Like zombies we crawl half asleep out of the bus as it rolls into the bus-depot at 04:00 in the morning. We can’t quite understand why the journey took fourteen hours instead of the eight hour journey they advertised. I had been thinking from the very start the bus was going very slowly, despite the roads were very good. At the bus depot there was a diagram displayed with the distance (500 odd kilometres) and the time (eight hours) and with these roads – at least for the majority of the journey – it could be feasible to meet that target. However when the bus seems to be moving at maybe 40 km/h you soon realise it won’t succeed…
After a little bit of confusion with all us westerners on the bus knocked out by the lack of sleep, disorientation and being thrown by the fact we all expected to arrive six hours earlier, we collectively get a tuc-tuc to take us into the town centre. We probably paid over the odds for the ride, so the driver must have been a happy bunny that morning. We get dropped off on the main road in the town and absolutely everything is closed up – it’s a curfew here from 23:30 till 06:00. In the hope some places will have their gates a bit ajar we start walking about, but to no avail. Luckily for us an old lady cleaning the pavement in front of her house helps us out by waking up the night-watch at the neighbouring guest house. Initially we find the guest house way too expensive for our limited budget, but after a bit more consideration we agree to spending what feels like a small fortune for getting a few hours rest before heading out in the late morning to find another guest house more suited to our budget. The room we got was very nice though, so it’s not really overpriced, although it’s the most we’d paid for a room so far on our journey.
We end up moving to Oudomphong Guest House II, a very lovely place run by a sweet elderly couple. It’s got a nice garden as you enter through the gates, and there are a few tables by the reception where they serve breakfast in the morning.
After dropping off our bags we go for a wander around Luang Prabang to find a place to book a boat-trip to the Pac Ou Caves and a trip to the Kouangxi Waterfall. We find All Lao Travel do both in one day so we book it up with them. We then head down to the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School and book a class up. Once all the booking of activities is over done with – and after a cheeky cake in the Scandinavian cafe – we start our little self-guided sightseeing walk visiting some of the many temples around town finishing with Wat Chim Si on the of Mount Phousi for a view of the sunset. We also walk around admiring the very well kept old French colonial architecture and all the craft shops.
It’s an early start next morning for the tours to the caves and the waterfall. We first get on a boat to take us along the Mekong River to the Pac Ou Caves. As the sun is hiding behind clouds and mist it takes a long time before it starts warming up, so most of the journey up to the caves is a bit chilled. The caves are quite interesting with thousands of Buddha statues in all sizes just about everywhere. On the way back to Luang Prabang we stop by a small tribe-village (no doubt entirely set up for tourists) where they sell the local, and very lethal, Lao-Lao Whiskey. We, of course have to have a taste of it, and Hannah buys a tiny bottle of a milder version of it. Afterwards it’s back to the town and a mad rush to get a few baguettes for lunch as we’re running a bit late for our next half of the day and the trip to the Kouangxi waterfall.
We jump into the van to go to the waterfalls, and after a bit of palava about who-sits-where between some Russian guys and an Australian family we’re off. Just after the entrance gates we come to a bear enclosure, but it’s late afternoon and the bears are dozy and hardly moving about at all. We walk on further and get to some pools and smaller waterfalls where people are swimming and jumping in. We pass these and go further up the path to the main waterfall, which is very impressive. After a few snaps we head back down to the pools where we can have a bath to cool down. Hannah doesn’t feel like going into the water, so I draft her as stand-in photographer for when I slingshot myself into the water from a tree. After a few goes it’s time to dry off and head down for a bit of grilled chicken and sticky rice while waiting for the van to take us back.
Every evening there is a night-market along the main street i Luang Prabang. It’s a nice market with lots of handcraft stalls, as well as clothing and souvenirs. We find a few nice things here, and we manage to get a fairly good price as well. There are also some nice food and cake stalls along the road where you can get some nice treats at a reasonable price.
At the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School the next day we’re a good size group of seven people, and after first having a cup of tea and some introductions of ourselves we head off in a tuc-tuc to a market just outside of town. It’s a really lively market and we constantly find ourselves in the way of people trying to go about their business. Back at the restaurant our teacher explains the various ingredients, and how to chop and cut them for the various uses. We also learn how to make a rose from the skin of a tomato, and the leaves from a cucumber which is quite fun. The structure of the cooking lesson is very different from the one we had at Thai Farm in Chiang Mai. When we move into the kitchen all the ingredients have been prepared for us and rather than everyone cooking what they’ll eat themselves as at Thai Farm we take in turns cooking one dish that we all get to eat. Luckily everyone got it right and all the dishes came out perfectly and we had a huge feast in the restaurant to finish the session – no one left that table hungry. We finished the cooking lesson around lunchtime which was quite nice as it gave us time to have a walk around town to admire some more of the French colonial architecture, and having a little browse of the shops.
Luang Prabang has a very relaxed air to it and can be a great escape for a relaxing holiday, but still with the hustle and bustle of the markets and many bars and restaurants to explore if that is wanted as well. There are also many options for excursions you can book with the various travel agencies. I would most definitely recommend it coming here.
We decide to head to Phonsavan next and ask our guest house to arrange for the ticket. The next day we get picked up by a tuc-tuc that takes us over to the bus station from where we get a “VIP Van”. For being VIP it’s not much of a Poncy Van I think to myself when I get in and realise there is no space for my feet, and even less space for my heavy bag that I have to rest on my lap for the whole six hour drive – it could have been worse, but my legs became slightly numb…