Laos: Luang Prabang

[singlepic=786,200,,,right]Michael and I traveled to Laos as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

It’s hard to believe we are already in Laos – our final destination. It’s bittersweet as this is the place I was most looking forward to going but it also means our trip is quickly winding down. But we couldn’t ask for a better place to unwind than the French-colonial town of Luang Prabang.

We knew very little about Laos beforehand, but that was part of the appeal. And the little that we did hear proved to be true – it was much more laid back and less hectic than other Southeast Asian countries, we’d run into far fewer tourists, and that the towns and people were lovely. And that is the perfect way to summarize the essence of Laos – lovely. Even before landing, the site of the green rolling hills from the airplane were so inviting and the friendly smiles of the immigration officers were so welcoming. We knew this would be a great place and way to end our adventures.

[singlepic=716,200,,,left]We decided that after running around for eight weeks we would base ourselves in Luang Prabang for our short time in Lao rather than trying to squeeze in too much. And that was a great decision. Luang Prabang is located in Northern Laos amongst the rising mountains and flowing rivers, most notably the mighty Mekong. And if you were to pick the most popular destination in Laos, this would be it. And it’s easy to see why. Laos opened up to tourism in 1989, and with over 30 temples in Luang Prabang alone, it was recognized as an Unesco World Heritage site in 1995. This meant that years of disrepair were addressed yet its French-colonial antiquity was well preserved.

And as you walk the quiet streets and alleys past colorfully shuttered doorways and saffron-robed monks, the charm reverberates through your body. It’s easy to spend a day just strolling amongst the temples with stops at the many craft shops and even a rest for a $4 massage or a refreshing Beerlao.

[singlepic=722,250,,,right]Luang Prabang has no shortage of quaint guesthouses and boutique hotels and we decided to stay at the Apsara, which has been recognized as one of the top boutique hotels in all of Southeast Asia. And the accommodating staff made the stay that much more pleasant.

One thing that has also impressed us in Laos is the level of English spoken by those we encounter. Perhaps it’s because most hotels and tour operators employ university students (where it is required to study English), but the level of comprehension is pretty amazing. Not only can you easily have a conversation with someone, they also understand our sense of humor, making for lots of shared laughs.

[singlepic=802,250,,,right]We decided to do a couple of day trips from here – one being a kayaking trip down the Nam Ou to where it meets the Mekong. And the other excursion was a trip out to the waterfalls of Tat Kuang Si. But our favorite experiences were the little things that make Luang Prabang special: early mornings to watch hundreds of monks and novices receive alms; a dinner of Laos barbeque with the helpful staff showing us how to properly grill; and bartering over 50 cents for a scarf with the women at the night market.

Our stay in Laos was short but sweet and made a lasting impression. We definitely plan to venture back for more.

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