River Views and Waterfalls in Luang Prabang

Perched on a peninsula created by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers lies the city of Luang Prabang, a another long-time favorite of travelers to Southeast Asia.  Interestingly enough, however, whereas many travelers actively avoid any destination that largely caters to foreign visitors, they seem to overcome their biases and flock here in droves; where many would normally balk at restaurants offering English menus and Cafes serving the same croissants and muffins as back home, they seem to find a way to look past their “ideals” and pull up a chair; where they would stand back aghast as what they perceive as over-priced tourist stores and silk boutiques, they somehow still find themselves shopping until their bags are ready to burst; and where they would normally be mortified to be in a destination with more “Westerners” than locals, everyone seems to be enjoying a bit of pampering in the spas without so much as a single negative word to speak of Luang Prabang.

Why these contradictions occur (even in the self-proclaimed “hard-core” travelers), I’m not sure, but I’d wager that it has something to do with the ethereal atmosphere created by the blending of French Colonial architecture and Buddhist Wats, the sense of romance exuded by the riverside restaurants with views towards the temple-lined mountains, the beauty of the raw, natural environment juxtaposed the old world feel of the heart of the city; or perhaps it is simply the good company and lively conversation to be had.  Regardless of the reasoning, Luang Prabang continues to be one of those few locations that remains imprinted upon ones consciousness, and upon leaving, causes us to instantly yearn for a return:

The Nam Khan River

There are dozens of small alleyways snaking between the streets, many of which hide their own unique galleries and cafes

Even the old, abandoned buildings still seem to have an artistic flair to them

Boats along the Mekong River

Monks white-washing the exterior of their temple

Crossing the Mekong (by boat, as there is no bridge) yields a much slower pace of life (LPDR!) and a more authentic look at the local Lao people

While strolling around the city, you would hard pressed to miss Wat Phu Si — a temple located directly in the center of town that sits as the crown atop a hill 100 meters high (the top is technically called That Chomsi).  Although is doesn’t boast the most dynamic or beautiful structure, what it lacks in physical appearance, it makes up for with a fantastic view over the surrounding region:

The steps leading the way…

The view from the top with the Nam Khan River visible to the left

Looking in the other direction, you’ll see the Mekong River beginning its march to the sea

Near Wat Phu Si

Though it’s not located atop the hill, Wat Xieng Thong is still worthy of a visit, if for nothing other than the Tree of Life mosaic on the back wall

All that glitters must be gold in the Royal Palace Museum

If you should grow tired of wandering around the confines of Luang Prabang itself, a great day trip is to visit the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls.  Here, visitors can don their trunks and go for a dip in any of the series of cascading, mint-green pools that are created from the falls themselves.  Or, if you’re not up for a refreshing but near-freezing swim, you can always just hike around the falls themselves, as I chose to do:

Another reason that Luang Prabang has remained a fabled destination on anyone’s Southeast Asian itinerary is due to its reputation as the culinary capital of Laos.  And between the beautiful views of the riverside eateries, the restaurants opened by many of the top chefs in Laos, the European-style cafes, and the fine-dining influences left over from the period of French occupation, it’s not hard to see why.  Here are a few of the specialties of the region:

Koi Paa, or what is essentially the fish version of the classic Lao dish of Laab

A sampling menu of the cities specialties, listed clockwise, starting at the top: Sinh Savanh (dried buffalo meat), Miang parcels (various noodles and pastes wrapped in lettuce), Som Pak Gat (pickled green veggies), Jeow Nor Mai Sum (pickled bamboo with ginger), and Sai Oua (Luang Prabang Sausages)

One of many riverside restaurants along both the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers

Spicy Carrot Salad (thanks for the recommendation, Dahlia!)

Khai Pehn, a plant that grows in the nearby rivers that is then pressed into sheets, dried, and then deep-fried. It usually comes served with one of a variety of different dips (Laos has so many great dips, by the way)

Orlahm, a Water Buffalo stew cooked with what was labeled as “spicy wood.” I’m not sure from what tree it originated, but yes, there were actually chunks of wood in the bowl (which you aren’t supposed to eat, apparently)

Tom Sam Lao Style (Cucumber Salad)

Food vendors near the town’s Night Market

On the liquid side of things, the adventurous drinkers out there may elect to try Lao Laow, the locally distilled whiskey. Although the description on the menu listed it as a “sweet, fruity” whiskey and the presentation leads you to think it is a bit pretentious, the actual flavor is more akin to that of rocket fuel (think White Lighting Moon Shine)

Luang Prabang marks the last destination for me in the laid back and luxurious country of Laos.  After this, I get to add another notch to my “countries I’ve visited” belt as I head into Vietnam.  My first destination is that of the northern capital: Hanoi.  I hear they have some great street food there, so I already know I’m in for a treat.  Until then, cheers from Luang Prabang!

The sun setting over the Mekong

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Yellow Paint, Colorful Lanterns, and Cao Lau in Hoi An | Temporarily Lost - April 28, 2012

    […] few months, I’ve had the pleasure of passing through several such locations (Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang spring to mind), but I’ve found myself in yet another: that of Hoi An, […]

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