Now that you have an idea of what Luang Prabang is about, I'll talk about our activities there. Due to plane schedule conflicts we stayed a whole week in the area. That makes it the place we've stayed the longest, even longer than Rishikesh. There was plenty to do though.
Of course, being in Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang has its fair share of temples and though we've already seen many of them, we ran into others during the week. We started our visit by renting bicycles to explore the nearby area. Getting lost is always kind of fun so we did, and became part of the traffic.
|Most of the ladies have umbrellas to keep out of the sun, even on scooters.|
|Teenage boys riding their bikes holding hands. So cute!|
We found our way to the top of a hill overlooking the valley by following the path towards the steeple of the temple. It was mid afternoon and the monks must have been napping because the place was completely quiet. With the heat it was arduous to get there, but the view was worth it.
|This gold temple is where we ended up|
|Fixed gear bikes are all the rage, like in San Francisco|
Bicycles are cool, but for the next couple days we needed something a little easier on the legs so we rented a scooter. Like I've said before, scooters are such a great way to get around in these countries because you just blend in. In any case we needed to go 20kms away from the city, with the last 7 being a dirt road, so the scooter was a no brainer. We first used it to go to the Pak Ou caves.
|The "bike-only" bridge to leave the city center|
|You run into all kinds of things on the road|
Thses caves are located on the Mekong and are famous because they are filled with statues of Budha, some big and many small. To be honest, we were a little disappointed by Pak Ou. The caves are definitely unique but the lower cave, which is the star of the show, is actually pretty small, while the upper cave is still pretty much empty. It's worth a look if you have the time like we did but not necessarily something you should go out of your way to go see.
|You first have to cross the Mekong|
|The cave is BY the river|
|Arduous walk to the upper cave|
|Longtail boat on the Mekong|
|On the longtail boat|
The fun part of the day happened on the way back, when we got caught in the rain while still riding on the dirt road. The rain didn't last more than 15mins so we were dry by the time we got home, but we where completely drenched for a while and had some interesting dirt patterns on our clothes.
At night and during our off days we sampled the food and drink at many of the nearby restaurants. On recommendations from our friends, we visited a cool bar called Utopia where we went to relax on a couple of afternoons. This is where we played our best game of chess yet, even though we play maybe once every 3 years.
|Fish in a banana leaf|
Next up we rode to the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. Again, we got caught in the rain only to realize 1/3 of the way there, while the rain was pounding, that we didn't have any money to get in and probably not enough gas to make it there and back. We were forced to drive some of the way back to find an ATM. It wasn't starting well, but by the time we took off the second time the rain had stopped (Yay!) and the weather was clearing out nicely. When we reached the falls we were ready to have an awesome day, and that we did.
These are our favorite waterfalls, we like them even more than Iguazu. It's not that they're huge, it's because they are an endless terrace system where the water keeps going over drops. It's the kind of place you expect to find in Hawaii (though we never did). We first arrived in the swimming area where you can jump, swim and rope swing. We had a lot of fun there!
Once we'd had enough time in the water, we walked up along the waterfall system through a very green jungle-y area to terrace after terrace of beautifully tumbling water until we reached another big area which was very, ... yes, ... pretty.
By this time we love this place, it's fun and beautiful, so whatever was to come after was plain gravy. Little did we know that we had not reached the main waterfall yet!
For the adventurous, there is even a steep and slippery path that brings you all the way to the top. We climbed all the way up to see the fantastic views of the valley. We left really happy we visited this place!
Our next adventure was something we had never done before. After riding camels in the desert of India, we decided to ride on an elephant in the jungle of Laos. We were to ride on a seat on the back of the elephant, with a driver sitting on the animal's neck for around 1 hour. Even though I'm excited to see and ride an elephant, we were not holding our breath for something exceptional. And that was exactly when things turned awesome.
|Wait, where are we going?|
The elephants were made to walk in the river, which was so deep at the beginning that the elephant even had to use its trunk to breathe. And that's when the driver switched places with us. He even jumped off later so he could snap pictures of us while we were on the elephants neck!
|Dancing to Laotian music on the elephant's neck as we pass a village house|
The elephant is definitely slower than the camel but it is also very gentle. Its skin feels rough and its hair is very hard and prickly. After the ride we got a closer look while we fed her some bananas. It was just plain fun and the animals seem very friendly. We really enjoyed our ride on Miss Elephant!
The following night we decided to climb the local hill of Phu Si to check out the sunset over the Mekong. We were not the only tourists there but it wasn't really crowded either, and the sunset was worth the hike up.
|Waiting for the sun to set|
We visited a few more temples including the temple of the main Palace. I just love how they have dragons and snakes everywhere. The temples are always richly decorated and it's hard not to snap photos of each one even though they start to blend together after a while :)
|Umbrellas are perfect for shade, and for dancing|
We had a great time in Luang Prabang and made good use of the week we had. It's an easy, relaxing place to visit and a great stop for us before going back to Thailand.
You can find more photos here (map)