Revisiting a quick trip to Luang Prabong – Laos

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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:

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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

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A clay pot “production facility” in one of the villages we stopped to visit:

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Buffalo grazing terrace:

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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:

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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

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Start of a short hike up Mount Phousi:

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Royal Palace

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Bamboo Bridge over Nam Khan River

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Mekong River

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Lunch at Tangor – solid café with good beer and friendly staff

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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
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72 hours in Vancouver

When you’re 30 and want a weekend with the boys, Vancouver may not be the most convenient place (we still can’t remember how we picked it), but is one worth checking out.  A lot of amazing outdoors activities, good restaurants, and an abundance of options for craft cocktails and beer.

Here are some of the highlights from the weekend with recommendations if you ever visit.

Cafes (only have one since I went here every day):

+The Buzz Café and Espresso Bar – Highly recommend this place if you like good coffee. It’s located on the corner of Smithe and Homer in the Harrison Art Gallery (which I believe is Vancouver’s oldest retail art gallery). If you want a comfortable and unique place to work with plenty of space, this is also a great option.

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Breakfast / Brunch:

+Medina Café: Don’t miss this spot but get there early (or after the breakfast rush). During the week it opens at 8:00, we were there by 8:10, there was a line by 8:15.  It was less busy again by the time we left. It’s a relatively small place, and reminds me of an Italian café. We sat at the bar and talked to the baristas over breakfast (who gave us some great hiking recommendations). I got the waffles. I don’t usually order sweet foods for breakfast but these were excellent (and good value for the cost). Other orders included the paella and the short rib hash (I tried the hash and would have gotten that if we made it back).  We also all had either cappuccinos here. These were up there with Buzz, hard to vote which I liked better, but I think these had more than a single espresso shot as we were all pretty wired after these.

 

+Twisted Fork: Big fan of this place as well. It’s a pretty narrow space with cool art and a wall of spices and pickled products you can buy. Get a booth in the back if you can. I had a pretty good baked egg and gruyere soufflé, and they had some good unique brunch options. Once again, our server came through with some good hiking recommendations and also led us to one of the best snacks I’ve ever had, which leads me to

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+Honey Doughnuts: If you like sweet foods, go here. It’s in the small, downtown of Deep Cove, and the perfect way to end a hike or kayaking in that area. I don’t really like doughnuts so didn’t order one, but I had multiple bites of the ones my buddy ordered. The Honey Doughnut is hot and the best doughnut I’ve ever had. The maple was also very very good; this one wasn’t warm, but if it was it would have been the best.

 

Restaurants:

+Alibi room (Gastown): Sit at the bar and explore the beer menu. Good bar to hang out since they keep it from overcrowding (this like many places in vancouver doesn’t allow standing, everybody has to have a seat here). I wasn’t very hungry so got the beet salad, which I really enjoyed. We also shared a charcuterie board which was pretty good.

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+Flying Pig (Yaletown – there are a few of these though): We went on Friday night, so the restaurant was full but we only had to wait 15 minutes for a table, but the host found a space to set us up with drinks while we waited. Young adult, pretty lively crowd, and nice, but not stuffy at all. I also think our server was on Adderall.

We all loved the food. I had trout over penne with chorizo / red sauce. The other favorite was the short rib with bone marrow. Drinks: good beer list and well-made cocktails. I was happy with the rye old fashioned I had. We also taught them what a Brown Derby was; I was surprised they didn’t already know, but they made it well.

 

+Tuc Craft Kitchen (Gastown): We went late after going to the Whitecaps game so it wasn’t very crowded, but again would describe as nice, but not stuffy. This was probably the worst place we ate, but I may have botched the order. I got the mussels and pork croquettes, and would say it was ok at best. May be a matter of preference though since the mussels were in a cream sauce and it’s just not my thing.

I’d recommend this place for the cocktails. They were awesome. As a table, we tried a few signatures (“Coffee and Cigarettes” and “Seelbach Cocktail”) and a few classics (Old Fashioned and Bourbon Sour)

 

+BierCraft Tap and Tapas: Don’t go here (we went to the one by Granview Park). First issue, there were no tapas. I know we were there at 3pm on a Saturday (which they define as brunch still), so we didn’t see a dinner menu. But still. What the hell? Also the service was horrible. This usually doesn’t bother me, but it was unusually bad. I’ll skip comments on the food and beer.

 

+Powell Street Craft Brewery: Do go here. Get a flight of beers. Try their White IPA and Hopdemonium. Both are excellent. This is a classic no frills brewery. A small bar area with some high top tables and a concrete floor and a window into the brewery.

 

+Cactus Club: Good views of the water, good service, and decent food. You’re paying for the views. It sits over the water and you can see the prop planes land on the water with the mountains in the background.

 

Bars (some of these should probably be grouped in with restaurants):

+Prohibition: Up-scale spot, great live jazz music, and quality drinks (though be prepared for a higher price point). Funny side story, we picked our first drink up from the bar and the bottom of the glass fell out; the drink spilled all over some very well dressed woman at the bar. Not sure there’s anything you can do to prepare for that, but just a word of caution.

+Yaletown Brewing Company: If you want the noise level of a club at a sports bar, go here. Otherwise don’t.

 

+The Diamond (Gastown): Good spot for a night cap. Good cocktails and lower key. I had a Brown Derby. They knew what it was and made it well.

 

Outdoors (the reason you should visit Vancouver):

+Lynn Canyon: we did this on Friday evening and it was pretty quiet with some cool spots to go down to the water and climb around in the woods.  Easy level of difficulty, and there are a lot of trails to extend the time you’re out there if you want – you can do as short as 30 min, or much longer if you want. We were there for ~1.5 hrs.

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+Deep Cove: this was a little more difficult with a lot more elevation gain, but nothing technically difficult. We went on Saturday mid-day and there were definitely crowds on the hike out to Quarry Rock (though not excessive). We took an alternate route on the way back, and on that part saw maybe 5 people. I’d recommend the lesser travelled route that’s away from the water, but pay close attention and have either GPS or a map of the route as that part of the trail is not marked all that well.

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+Bike the seawall: we went at a casual pace (though didn’t make any stops) and did it in an hour. We rented bikes for $12 / hr from a spot at the convention center (there are a few options right there). Great views and an easy ride.

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Other:

+We did a WhiteCaps game. If they’re home when you’re there and you enjoy sports, I’d recommend going. We got our tickets day of the game for a good price and  had a blast. It rained most of the game, but the seats are covered, so don’t worry about the elements. Also be prepared for the fans to regularly call the opposing players “wankers.”

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