In the Spring of 2015 I spent 4 days in Luang Prabong in Laos as part of a much longer trip through Asia. While most of that trip was with friends, I went here solo on a recommendation and so thankful that I did. Just recently, President Obama became the FIRST sitting US president to visit the country. This comes ~40 years after the “secret war” that was waged on Laos during the Vietnam war. The US Gov’t approving ~$30M per year over the next three years in clean-up of unexploded ordinance (UXO) was some positive news (this is more than double what was previously provided).
If interested in visiting Laos, I’d encourage you to do your own research on the topic, but the facts are shocking and sad. From the New York times a few weeks ago:
“[The] United States had dropped more than two million tons of bombs on this country during the height of the Vietnam War, more than it dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II. That made Laos, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in human history.” Source: New York Times
I can’t pretend to have the full context on what went into the bombing of Laos; I wasn’t alive at the time and only learned of it when I was researching the country prior to visiting last year. What I can share is that Luang Prabong had some of the nicest people I’ve met – extending that courtesy to a tourist from a country that caused a lot of damage. I made friends with a bartender whose dad lost his arm to UXO. On a back-country trek I saw signs for areas you couldn’t approach because of uncleared UXO. Hard to say the effects of the bombings aren’t still present.
Even so, Luang Prabong is a small paradise in its own right. I’ve heard of many other great places in Laos, but this was my only stop. Here were a few highlights:
Full day back-country bike ride on the “Buffalo Trail” with Off Road Laos Adventures:
If you enjoy outdoor adventures, physically intense activities, and learning first hand from a private guide, do this. This was one of my most memorable days traveling ever. With my guide Bounsene, we started the morning in town in Luang Prabong. We then crossed the Mekong on a ferry, our trek led us to small villages, Buddhist temples, hidden meditation “parks” in the middle of the forest, farms, schools, and many clearings overlooking the Mekong. Trails included casual dirt roads, single tracks up and down mountains, and the “name-sake” buffalo trail with embedded footprints that made me wish I had proper bike shorts (with a butt pad). You’ll eat home-cooked meals with local villagers and take breaks chatting up your guide about their experience in Laos.
A few scenes from the trek:
Not entirely sure what this means but a rough attempt to translate resulted in “the implementation of the smart” — I’m sure there’s something lost in translation here though
A clay pot “production facility” in one of the villages we stopped to visit:
Buffalo grazing terrace:
Kuang Si Falls
You can do arranged tours of the falls, but I did this solo. It’s easy and cheap to arrange a Tuk Tuk ride there from town and back. If I were to do this again, I’d rent a motor scooter and drive out there myself. The falls are stunning and you can kind of make your own trek out of this. I paired up with some French hikers, and we explored some areas around the top of the falls (probably in places we shouldn’t have gone). Photos don’t do this justice.
Picturesque views of the falls:
Shots of a makeshift bridge to explore the jungle at the top of the falls:
I also just spent two days exploring and hanging out in the town of Luang Prabong. I visited temples and museums, shopped at the local outdoor markets, shot pool with locals, read books over a red sun set on the Mekong, relaxed with low-price massages, and ate some great local food.
Haw Pha Bang
Start of a short hike up Mount Phousi:
Bamboo Bridge over Nam Khan River
Lunch at Tangor – solid café with good beer and friendly staff
A few additional recommendations from the places I went:
Hotel: I stayed at the Sanctuary in Luang Prabong. This place is on the pricier end relative to other options in town, but this place is very nice. Great breakfast, comfortable and spacious room, and walking distance to everything.
Food / drinks:
- Lao Lao Garden – pool table with friendly locals, was even able to get some Lao-Lao (rice whiskey) from a new friend. Maybe not the smartest decision to take it since it was off menu and not sold at the bar, but it was great and all worked out.
- Blue Lagoon – higher end restaurant, good food
- House – fun Belgian beer bar
- Dyen Sabai – restaurant across the bamboo bridge overlooking Dyen Sabai – favorite meal in Luang Prabong
- Opera House Bar – loved the food and friendly bartenders
Other places to check out:
- UXO museum – nothing fancy, but a sobering and informative experience. Don’t miss out on this.
- Phusi market in the morning – you won’t be disappointed