After a whistle-stop tour through Vientiane which was mostly filled with rain and walking around the same 3 shops, we set off for Vang Vieng. This party town on the bank of the Mekong river was meant to be our home for the next 5 days, however after one heavy night drinking at Viva Bar and a day lounging around the nicest hotels pool in town we decided to leave early. This decision was made because Vang Vieng has a very recent history of multiple backpacker deaths caused by tubing down the river. The atmosphere was somewhat uncomfortable for people passing through as the party scene is still heavily encouraged despite the tragic events that had occurred over the past few years. We headed North-West towards Loas’ hidden gem, Luang Prabang. This beautiful city is known for its waterfalls, enormous night market and French-styled architecture.
Luang Prabang Night Market
The first day we arrived we found ourselves in a room infested with mosquitos, underground and next to a sewer. After several complaints and having to pay a premium, we were thankfully moved to a much nicer room. Our first impressions of the city were just how sparse it was but we were soon proved wrong… That evening we ventured into a night market like no other, the handcrafted goods offered everything from aprons and wooden carvings to jewellery made from bombs dropped during the Vietnamese war! Such was the scale of the market we barely scratched the surface before eating at the notorious “vegetarian buffet”. Here backpackers and locals all pile their plates with a range of noodle and rice dishes to be heated in a wok before the food poisoning sets in. It’s a rite of passage for most tourists to eat here and regret their decision quickly after. That being said, the coconut pancakes sold on the street made up for it and are by far the best sweet street food snack in South East Asia.
The handful of days were spent looking for new accommodation and exploring the old French part of town. The surreal feeling of being in Asia yet walking through what could be a town in Normandy, with lovely cafes tucked in the side streets and ice cream shops on the river bank was something that would take us back to Luang Prabang in a heartbeat.
After 3 days we finally found a guesthouse that was both affordable and clean with the added bonus of being located next to the two bars we visited on a nightly basis. This freed us to do some real exploring of the city. We landed in the Unexploded Ordinance Museum that day, which tells the story of how Laos was the most bombed country in the Vietnamese war. It also appeased us about purchasing the items from the old bomb material as it told us exactly how the money raised was being used. This touching memorial to the lives lost and still being lost is somewhere we would recommend anyone visiting Luang Prabang. Organisations such as UK AID have ongoing projects throughout Laos, detecting the unexploded bombs and providing aid to people who have suffered injuries due to bombs still being detonated.
Kuang Si Waterfall
With only a couple of days
Our last days in Luang Prabang were spent looking at the craft shops and drinking in Lao Lao Garden, home to the incredible Water Buffalo burger and 2-4-1 cocktails. We also took a trip up to the highest temple which sits on a hill in the middle of the city overlooking the Mekong river, the views were well worth climbing the hundreds of steps. This was where we met a retired couple who we ended up chatting to for an hour, sharing stories of our travels.
Finally, after stretching our Laos visa as much as possible, we booked our sleeper bus to Chiang Rai. This would be our first destination visited in Northern Thailand and the first glimpse of proper civilisation in a very long time!