Traveling to UNESCO world heritage site Luang Prabang is a delightful experience. It is even better to step into the massive wilderness that Laos has on offer. Nong Khiaw is one such hilly hamlet perched by the banks of Nam Ou river. Listen to this podcast and understand Luang Prabang!
Walking by the banks of the Mekong river, I stumbled upon a fisherman! He was delving deep into the heart of the river in search of shrimp. It Is July, the month before the rains starts in Laos. It is time to harvest the sweet river shrimps of Mekong.
Luang Prabang is a landlocked country and there is no beach in close vicinity. That does not stop the locals to take delight in sumptuous seafood though and why would it not be the case?
The mighty Mekong and beautiful Nam Khan river flows by the side of Luang Prabang. In many ways Luang Prabang seems to fulfill the criteria of a utopic land of magic. Rivers are full of fish. The land is lush green with the yield of paddy-fields! What a beautiful place it is to be!
It is surreal to think this landlocked country was off the tourist reach until recent history. Only during the turbulent times of reshaping the world during 1990s, Luang Prabang opened it door to the rest of the world. Till date it remains a Communist country. One of the handful of last remaining communist nations of the world. In the pandemic, they have not had a single case of death. If we do not celebrate that, I do not know what do we actually celebrate!
We alighted at the LPQ international airport at the week hours of the day. Steep hills surround the ancient city. They are often revered as mighty dragons that saves the city from external attacks or invaders.
You can alternately reach LPQ with a slow boat from Chiang Mai or a night train from Bangkok. Land border crossing is a cakewalk Tuktuk await you at the border to bring you to downtown.
Laos issues Visa on arrival for Indian passport holders and many other nationals. It took us 10 minutes and 2 passport size photos and a return ticket to get the passport page stamped. Visa is issued for a month.
I reached Sofitel. That was supposed to be my home for next 5 days.
Upon reaching Sofitel I realised why Luang Prabang has been hailed as a UNESCO heritage site French and Buddhist architecture are juxtaposed here side by side. A sublime peaceful vibe is interwoven. You feel it as you step into the manicured garden dotted with frangipani trees. Its scent fills the air. In Laos, they even make a local moonshine of frangipani flowers. And do not forget to try the local rice wine.
Luang Prabang, despite being touristy and highly controlled by UNESCO guidelines, unfolds slowly and in an utmost charming manner! There rings of early morning, the maroon robbed monks, the bustling morning markets and 33 of the gilded temples will keep you busy for a substantial amount of time. The city is very walkable. Get a reusable water bottle and fill them up with potable water as you explore.
Do not forget to try some Laotian coffee. Look for the old French Bungalows, remnant of a colonial past. the glass paneled white profound doors and villa styled abodes are now mostly converted into boutique properties and how dainty do they look!
The city comes live at night with the night market. From to because night curfew cast s its spell at the old city region post that.
Take a boat ride. In fact you can spend the whole day by mekong river. Venture into the hinterlands. Look up for Kuang Si waterfall and water Buffalo!
These are regular touristy must do things of Laos. Beyond the realm of the obvious if you are interested to explore a more authentic face of Laos, you need to go far away from LPQ.
Van Vieng, Vietience are there. But my favorite is Nong Khiaw.
A village 4 hours drive from LPQ. By the banks of Nam Ou river and literally has nothing to do. Plenty of nature trails to explore and kayak on the river. Explore the old caves and learn about somber history of Laos’s turbulent past. Vietnam war did not leave Laos unscathed.
Best time to visit Laos is the dry months though I visited in July. Just before the rains. Since the French was there, everyone talks about the French cuisine however I totally loved indigenous Laotian cuisine. With a staple of rice and rustic flavors often earned from the use of quirky ingredients like spice-wood, local food in Laos is a delight to explore. Do sign up for a local food walk with Backstreet academy. They will take you along to plenty of hidden gems beyond the night market and show their city and culture with pride. I absolutely loved them!