A couple days in lovely Luang Prabang

Today’s forecast: 40°C, hazy and humid ⛅️

Mosquito bite tally: 7

We have had a great stay in Luang Prabang for the last couple days, one of which was my birthday. Celebrating a birthday on vacation – can’t complain about that!

As I mentioned in my previous entry, Luang Prabang is a small city in northern Laos that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. As such, it is well maintained and very tourist friendly. It actually consists of 58 adjacent villages, of which 33 have been given the UNESCO designation. It was the royal capital of Laos until 1975.

A walk around town

We started our first full day in Luang Prabang on a walking tour. The city architecture maintains French influence on account of Laos’ history as a colony during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is further reflected by the abundance of French tourists we’ve seen around.

The city is also interspersed with historical Buddhist sites. We visited one of Luang Prabang’s numerous temples, Wat Xiengthong.

We passed through the fresh market and again I was a little put off by their meat storage practices. If you look closely, you can catch a glimpse of a lady clipping her friend’s toenails over her display of produce. 🧐

Then we stopped at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre where we attended a 30 minute tour around the museum, which features exhibits on the ethnic groups of Laos. The overall population of Laos is only about 7 million, making it one of the least populated countries in Southeast Asia. However, it is very diverse, made up of 49 recognized ethnic minority groups which represent 4 ethno-linguistic families. We saw some displays of their traditional clothing which are incredibly intricate.

A dip in Kuang Si Waterfalls

After lunch, we took a bumpy 45 minute tuk tuk ride to Kuang Si waterfalls, during which I nearly fell asleep. Mr. Chuckles was impressed again by my ability to sleep under any condition.

The falls are a top tourist attraction in Luang Prabang. They are situated within a limestone rich jungle, flowing into three cascading pools that have a distinct green colour. They probably look even more impressive during wet season when water levels are higher.

We arrived to a moderate crowd of tourists, mostly Korean and Chinese. There was some serious photography happening.

We moved down to the pools for a dip in the water. The middle pool is best for swimming as it is the largest and deepest, and has built in stairs for easier entry and exit. There are changing rooms and toilets as well, but no lockers. There’s also apparently a secluded ‘secret pool’ that I read about in some travel blogs but as far as I know, access there has now been blocked.

It felt really, really nice to cool off in the water. We also had our toes nibbled on by the small fish in the water, which felt more odd than uncomfortable. The crowd actually wasn’t too bad and was much smaller than what is typically seen in high season.

On the way out, we went through the bear sanctuary on site. It houses several Asiatic black bears that have been rescued from captivity, where they were commonly used for extraction of their bile for Chinese medicines.

A massage and a food coma

After a bumpy return trip to our hotel, I decided to finally treat myself to a massage. During our walking tour we had passed by an interesting sign. Ball massage, anyone? Probably a bad typo but we still had a good giggle.

I ended up going with the traditional Lao massage at a place down the block from our hotel. I’m not sure of the exact differences between a Thai and Lao massage, but it seems they are both characterized by a more aggressive technique where the masseuse uses not only their palms, but also knees and elbows to apply pressure. The Lao massage also differs from the western style in that you remain clothed; they give you an outfit made of hemp-like material that you wear throughout the massage. I had a good experience and felt it was completely worth the 70,000 kip (only about $10 CAD).

For my birthday dinner, we decided to check out Tamarind, as we were signed up for a cooking class with them the next day and thought we should try the cuisine we were potentially going to be preparing. We ordered a tasting platter which was way too much food even for four of us. We felt really badly when we had to tell the server we were finished but there was was just no way we could fit any more food into our stomachs without ending up sick. The meal also included a shot of lao lao, which is Lao whisky, and that stuff hit me pretty hard. 😴

A day at cooking school

The next morning, we took a tuk tuk back to Tamarind for our cooking class. The class is popular, probably due in part to its feature in some Lonely Planet guides, and we did indeed have a full class with a group of French and American tourists. It cost us 285,000 kip (about $43 CAD) each which is quite reasonable. A class of this nature in Toronto would probably be in the range of $150 CAD or more.

We started with a market tour, different from the one we had gone on the day before.

This place was very large and we saw a wider range of goods, including some roasted squirrels and rats. Yummy?

Interestingly, I learned that the baskets commonly used in restaurants for serving sticky rice are produced by prisoners in the jail located by Pak Ou Caves, which we visited the other day.

After the tour, we were driven to Tamarind’s outdoor pavilion for the cooking class. It is set right beside a small pond and features an open air kitchen.

We prepared four main dishes: jeow (eggplant or tomato dip), mok pa (fish wrapped in banana leaf), buffalo laap, and lemongrass stuffed chicken.

The final result.

We finished off with dessert: khao gam, which is purple sticky rice with coconut milk, topped with fresh fruit and tamarind sauce. We even made our own coconut milk.

Now that we’re very sufficiently fed, we’ll enjoy our final evening in Luang Prabang before we head off to Vang Vieng tomorrow.

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