Now, Laos has a very interesting history, in my option, at least. And though I COULD theoretically type up a brief summary of said history to fill you in, I don’t want to, so just go to Laos’ Wikipedia page (I love Wikipedia so hard) and read about it yourself 🙂 What I WILL tell you is that Laos was under French rule for almost 60 years and thus you see a lot of French influence, particularly in the architecture of Luang Prabang, the old royal capital and seat of the government of the Kingdom until 1975. This makes Luang Prabang an especially interesting city to visit, as at times it’s difficult to remember that you are still in Asia and not walking the streets of Marseille!
We spent 3 days in the city, exploring the beautiful old town and the temples, hanging out along the river, enjoying the fantastic night market, visiting a children’s hospital and renting motorbikes to visit the famous Pak Ou Caves. Read on to hear more and see pics!
Miles walked: 15
Miles transported: ~50
Old Town Luang Prabang
Got dropped off in Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ready to find a guest house to relax in after two days on the slow boat from Thailand. We set off, very quickly realizing that this was going to be a much more difficult task than anticipated, as it was, unbeknownst to us, the Chinese New Year. Yup. Our bad. We wandered around the city for HOURS and everything was either fully booked or absurdly expensive. We finally found a place for the night, a little out of our budget, but it did the job. We then migrated to Mitch and Cody’s guest house the next night and stayed the four of us (Me, Francy, Lauren and Yoav) in a four person dorm. It was like camp! Anyway, I digress. The reason I mention the hours of wandering is not because I want your sympathy (which I do… woe is us), but because we saw the funniest signs along the way:
And this extremely stylish dog:
As it was nearing dinner time, we met up with Cody and Mitch and made our way over to the night market:
Where you can eat at this delicious buffet for 15,000 Kip (less than two dollars!!!):
And you can get an entire freshly grilled fish! I can’t remember how much those babies were, but pretty absurdly cheap as well (no more than $3…):
We then wandered around the night market for a bit, looking for fabulous goodies and gifts to purchase:
After transferring to our summer-camp abode, we set off to wander around town, admiring the beautiful French architecture. Yoav – I know that you are reading this and laughing at me… go ahead… laugh all you want, but these buildings are definitely FRENCH! 😉
Found a super sexy tuk-tuk:
And a kid going to town on a coconut:
And then shit got serious (apparently):
So we made our way to Wat Sibounheuang, “the town’s most evocative monastery” according to Lonely Planet, and Wat Sirimoungkhoun Sayaram, which I have nothing to say about as I’m not even sure what temple it is in the photos below and can’t find anything about it online. I don’t mean to sound cavalier, but after 4 months in Asia it is very easy to get “templed-out”, which we were, and at this point in our travels the temples had all pretty much blended together. That didn’t, however, stop us from enjoying a few more Buddhas:
Headed back to our guest house to meet up with Mitch and Cody and move on to our next adventure. But first things first – grilled coconuts!!!!!
Lao Friends Hospital for Children
We had a very special opportunity in Luang Prabang. Lauren’s mom’s friend, Kenro Izu, founded a foundation called “Friends Without A Border” whose aim is to provide adequate (at the very least) health-care to children in impoverished countries. They have one fully operational hospital in Cambodia – Angkor Hospital for Children, opened in 1996 – and in early 2015 they founded the Lao Friends Hospital hospital for Children. LFHC is the first full-service pediatric hospital in Northern Laos, providing children with advanced (and basic, of course) healthcare that they previously didn’t have access to. The hospital is very quickly growing and expanding, treating more and more children every day. We had the privilege of meeting with Jen, the operations director, who essentially runs the show over there. She showed us around, explained the successes and challenges that the hospital faces, and answered the slew of questions we threw at her. We even got to meet a few patients. It was fascinating, especially since neither of us had ever had the opportunity to visit a hospital in the developing world (*knock on wood*) and though I’m sure the quality and capability of this hospital far exceeded most others, it was still quite a revelation to see. Many thanks to Lauren, her mom (Susan), Jen and, of course, Kenro Izu for the opportunity!
This one’s for you, Erna:
Pak Ou Caves
The Pak Ou Caves of Luang Prabang are situated on the Mekong at the mouth of the Nam Ou river. Pak Ou literally means “Mouth of the Ou”. This is the same river that we would be kayaking down in the next segment of our Laotian adventures. There are two caves: Tham Ting and Tham Theung, the lower and upper caves, respectively. To get there, you have to drive about 1 hour, either via tuk-tuk or motorbikes. Obviously, we opted for motorbikes, as they are the best and cheapest way to travel around most parts of Asia. Getting there was quite the adventure as though most of the way is paved, the last bit is a pretty dodgy dirt road with very steep hills. Good thing we had semi-automatic dirt bikes, as I’m not sure your average scooter would have delivered us there successfully. Fortunately, with only a very minor hiccup along the way, we made it to the small village of Pak Ou in one piece:
From there, we took a boat across the Mekong to reach the caves:
Checked out Tham Ting (the lower cave) first:
Then made our way up to Tham Theung (the upper cave). Now this was a REAL cave… as in, secret little shrines hanging out in pitch darkness:
As Samsonite’s not a big fan of the darkness, he chose to stay outside and hang out with his new friend:
Had enough of the caves and got ready to make our way back down to the boats and back to Luang Prabang. But first, took one more glimpse of this gorgeous view:
More Old Town
Made our way back to Old Town with a few spare hours of daylight to kill. Went to check out one of the bamboo bridges that crosses the Mekong. There wasn’t much to do other than cross the bridge and come back (which they charge you 5,000 Kip for, but I mean, that’s like, $0.60, so we managed), but it was beautiful and fun nonetheless!
Monks cross the bamboo bridge, so it must be the cool thing to do:
And then it was our turn:
Yoav and Francy adorably taking pictures of each other taking a picture of the other:
Got some beautiful views of the Mekong:
And then Samsonite graced us all with his presence: