khalwi.