A Travellerspoint blog

Luang Prabang, a fork in the road.

all seasons in one day 35 °C

We have had a change of plan.....

Anyone who knows us will know our plan had always been to go through Laos north to south and then enter Cambodia. However, after researching the places in southern Laos and talking about what we actually want to do over the next month or so we have decided to alter our route. Instead of going to southern Laos, we have decided to carry on across northern Laos and then enter Vietnam. We can then cross the length of Vietnam and then enter Cambodia from the east and work our way back to Thailand. This route makes more sense and means we also save on a flight from Hanoi to Bangkok, which we would have had to purchase had we stuck with our original plan.

That being the new plan we have had to stay in Luang Prabang three days longer than we expected to sort out our Vietnamese visa. Having a Vietnamese consulate in Luang Prabang has made changing our plans easy, it would have been a different story if we had had to go all the way back to Vientiene for the visa. Anyway getting the visa was straight forward, the consulate is a fifteen minute walk from the main tourist strip, along the Nam Khan river. It is a small consulate and obviously does not get many applicants, we did not have to queue once (extremely unusual) either applying for the visa or collecting it. All you need to take is your passport and a spare passport photo then simply complete the form on arrival. One word of advice would be to know roughly the dates you wish to enter and exit Vietnam, as your visa is valid for exactly 30 days from whatever date you put on the form. You cannot enter before the 'valid from date' and you will lose the days you are not in the country after that date. This visa has been the most expensive so far and cost us $60 each to collect in three working days. Very expensive.

So we have made the most of our extra three days in Luang Prabang and done absolutely nothing. Apart from our trip to the consulate Monday morning and then again this afternoon we have been relaxing. We have had very slow mornings with slower breakfasts at various cafes, we found a nice riverside place where we spent two afternoons, sipping beer Lao, writing our journals and talking. On one afternoon we even had a game of chess. This afternoon we went to a French café called La Benneton, where we gave in to constant temptation and treated ourselves to a cake, Chelsea had a pain o'chocolate and Liam a pear and almond tart, it was a rare treat we enjoyed immensely.

Our evenings have been just as slow paced and relaxed. On Monday we had a late lunch at our riverside restaurant and was not that hungry come dinner time. We went out for a little walk and stopped off at a ice cream parlour, and rather than going for a beer sat and ate ice cream. Needless to say it was really good. Yesterday we walked through the market to the food section and browsed everything on offer before splitting up to order what we fancied. Liam went for Khao Soy, a sort of noodle soup and Chelsea went back to the 10000kip a plate buffet. We shared some BBQ chicken again and washed it all down with a beer. On the way out we passed a stall making tiny dumplings and got a bag to snack on the way back, They were delicious, small pork dumplings with crispy pastry. Our last night in Luang Prabang was quiet, we strolled the night market, called at a sandwich vendor and stopped off for a few drinks on the way back to the guesthouse.

We have really enjoyed spending time in Luang Prabang, we have done a lot in the time we have had here, and although we lost two days to Liam being sick, we have more than made up for them. Our hightlights are the cooking course (Chelsea's highlight as Liam never actually took part) and the waterfall. We have loved strolling the city, calling at different bars and cafes, the afternoons slipping away. Our next stop is a town on Nong Khiaw, a small but apparently picturesque riverside village a further up river from Luang Prabang. We had hoped to get there by boat but being low season there are not enough people doing the journey so we are going to go by bus. There is not much to do there as far as we can see so we are hoping to continue the relaxing theme of Laos.

Posted by Chelsandliam 05:40 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (1)

A busy two days in Luang Prabang

all seasons in one day 35 °C

The last two days have been more or less none stop. We are making up for the time we lost when Liam was sick. It started yesterday morning at 5am.

We woke to see the almsgiving ceremony. We have read a lot about it, not all of it is good where the tourists are concerned, and we wanted to see it. For anyone that does not know, alms is a service where the people of Luang Prabang, or any buddist, give food to monks. In Luang Prabang it has a long heritage and we were eager to see it. We were not disappointed. We sneaked out of our guesthouse, trying not to wake the man sleeping in the lobby on the floor and sat down on the pavement with a small collection of other tourists and locals. We did not have to wait long for the monks to appear. A long line of saffron robes came around the corner and slowly made the way down the street.

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The locals were waiting to give their gifts to the monks and thankfully the tourists stayed at a respectful distance and silently observed. We have read some horrible stories of people shoving cameras in monks faces and joining the line. We believe that we should not get involved with the ceremony as we are not Buddist, but other tourists do, and it is made easy by some locals that walk around selling rice for you to give. Luckily for us everything was ok and we sat with another small cluttering of tourists and watched the monks pass through our street, the only sound the occasional camera click.

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The monks had passed us by 6:15, so we decided to go back to bed for a couple of hours. Once refreshed we went out for breakfast and then looked into renting sme bicycles. They cost us 20000kip each and although a bit worse for ware they would serve the purpose of taking us around the city. We cycled for a couple of hours, at first it was unbelievably hot but after a while it cooled and was really fun. We cycled along the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers admiring the views, through the streets calling at a couple of handicraft shops and ventured further into the proper city rather than the tourist quatre. When our legs had had enough we stopped off at a cafe and spent an hour so talking and people watching. It was a very nice afternoon and Luang Prabang is definately best seen by bicycle.

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Our bike ride tired us out so we spent is couple hours re cooperating in the guesthouse before going back out to see the sunset from the hill in the centre of the city. It is called Phou Si (sacred hill) and It is hard climb. Around 300 steps meandering up a steep hill.

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There are a few temples scattered around at various levels but we bypassed the straight for the summit. The fee to get up is 20000 kip and the view at the top is more than worth it.

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You have a 360 degree view for miles, one one side the city and Nam Khan river, the other is the Mekong and green mountains stretching as far as you can see. We sat, catching our breath and taking in the view for a while. There were a lot of people by the time the sun was ready to go down so we left just before sunset as it was a bit too busy for us but the view was spectacular and worth the exhausting climb.

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After the action packed day of yesterday we had a little lay in this morning. It is also Liam's birthday and Chelsea has spoilt him as usual with a nice card, and a book he wanted on kindle. He is very happy. After a slow breakfast we decided today to get out of the city. We have been here for seven or so days now and fancied something different, so we went to one of the waterfalls, Kuang Si.

Most people go via tuk-tuk but we did not want to do that so instead rented a motorbike. The price was 100000kip which is extortion compared to Thailand, and we had to sign at least a dozen contracts but by noon we were on our way. After searching the Internet for directions and failing Liam decided it could not be that difficult and we can wing in. All he knew is that is was south. Needless to say, almost immediately after leaving the city we became lost on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere but it was not for long and it was the only time we got lost. The drive is awesome, the road, once you get used to driving on the right, is easy and snakes up and down hills passing villages, rice fields and the occasional herd of water buffalo. It is 32km to the falls and took us around an hour.

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We arrived, parked up and payed the entrance fee, 20000kip. For this price you get admission to the park, the falls and a bear sanctuary that is the highlight of our daytrip. We just can not help ourselves. The bears is the first stop and is several large enclosures for asatic black bears that have been rescued, some from pets and performances but mainly from the evil bile trade. Anyone who does not know about the bile trade should spend five minutes reading about it, it is horrible. We have found out about it whilst been out here and have looked into several bear sanctuaries, mainly in Veitnam, so were very happy to come across this. There were at least a couple of dozen bears but they were all happy and well looked after. The enclosures were jam packed with things for them to do and there was lots of information regarding how they are looked after and enriched, it was great. At the end there was a stall selling tshirts to raise money for the sanctuary and we could not help but buy two.

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Then we walked on to the falls themselves. Kuang Si is a multi tier waterfall with several pools where you can swim, it is beautiful. Although the path was slightly treacherous due to mud, we walked up to the fourth tier.

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The water in the pools is turquoise and clear, as it is wet season the falls are quick and the tiers vary from a couple of feet to at least twenty.

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As usual for us we found a pool with less people and got changed for a dip. The water was fresh but really cold, the air temperature had dropped since we arrived so it was not as refreshing as it could have been. We made do with a paddle before returning to dry off on a bench and admire the surroundings. We were interupted by a massive downpour though and had to make haste to some shelter. Since being in Luang Prabang, rainy season really seems to have kicked in. We have had rain every day, and even though only for an hour at most we have been caught in it every time. We waited until the worst had passed before retreating out and calling for a drink before our drive back to the city. On the way back, for a change of pace, Liam let Chelsa drive as she is now capable, give himself a turn to sitback and enjoy the view, after all it is is birthday.

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We were back around tea time and Liam has decided to go out for Indian Food tonight.

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Posted by Chelsandliam 03:26 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang luang Comments (3)

Recovering and Sightseeing in Luang Prabang

all seasons in one day 33 °C

The last few days have been pretty uneventful. Liam has been sick so he spent all of Wednesday in the room in bed. Chelsea kept him company and we watched films and Chelsea updated all our photos. Chelsea left the room to get supplies, breakfast baguettes and dinner baguettes as well as fruit shakes. Yesterday he was feeling a little bit better so we decided to go for a slow walk in the afternoon.

We walked along the other river that meets up with the Mekong. It is lovely, really quiet and the views of the mountains are gorgeous, lush green peaks over the river.

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We walked through the small streets and alleys until we came to a place called Utopia. Our friend had recommended we go as it was a nice place to relax so we thought we would try it out. It is defiantly a backpacker hang out. Everyone had opted to sit on the balcony on cushions on the floor which meant the deck was packed but the rest was empty. We found a sofa and ordered two homemade lemonades and sat there all day. Compared to other cafes in the town it got really busy and soon the whole floor inside was full of people too. We ordered some food, as it got nearer to tea time and left before it got dark. We think the hype about it is better than the place. It wasn't particularly friendly and the food wasn't that nice. We think there are much nicer places to relax in Luang Prabang but everybody has different tastes.

Today Liams stomach was feeling a lot better but he woke up with many cold sores and ulcers from being ill. We found a chemist and he has some tablets and cream. We went out for breakfast and all he could manage was fruit and yoghurt because his mouth hurt so much. Today we decided to go on a walk and do some sight seeing as we have not seen many places in Luang Praang yet. First we wandered towards Wat Nong. The street we walked down was beautiful, full of nice guesthouses and peoples homes. It is much less touristy than the main road.

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The temple was empty and only us two were visiting it. It was a massive elaborate red and gold temple with beautiful gold carvings adorning the doors and roof. After a quick look around we carried on towards Wat Xiang Thong.

This is the most important temple in Luang Prabang and costs 20000 kip to enter. Also make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing coving knees and shoulders. You can rent this from the temple for 5000 kip. The temple is beautiful. The main temple is a huge ornate black and gold building . It is intricately painted all over and on the back wall is an amazing mosaic of the tree of life. It is huge and in beautiful detail.

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There are also smaller buildings that are covered in mosaic scenes and a big hall housing a massive royal funeral carriage. As we were looking around we came across a temple puppy. Chelsea managed to coax it over and sat petting it for a while. It enjoyed getting some attention and before we knew it we had a big group of Chinese people from a tour group stood around with massive cameras taking photos of Chelsea with the puppy.

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The temple is well worth a visit and is very different to other temples in Southeast Asia. Even if you think you have seen enough temples for a lifetime we think its worth a small trip and the £2 entry fee.

After we had visited the temple we set of walking and it started to pour it down so we ducked inside a café. It was a little French place and we sat and had a pot of tea sheltering from the rain for more than an hour. It was nice and relaxing and it sold amazing pastries which we managed to resist.

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Once the rain had eased we browsed the shops and wandered through more alleys in the sunshine before heading to another café for a pit stop and some internet research on where to go from Luang Prabang. Our guest house has internet but the owners children spend all day gaming in reception on it so it never works. We sat drinking lemon frosties, talking and researching until the end of the afternoon. It rained another few times but then brightened back up.

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We walked home to change and shower and then came out later for some tea. In the café this afternoon we had seen a lady order a fish soup that looked amazing so we decided to try it. It was delicious, it was a sort of fragrant broth with vegetables and herbs with big pieces of fish in it. We had it with sticky rice (which Liam has now gone off since he was ill so didn't eat any). Today has been a relaxed day of exploring, tomorrow we are hoping to get up early to witness the ancient almsgiving ceremony the monks and locals do every morning. We also want to hire bicycles so we can explore further afield and maybe climb the hill for a nice sunset over the mountains.

Posted by Chelsandliam 02:41 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Cooking course in Luang Prabang

sunny 33 °C

Today was the day we were most excited about...... Our cooking course day.

It started out bright and early at 8.45am at Tamarind restaurant where we were given a welcome drink and waited for all the participants to arrive. The course costs 275,000 Kip, around £25 and has been given awesome reviews so we decided to buy it each other as a present. At 9am we set off. They took us in a tuk-tuk to a local market where our chef showed us around and explained about Southeast Asian herbs, cuts of meat, wicker steaming utensils and fish.

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We got to try all different bits and pieces from the market from sweet peanut brittle, bamboo crisps and dried mushrooms. It was great, we got some free time to browse or buy and our chef bought a few herbs and chillies for the course. At this point Liam started to feel sick and had to wait in the car park.

After the market we got back in the tuk-tuk And went to the cooking course venue. It is outside the city, in the countryside down dirt road for about twenty minutes. When we arrived the tuk-tuk pulled into a gate with a wooden building and a bridge leading to an outdoor pavilion. It was beautiful. The course is done in an outdoor wooden area over looking a stunning lake filled with water lilies.

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It was so gorgeous, there were work stations on a raised area and then seating over looking the water. It is really beautiful and the whole place is planted with big palms and banana plants. We got on our aprons and found a work station and then started.

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The chef was funny and really good at explaining and keeping the class moving. First he showed us how to make sticky rice. It had already been pre-soaked but we washed it and then put it in a special bamboo steamer over a charcoal fire.

Then he showed us how to make two spicy dips for the rice, a tomato one and an aubergine one. We roasted our chillies, tomatoes, onion, garlic and aubergine over charcoal and then we pounded them in a pestle and motor with lime and herbs and fish sauce to make a yummy dip.

Next on the agenda was herby fish steamed in a banana leaf. We made a marinade using lots of different herbs and spices. Basil, fennel, dandelion, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, spring onions and fish sauce which we bashed in out pestle and motor again. We then marinated pieces of filleted fish and made a banana leaf present which we tied up with bamboo string.

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It was really fun to make and by this point everyone was getting hungry to eat what we were making. The little parcels then went into the steamer to cook.

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Chicken stuffed lemongrass was next and this one was more tricky. First we made a marinade using lots of garlic, shallots and lots of coriander, some kaffir lime leaves and and salt and mixed this in with minced chicken. We then had to slice the centre of a peice of lemongrass long ways to make a sort of basket to put the chicken inside. In the end they looked like eadible maracas.

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They were then dipped in beated egg and fried until golden and cooked through. They smelled gorgeous when they were cooking and we couldn't wait to eat them.

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Lastly for lunch we made Koy, a meat and herb salad. This is made from minced buffalo meat that is cooked medium rare and mixed with lots of different herbs. Garlic, coriander, lemongrass, mint, lime, chillies, green beans, banana flower, galangal, bean sprouts, spring onions and fish sauce. It is served with lettuce, watercress and other green salad leaves and you make small parcels full of meat when you eat it.

By this point is was 2.30 and we were all dying to try what we had made so we sat down to a feast. We ate everything we had made ourselves with the sticky rice. Sticky rice is meant to be eaten with your hands. You pick off bite size pieces and dip them into your dishes. Everything was really really yummy and everyone was full after they had finished. We ate overlooking the beautiful water lilies and lake, the setting is so lovely.

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After we had eaten it was time to make dessert. We made a coconut rice pudding from sticky rice in a pan over the charcoal fire and ate it with fresh tropical fruits. It was sweet and scrummy. The course finished at about 3pm and the tuk-tuk took us back to the restaurant. At the end you get a recipe book of everything you have made and more.

Whilst Chelsea enjoyed it Liam became sick mid morning while we were there and couldn't participate. The Laos staff looked after him and took him to a staff room so he could lay down. He didn't cook anything or eat anything and all the staff and the cooking participants were genuinely worried about him and trying to offer Chelsea drugs to pass on to him. We're not sure what's wrong, we thing he ate something yesterday which doesn't agree with him but Chelsea ate the same so maybe he has picked up a bug. Anyway as he didn't participate Chelsea asked the manager if we could have a partial refund or let Liam go another day and they refunded us two thirds of the cost which was kind. We will have to do another course as we are both disappointed we couldn't do it together and Liam really wants to do one.

The rest of the day was spent in the room. Liam has had a fever and so had kept having cold showers and Chelsea has just been keeping him company. Chelsea went out for a sandwich and some chocolate milk about 8pm and then we just had an early night. Hopefully Liam will feel better tomorrow.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:55 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (3)

Exploring Luang Prabang

sunny 36 °C

Last night we had a drama in our guesthouse. We were sat on the bed reading and on the computer when Chels saw a bug. We ignored it but then she saw one more and after some googling on the dreaded bed bugs we were on the lookout as it looked remarkably similar. We waited and saw two more and then Chels realised she had loads of bites on her back so we quickly caught a bug, frantically packed and Chels took the bug to reception in a freaked out state. It was late and they were just going to bed but she showed them the bug and explained there were several in our bed. After a long discussion in which Chelsea calmly tried to explain why it was not acceptable to just change our sheets or spray wasp killer on the bed they agreed with us to swap rooms after we made it clear we were not paying extra. 

We showered as we had the serious creeps and thankfully there are no bugs in our new room. That didn't stop Chelsea waking up every half an hour to check the bed and herself however. 

After our traumatic night we decided to just have a walk around to get our bearings and explore the town. First we tried to find Tamarind, a restaurant that has a top ranking cooking class we have decided to book on. We have booked on for tomorrow and are really really excited. 

Next was breakfast time. We found a noodle soup shop that everyone is raving about but there were no free tables. We will have to go back. We decided on a French cafe and had a fruit shake and a baguette. 

We walked all morning and afternoon until we got too hot. Luang Prabang is just lovely. The streets are full of small shops, restaurants and guesthouses.

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They are all old fashioned shop houses with shutters and big open wooden doors. There are lots of small and quirky family run places but also a lot of very upmarket hotels, boutiques and restaurants. Lots of the shops sell handmade silver, paper crafts, silk and genuine Laos handicrafts.

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Coming off the main roads are small alleys where people live and there is an odd guesthouse or shop. The small streets are cobbled and people cook there stock for the day outside on coals in big pots. We enjoyed walking down the winding alleys wondering what was at the end and looking at all the beautiful houses and gardens.   

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It has been really hot today so after a while we were ready for a cool off. We headed into a cafe and both had a mixed fruit shake. We browsed the shops and then headed to the river. Along the Mekong small shacks are set up with tables over looking the river where you can eat and drink. There is also a fair number of very posh places to eat and stay with gorgeous old colonial mansions being converted into high end hotels. Shops line the street and boat men offer hour long rides to the sights on the river. The river is beautiful, lined with huge ancient trees, banana plants and palms with places to eat and drink jutting out.  We sat on the wall in the shade and watched the boats go up and down the river. Away from the main streets the town is very quiet. Tuk-tuk drivers sleep in the back of their cabs and occasionally offer you a ride to the waterfalls and people go about there daily business. 

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By this point we were really hot and our feet were hurting so we headed back. After showers and a change we went out for some tea. We decided to walk down the river and go to one of the low key places. We settled on a place with only a few wooden tables right over the river that had no western food on the menu. After talking to the waiter we decided on some papaya salad, grilled pork, and chicken larp, as well as a beer to share. In Laos it is custom to order a selection of food for the table to share and it normally comes with sticky rice and a dip. The food was awesome, the sticky rice comes in a basket and you eat it wih your fingers. It is delicious, chewy and yummy and you ball it in your hands and dip it in the sauce. We got grilled pork ribs and zesty and spicy papaya salad. Larp is minced meat mixed with onions, herbs and spice to make a sort of a meat salad, it is spicy and minty..... Really yum. The meal was really good Laos food and ate over the river as the sun was going down, it was lovely.

After finishing our meal we had a walk through the night market and called at a newly opened bar. It was a really posh place and we sat and shared a beer and people watched for a while.

We are very excited for our cooking course tomorrow and hope we will be able to make some of the delicious food we tried tonight.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:18 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (1)

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