She scrolls through her iPhone, swiping frantically as if obtaining a high score on Candy Crush. The check-in assistant was in fact trying to find my destination – Luang Prabang, Laos (I was connecting with a different airline in Thailand so she was searching for the airport code as their airline does not fly there).
It seems the over travelled region of South East Asia has at least one less trodden place still. Sandwiched between the cultural giant of Cambodia and the backpacker staple that is Thailand, Laos has somehow remained an enigma.
Luang Prabang is calm and peaceful but still has numerous activities and sights to entertain the intrepid for a few days. Making use of the free bike rental provided by my hotel, I pedalled around to the city centre where most things are located. The river hugs the side of the city and makes a great place to watch the world go by. The Viewpoint Café is a prime example and their Laos stew was scrumptious. The price was expensive for Laos’s standards but is still reasonable in terms of Western pricing.
Having had a hearty meal, the sun reached its apex over the luscious land, I of course decided that a climb up Mt Phousi was a perfect midday activity. Ascending the numerous steps was tough due to the heat but was easily accomplishable. At the summit a grinning sales lady flogs her refrigerated beverages.
Unlike Hong Kong, air pollution is unheard of, so the views are vast and the emerald green jungle jigs in a ray of glory. It’s stunning. The temple on top isn’t much to look at but when you’re competing against a picturesque backdrop its hard to look impressive – like an average person standing next to a paddle boarding Orlando Bloom, our eyes are drawn elsewhere.
On the descent down Mt Phousi’s other side a collection of temples and statutes can be found. Practising monks amble around are eager to practise their oral skills.
Scouring the Neighbourhood
The city is still asleep at 3pm so I decided to cycle to the farthest reaches of the city. The roads were well maintained and it was invigorating to cycle aimlessly around unfamiliar territory. I would whizz past wats and make mental notes so that I could revisit them properly in the following days. I randomly encountered the Monument of President Souphanouvong. Here, I decided to wander around the small park where the monument was located whilst eating a refreshing halo halo flavoured ice cream. The sun was baking and it was perfect.
Continuing with my jolly bicycle ride around the town I rode up a steep mountain where a golden wat awaited. The hillside view was wondrous again and I could see Mt Phousi clearly. Afterwards I decided to retreat to my hotel for a quiet rest. For Luang Prabang is a sleepy place that is incredibly chill. I decided to read “Without a Doubt”, the book about OJ Simpson’s murder next to the pool.
The next morning I rose before dawn to see the famed alms giving ceremony. However, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea on watching locals giving food to the monks; especially with the constant reports of unruly tourists making a spectacle for all the wrong reasons. I had experienced badly behaved tourists in Kyoto so I was very much distancing myself from the tradition. Luckily, I was in a hotel away from the main centre and I walked along the street and saw the monks with their containers. I decided that was all I needed to see. I didn’t want to thrust my presence on them.
Laos’s milkshake does not bring all the boys to the yard
When in a sun basking climate I love nothing better than sipping down on a refreshing milkshake. It seems though, that Laos hasn’t grasped the concept of a milkshake. Numerous stalls will claim they sell milkshakes when in fact all they do is add fruit and water into a blender. That is not a milkshake as no milk is added. Also, the drink isn’t even cold so it does nothing to cool you down in the heat. Avoid milkshakes at all cost (although Jobo, a western style coffee shop did manage ok).
Luang Prabang is a great location and a superb location to unwind. The only annoyance is that when the town centre wakes up it is mostly filled by backpackers travelling in large groups which ruins the sedate impression.
All photos taken by myself: Follow me on Instagram – Arik_Dane