We had our eyes on this trip since we moved to Asia and this last December we finally managed to find the days and company to do it. It required some courage from our dear Mario and Israel to accept doing this “out of the beaten path tour ” but we were happy they accepted because we had a fantastic adventure.
Our base was mainly Luang Prabang but we also spent a few days in the ‘countryside’ going all the way up to Nong Khiaw. During 9 days we did everything from traditional temples and museums to cycling, kayaking, hiking, riding elephants and even sleeping in a Khmu village. Here I will explain the highlights of our trip.
Laos is a very laid back destination with amazingly beautiful landscapes. Luang Prabang receives many tourists from all around the world but yet it is still has a small town kind of feel. It is a lovely town to go around by bike and the perfect place to relax having a coffee watching people pass by. Around the dozens of temples spread around the city are little cafes, bistros, massage places and guests houses that don’t disturb the laid back atmosphere of this lovely town.
Hmong new year celebration: we were lucky enough to be in town during the Hmong New Year so we had a chance to take a look at the celebration. Different villagers put their village typical attire and get together for a celebration that is centered by the courting ceremony between boys and girls. They toss a little ball from side to side to get to know each other and if they like each other they get married very shortly after – like 3 days after!!!
Alms giving: even though it has become a touristic attraction, there is still something magical about giving food to the monks during dusk. Hundred of monks walk by the streets of Luang Prabang collecting what will make up their full food intake of the day. Tip: there is no need to arrive at 530/600am like the guides recommend. The monks only come past around at 630. In order to get a good you must buy rice from the ladies that are holding seats on the Main Street but I would recommend you to bring fruits with you too because it feels a little weird that all the monks collect ends up being sticky rice and bags of crisps. You can buy them or other items at the market a bit before the ceremony.
Temples: there are so many temples in this very small town (around 34). They are all very nice, but we really enjoyed Wat Xieng Thong, the main temple in town. It is an incredible complex. Wat Mai monastery is also very nice. Haw Pha Bang houses the Prabang Buddha, which is very beautiful. And the views from Mount Phousi, on top of the hill in the middle of town is unbeatable.
Rice farm: At The Living Land Farm we learned the full cycle of rice cultivation and literally got our hands dirty. The thing that makes this experience so nice is the staff/owners. They are a community of local people that work this farm for their own consumption and decided to show tourists how they do it. The money they make goes into giving scholarships to local kids, who then help the farm. Really lovely.
Restaurants and cafes:
Tamarind: for sure the best option to get to know Lao food. Their tasting menus are delicious.
Joma cafe: lovely coffee and cakes.
Rooftop cafe at Indigo House Hotel: super laid back with a great view of the city.
Manda de Laos: this place was recently opened (2015) and is a beautiful hotel and restaurant with very nice food.
Around Luang Prabang
Kayaking down the Nam Khan river: this was a very nice experience to enjoy the views and have a picnic over a banana leaf on the side of the river.
Sleeping at a Khmu village: this was one of the most awaited moments of the trip. We had extremely high expectations of the interaction with the villagers and a glimpse of their lives. In reality the experience was much more crude than what we expected. The villagers were not much interested in interacting with us and our accommodation was not only basic but it was a little too dirty and run down for our taste. Yet, we had a fun candle lit dinner and an experience to remember.
Elephant Camp + Tad Sae Waterfalls: elephant experiences always Rock! Riding, bathing and feeding. It was a treat to see little Maxim unexpectedly bathing. The boys even did zip lining at the waterfalls. The waterfalls were quite beautiful for its blue colour and different levels.
Sunset over the bridge at Nong Khiaw: there isn’t much to do or see up there and it is a little too far from Luang Prabang (4hrs drive). Yet, it enjoys an amazing geographical location that allowed us to see a beautiful sunset by the bridge over the Nam Ou river.
100 waterfalls: this was a unexpected adventure. I never thought you could hike up a waterfall but apparently you can – with trainers, havaianas or even bare foot.
Pak Ou caves: it is nice to see all these Buddha statues inside a rock but a little too overrated.
Logistics tips and comments
Tours: We booked with Tiger trail. They did a good job.
Hotel in Luang Prabang: MyDream resort. It was on the other side of the river and this was actually great. Nearby but mouth more quiet and calm.
Hotel in Nong Khiaw: The Mandala Ou. Incredible views and a beautiful place.
Flights: flew on Lao airlines with a stopover in Ventiane. It was very good with no issues.