Postcards from Luang Prabang

My friends Nica, Bernice, and I left Dien Bien Phu in a whirlwind 24 hours after our fateful arrival. We were properly scrubbed, rested, fed, and properly ready to get the hell out of there. We boarded the bus to Luang Prabang, Laos at 7am, and excitedly waited for the next leg of our journey to begin. We were only too glad to find out that James and Rachel, the English couple we met the day before, would be traveling with us as well. There’s some comfort in knowing you’re not the only stranger traveling through a strange land.

It was also a relief to find that the bus was not overloaded. There was a correct ratio of seats to people, and it felt wonderful. It did smell like fish however, but since it had wide open windows. the cool breeze took care of the stench.

We wound our way through the mountains connecting Northern Vietnam and Northern Laos. The concept of “borders” would probably never cease to fascinate me because I grew up in a country locked by water on all sides, and the idea of sharing land with someone else felt… weird, claustrophobic in a sense. The raw, isolated beauty of the mountains at the border also made the experience all the more surreal. 

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Of course, the estimated 12-hour journey turned out to be a huge lie. The bus to Luang Prabang really only went until Oudomxay, and from there we had to board yet another sleeper bus to get to our destination. We assumed we’d arrive by 6pm, but when the hour struck we were still in the middle of nowhere. Darkness descended and, quite unnaturally (after our party hell bus experience), there were absolutely no lights inside, save for the digital clock at the aisle. It flashed 7, 8, 9.. Eventually we just succumbed to the unknown and slept.

At around 12am the bus driver called out that we had arrived in Luang Prabang. We disembarked and found ourselves in the middle of an empty street. Luckily, a tuktuk passed by and agreed to take us to our hostel, Khammany Inn. Unfortunately for Rachel and James, and two Italian guys who were also on the bus since Vietnam, they haven’t booked accommodations yet and still had to look for a place to stay.

Immediately after checking in, despite painful hunger (we hadn’t eaten a proper meal since the delicious fried chicken rice in Dien Bien Phu), we crashed into our bunks and slept. And we slept and slept until late the following morning because we felt we deserved it.

Finally when we managed to pull ourselves together, we headed out in search of proper food and points of interest. Luang Prabang was the perfect respite after the harrowing journey we had. It was quiet, quaint, laid-back, and so easy on the eyes, that all the wears of the past two days just melted away.

As somebody who appreciates architecture, I fell in love with the rustic French atmosphere interspersed with intricate Buddhist temples. I could go all day just taking photos of textures and colors and various other details.

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We met this quirky man named Zev at Joma, the cafe where we had lunch, and he was nice enough and bored enough to give us a tour of the place. He brought us to the Mekong River, which to me was pretty awesome. All my life I’d been hearing about the “Mighty Mekong” and it had elicited grand and majestic visions in my head. The Mekong was quite smaller in Luang Prabang, to be honest, but it was no less pretty (the portion in Vientiane however, that was grand).

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One of the estuaries leading out to the Mekong

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After walking around, we headed back to the hostel to chill for a bit before checking out the Night Market. It was almost sundown by then and interestingly it was when a lot of people came out to the streets – such as young monks sweeping the temple grounds.

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The Night Market was HEAVEN. Of all the markets I’ve seen in Southeast Asia, this one had the most unique, distinctive, and stylish wares. I quickly forgot about my tight budget after being faced with amazing quilted pants, accessories, and bags. To put it in perspective, if Dien Bien Phu had this market, I would return to Dien Bien Phu every year of my life hahaha. The best part was, considering the designs and the quality of the make, their items were pretty cheap. And of course, you can haggle all you want.

I finished that night much lighter in the pockets and the spirit as well. One day in Luang Prabang and already I felt re energized and back to normal.

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The sun was sweltering the following day so we took it slow and walked around after lunch. It wasn’t really such a smart idea in that the heat was terrible (and I grew up in a tropical country and I’m supposed to be used to heat!). But as it turns out the king’s palace and the compound closed at 3pm, so we really had no choice. To top it off, picture taking wasn’t allowed inside. Bummer.

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The King’s Palace

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the king’s private temple

The uninspiring heat led us back to Joma to eat the rest of the afternoon away. Then we met up with Rachel and James to check out the Night Market once more, and then to eat once more. Yup. We’ve been very productive.

The next day, our last full day in Luang Prabang, we decided to do some nature things and checked out the Kuang Si Waterfalls. There were other outdoorsy activities like hiking or seeing the elephants, but we’d been discouraged by most of the people we asked so we decided to just make the most of the falls instead.

It just so happened there was also a black bear reserve within the perimeter so we got to see some eating and frolicking about.

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And then there was the falls. It looked so refreshing and inviting that I looked at it for a good two minutes before diving in – except the water was really cold, so it was more like, sit and wade until I got the nerve to immerse.

It was so relaxing and amazing that we actually didn’t bother to explore the rest of Kuang Si. We ended up missing the biggest falls at the very top, which was a huge disappointment for me. I just consoled myself with the thought that swimming there felt like nothing else, and if it kept me happy the whole time I was there, then no love lost.

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We got back pretty late in the afternoon. Like the previous nights, we just kicked back and relaxed and stuffed our faces. We also did some budgeting and found out how much we had overspent, so we ended up having dinner at one of the roadside deli vendors. It was so worth it though. The baguette was overflowing and the drinks were really tall, and both cost a fraction of one order in any of the fancier cafes.

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The following and last day was spent mostly packing and getting ready to go again. Another crazy two-day trip lay ahead, this time all the way to Koh Phangan, Thailand for the Full Moon Party. We had a great parting dinner with Rachel and James, and our departure only came too soon. Finally we gave each other last hugs and assurances that we’ll see each other again, then we bid each other goodbye.

It was about 7pm when we reached the bus station for yet another sleeper bus to Vientiane en route to Bangkok en route to Suratthani. Truth be told I was so daunted by the upcoming journey, but I had to take it one thing at a time. Thank heavens our sleeper bus this time was perfect.