Tag Archives: Asia

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang

UNESCO World Heritage city Luang Prabang was the third city that my friend Kyle and I visited during our week in Laos. We spent two nights in Vientiane, another two nights in Vang Vieng, and the final three nights here in Luang Prabang, which was definitely my favorite of the three cities we visited. It was serene and beautiful with good cafés and a bar that served a delicious spicy cocktail. It was truly a wonderful way to end an amazing week full of good conversation and exciting travelling experiences.

To get there, we took the most beautiful bus ride that I have ever experienced. It was over seven hours long, a bit crowded, and not as ventilated as we would have liked but I am so glad we were able to see so much of Laos during our travels. The country is very rural, very agricultural, and absolutely stunning. The higher we climbed into mountains and the more we were able to see, the more humbled I felt for being so privileged to be where I was, seeing what I was seeing.

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Like much of former French Indochina, Luang Prabang maintains colonial charm with a distinctly Asian vibe. Mopeds and bikes are the preferred means of transport for locals and many tourists, and tuk tuks and songthaews are easy to come by to get around. Also located on the Mekong River and surrounded by mountains, Luang Prabang is beautiful as well as historic.

Kyle and I spent much of our time in Luang Prabang exploring the delicious Asian and French foods, coffees, and other sorts of beverages that the city had to offer. We walked through a very busy night market selling souvenirs of all sorts, as well as various fruit juices and snacks. Mostly, though, we just enjoyed being in the quiet outdoors, particularly welcome after the more raucous town of Vang Vieng.

By far my favorite experience in Luang Prabang was our trip to Tat Kuang Si, which I’ve seen described as Laos’ “most spectacular waterfall”. I haven’t seen all the Laotian waterfalls, but this one certainly deserved the top-shelf adjective. Even young monks were playing in the water!

Unsurprisingly, this waterfall came with a story:

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I have to thank an Israeli tourist who we met, too, for making this a particularly memorable experience. Moral of the story: My Hebrew used to be a lot better! I understood everything she said but responded mostly in English. She, of course, understood perfectly and responded mostly in Hebrew. Small world just gets smaller the more of it I experience.

As a UNESCO World Heritage city, we expected Luang Prabang to have a range of temples to explore, in addition to its incredible natural beauty. We were not disappointed.

On our final night in Laos, Kyle and I climbed Phu Si Hill at the recommended time (shortly before sunset) to get a look at the entire city:

We passed various Buddhas and temples on the walk down the hill, which was a nice reminder of the values of this beautiful country:

I am so glad to have had such a relaxing, rejuvenating week in Laos with such a good friend. It was really wonderful to explore this country with Kyle, and to get his perspective and ideas on what we were doing, seeing, and experiencing. We had great conversations throughout, which was the best overall part of the week. I’d happily return to Laos at any time – let me know if you’d like to come with me!

Travel Guide: Vang Vieng

The beautiful party town of Vang Vieng was the second city that my friend Kyle (here’s his website) and I visited during our week-long sojourn in Laos. You can read about our first few days in Vientiane, the Laotian capital city, here. You can also read about our experience in Luang Prabang, definitely my favorite, here.

We traveled from Vientiane to Vang Vieng in a very air-conditioned bus. Kyle was quite pleased with that situation, but I was freezing. The ride took about four and a half hours. It rained for the majority of the trip and I enjoyed watching the clouds move outside the window. The landscape didn’t change too much as we climbed into the beautiful, misty mountains. We passed rice paddies, cows, some goats, and lots of dogs and chickens.

Like Vientiane, Vang Vieng is situated along the Mekong River. The town is quite small, beautifully located in the midst of mountains, and very easy to walk around. We spent both afternoons alternating between food, drinks, and walking and I do believe we saw everything there was to see.

As usual, we wandered past some beautiful Buddhist temples. No matter how much travelling I do in Southeast Asia, they never get old.

For our first night in Vang Vieng, we found a neat bar located along the Mekong River where the best available seats were hammocks! We stayed there for a while and watched the sun go down over the water. It was a very serene experience, despite the mosquitos.

We spent the next morning with a guide we booked through Green Discovery who took us on a short trek first through rice paddies and then through several caves, which were really neat. I’ve explored caves before, but never caves as dark and deep as these. We wore headlamps that the guide had us turn off at one point so we could experience complete darkness. Bats were the primary inhabitants of at least one cave, and another extended so far through the mountain that we had to turn back because we ran out of time to go through it. At the end of the trek, we loaded ourselves into inner tubes to float through yet another cave while clinging to a rope for dear life. Very cool experience!

While walking through town, we saw a number of signs in Hebrew (fun for me) and Korean (fun for Kyle). Low tourist season meant that it was relatively quiet, even considering the drinking, drugs, and partying culture that has given Vang Vieng a certain reputation. Unsurprisingly, the town was full of backpackers looking to have a good time. If our own experiences out and about are any indication, I can assure you that they did! If you’re ever in Vang Vieng, I highly recommend a trip to Sakura Bar, even if you’re going just for the top-notch people watching. We spent a few hours and very little money there and were highly entertained.

Neither of us were completely prepared for the seven and some hours on a rather poorly air-conditioned, much more crowded bus the next morning, but it was completely worth it to reach the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. Stay tuned!

 

Travel Guide: Vientiane

My last travel hurrah in Southeast Asia was a week in Laos with my friend Kyle. He’s pretty cool so I’d recommend clicking here and learning more about him. Over the course of the week, we explored the capital city Vientiane, party town Vang Vieng, and UNESCO World Heritage city Luang Prabang. We ate well, drank well, talked a whole heck of a lot, and walked for miles around each of these towns.

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We saw Soviet and Lao flags displayed together literally everywhere we went. It was rather surprising.

Everything I’d read about Vientiane prior to visiting described it as laid-back, calm, and mellow. That is more than an accurate description. Here are some of my favorite photos from around Vientiane, one of many cities in Laos located along the Mekong River:

As always in Southeast Asia, there are temples to see! Laos is a Buddhist country, which is very popular in the region as a whole. I was content with simply standing outside most of the temples because the exterior architecture is always my favorite part. Since most of the names were in Lao, I can’t tell you what these are called or exactly where to find them. Go wander. You’ll find plenty.

Pha That Luang (the Golden Stupa) is probably Vientiane’s best-known temple. We took a very long walk to get there, but it was really beautiful:

When we were done with temples, we spent our time walking along the Mekong River and seeking out iced coffee, Korean food, and the spiciest curries. There was also a large and helpful night market where we picked up a USB cord (Kyle) and a pair of sunglasses (me). We enjoyed watching competing zumba classes blast their music and bust their moves shortly before sunset, too! No pictures, unfortunately, but a lot of laughter.

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The night market snaked along the edge of the river. I took this picture from a rooftop restaurant and bar about three storeys up.
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One of the many seafood restaurants we passed. We saw the fishermen bringing in their daily catch, too.

Vientiane was a quiet, relaxing place to start our end-of-school adventure. It’s unlike Singapore in every way, which we both really enjoyed.

And what’s not to love about a place with sunsets like these?

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We spent more time in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang and I took more photos, so stay tuned for those posts! I’m flying back to the US on Sunday so it might be a few days, but I’ll get to them as soon as I can. Happy travels!