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Three Reasons to Go to Luang Prabang

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I have spent the last week in what is definitely one of my favorite places in the world: Luang Prabang, Laos. It was a spur of the moment trip, but I had three good reasons to go.

The first reason was to join some new friends from the US on the Lao leg of their trip. James, Todd, Paul, and Beth were friends of a friend. We had such a good time hanging out in Bangkok last week that I decided to take them up on their offer to join them in Luang Prabang.

My second reason to go was to try to drag along some of my few remaining friends who have never been to Laos. Only one (Vic) was able to go, but he ended up loving it so much that he extended his trip and is still there!

The third reason was to visit my Lao friend Sack who was doing a three month teacher's training in Sayaburi province, south of Luang Prabang. He invited me to come visit him and see where he is doing his training, and since I had been wanting to go to Sayaburi, I thought it was a great opportunity.

By the way, I have no idea how to spell Sayaburi. At the bus station I saw both Sayaboury and Xayabouli. Lonely Planet calls it Sainyabuli. And Google Maps lists it as Xaignabouri. And I thought translitterating Thai was difficult!

In any case, the first few days in LPB were great. I took my friends to all of my favorite places: lunch and beers at Noy's family guesthouse, BBQ grill at Mali's, dinner at Lao Lao Garden one night and Blue Lagoon another, and dancing at the infamous Dao Fa (Blue Star) Lao disco. A trip to the Kuang Si waterfall and rope swing was also a well-received outing for the group.

All in all it was another great trip to Luang Prabang. And, as usual, I can hardly wait to go back!

Trekking Near Kroung Sri Waterfall

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As soon as Stephen told me he would be visiting Southeast Asia, I knew that I would have to take him to my favorite spot on this side of the world: Luang Prabang.

We have been here for three days, doing the usual tourist stuff: visiting centuries-old temples and eating lots of Lao food. We also took a boat up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves along with the "Whiskey Making Village" and the "Weaving and Paper-Making Village". As I expected, the two villages had been transformed from traditional small Lao villages into tourist attractions, with the usual shlock for sale. It was a complete waste of time.

But today, on my 8th trip to Luang Prabang, we had a true "Lao" experience that I have never had before. We signed up for a 7 hour trek / hike through the jungle to visit two Kamu Hilltribe villages and the beautiful Kroung Sri Waterfall.

When we started the hike, the air was nice and cool and the trail was wide and flat. I jokingly pointed to a tall mountain nearby and asked our guide if we were going to go to the top. He said yes and I laughed. An hour later, I was sweating, not laughing, as the trail turned very steep. Sure enough, we went to the very top and up and over it into the next valley.

The villages we visited were true, untouched Kamu villages. Our tour guide (a 20 year old Lao boy named Tong) was also Kamu, so he was able to translate for us as we chatted with the locals a bit.

Eventually we reached the waterfall, hot, sweaty, and very tired. But apparently we hadn't worked out enough, as Stephen and I immediately climbed to the very top of the waterfall. By the time we reached the bottom again, I had definitely had enough!

There's nothing better after a long, hot hike than a quick swim in a chilly waterfall, and that's exactly what we did. We didn't stay in long (it was really cold) but it was a refreshing dip.

So, that was the highlight of Luang Prabang Trip #8. I can hardly wait to come back again!

Lao Hotel Rules

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I haven't posted much in the last few days, as I have been in Luang Prabang, Laos, doing a whole lot of nothing. I had originally planned to go to a Lao wedding in Hong Sa, but I wasn't able to go at the last minute. So I spent time in Luang Prabang doing work, reading, walking, and talking to the locals.

When I am in Luang Prabang, I always stay at my friend's family guest house on the Mekong. On the back of the door to every room there is a list of rules that foreign guests are supposed to follow. I have seen this list in every Lao guesthouse I have ever stayed in.

So if you go to Laos, please be sure to follow these rules. (Copied from a photo with spelling, capitalization, and grammar as closely as possible.)

Lao people's Democratic Republic
Peace Independece Democracy Unity Prosperity

Regulation to link the guest who come to stay.

Staying at hotel or guest house to attach guest inside and foreign country guest. Come to stay.

In order to tidy the sociality and safety -- peace to the guest who come to stay also in sure to the way policy nation wided toruism in Lao P.D.R.

The officer authourities had to limited regulation for acting asutene as following:

1. Torls, visiting of the guest had to back the hotel or guest house before 12 o'clock.

2. when you check in the hotel or guest house have to bring your passport, document to the reception section or receptionist.

3. Guest house will not responsible for your valuable has lost in the room, if necessary please deposit to the reception section or receptionist.

4. Prohibit to bring any prossession in to the hotel or guest house that illegality, including other weapons exception the officer authorities military who's allowed to get alicence to hold agun only.

5. Disallow to apply another dopes and belling in the guest house or hotel.

6. Every tim you get in and get out please loced your room then bring the key room to the receptionist before you leaving out of the room.

7. checking out of the guest house, hotel always before 12 o'clock in the afternoon and inspected all your belonging before you get out of the room.

8. Forbid to get every thing in the room that belong to the hotlel, guest house, whenyou checking out the hotel or guest house.

9. Please meet your guests at the reception room that guest house, hotel had provided. Awesome received or lead the guest into your room before you get allowed from the staff of the hotel, guest house.

10. If anyone not to perform this regulation, will get penalty to put on trialby the law.

Luang Prabang 02 Apr 1999
Immigratin and foreignes mancegement

Photos from Laos

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I have posted about 30 pictures from my last trip to Laos. There are a few pictures from another Mekong sunset dinner in Vientiane, pictures from the small village of Muang Ngoi Neua on the Ou River, and pictures from the Loy Kratong festival in Luang Prabang.

As usual, they can be viewed in the following:

Pictures of Luang Prabang Photo Album

Pictures of Vientiane Photo Album.

Last Twelve Days

Twelve days after I left Bangkok, I am now back. The trip didn't turn out at all as I was expecting, though. My original plans were to cross the border at Vientiane, spend a few days there, and then come back to Nong Khai for the Naga Fireball show. I was then going to travel around Isaan by bus, hitting as many provinces as I could.

I've been wanting to see the Naga Fireballs for years, but I guess that experience will have to wait, because instead of following my plan, I only stayed in Vientiane one night, and then continued on to Luang Prabang. Except for the 3-day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua, I spent the entire rest of the time in Luang Prabang.

Not that I didn't do my share of travelling. Over the past twelve days I have been in a plane, a mini-bus, several tuk-tuks, a songtaew truck, a few motorcycles, and a boat. And to top it all off, the 800 KM trip back to Bangkok was in a BMW SUV, compliments of a new German friend I met in Luang Prabang.

Not that I am complaining about any of this. It was a wonderful trip, and I got to see a lot of new things and have several new experiences. Hopefully I will be able to post some of the pictures I took soon...

A Lao Loy Kratong

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One of the best things about Luang Prabang is its festivals. They tend to be more beautiful, more traditional, and more reserved than the ones I've seen in Thailand. They also tend to be a lot of fun. Last night's Loy Kratong was no exception.

All week, people have been busy decorating their homes, shops, and temples with "Christmas" lights and 3-D hanging lanterns. The lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, but cylindrical and star-shaped ones seem to be the most popular. People have also been busy building small boats out of thin slices of bamboo and lit with candles. Hopefully I got some good pictures of all of the activity that I will be able to share when I return to Bangkok next week.

Also as the week has gone by, more and more firecrackers and fireworks have been going off around the streets of Luang Prabang. Even the monk novices seem to have gotten into the spirit. On a slow bike ride around the city a couple of nights ago, I noticed that more than a few BOOMS, BANGS and CRACKLES were coming from inside the centuries-old temple walls.

The culmination of a weeks worth of preparation culminated last night with a night-time parade down the main street of Luang Prabang. Villagers from all over the province paraded their lit boats and sang and danced and lit firecrackers and in general, made as much noise as possible as they made their way down the street.

At the end of the street, at the Sang Thong temple, the boats were launched in the Mekong along with hundreds of handmade, handheld baskets of flowers and candles. After witnessing all of this, we headed back to my guesthouse and watched the small lights float down the river.

All of the lights and all of the noise and all of the boats are in honor of the Naga who live in the river, and to the river itself. It is a celebration of the mae nam -- "river" in Thai and Lao languages -- but literally translated as "Mother Water". It's a good reason to celebrate, for without her, life would not be possible.

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This post was selected as one of the "Favorite Posts of 2005". To read more "Favorites", then visit Favorite Posts of 2005.

Luang Prabang #4

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Nursing a Beer Lao on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang, my mind is remarkably blank. This is my fifth time to my favorite little Lao town; my 3rd to stay at the Bougnasuk Guest House on the river.

I feel like I should have something profound to say, but I don't. Five trips in three years and this place almost seems like home. In fact, I have stayed in the same room at the guest house the last three times. Checking in and dropping off my bag felt so familar, it was almost like coming home.

In many ways, this trip is a mirror of my first visit to Luang Prabang. The first time, Rupert and I took the bus up from Vientiane. At the time, I am sure I swore I would never take that 9 hour roller-coaster ride through the mountains again. Three years later, I found myself back on the bus.

Luckily, I enjoyed most of it. The AC worked, the bus driver was quick but not reckless, and the scenery was breathtaking. There must have been 50 times that I thought to myself, "Now, that would have been a great picture." Kids chasing chickens in a dirt yard; a young guy strumming a guitar and singing to himself in his thatched hut doorway; bright red chilis, brown rice, orangish-yellow corn kernels all out by the street to dry; a group of school girls in a Lao silk skirts waving and giggling as we passed. Where as Luang Prabang seems very familiar to me now, the Lao countryside is still facinatingly exotic to me.

Not only does the bus ride remind me of my first trip to Luang Prabang, the time of the year does as well. I didn't realize it on the way up, but I am here on the exact same weekend that Rupert and I visited the first time. The moon will be full in a few days, which means its time for Boat Racing and much merrymaking. Last time though, we left early and headed back to Vientiane to see the festival there. This time I will stay for the Lao version of the Loy Kratong holiday in a few days.

Pak Ou Caves

Songkran Day #3 was the most relaxing so far. We spent most of the day on a boat ride up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves. The caves hold hundreds (thousands?) of Buddha images that have been placed there by worshippers over the past few centuries. When Laos had a king, the king would visit Pak Ou caves on Songkran to pour water over the images.

After visiting the caves, we crossed the river to a tiny village called Baan Pak Ou, where we ate the usual Lao/Isaan snacks of som tam (spicy papaya salad), larb blaa, (spicy ground fish salad) and kao neow (sticky rice). And of course, plenty of Beer Lao to wash it all down.

On the way back down the river to Luang Prabang, we stopped by another village which is supposedly famous for making Lao Lao (Lao Whisky -- same word but different tones). Luckily our boat driver was friends with people in the village, so we were welcomed with open arms and shot glasses of Lao Lao.

New Year Parade

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It's been another exhaustingly fun day today. We started the day with breakfast at the Scandinavian Bakery. Then, we walked around town a bit, visiting the temples and again trying to avoid getting splashed by little kids. (We were only moderately successful in the latter.)

The big event in Luang Prabang today is the New Year's Parade. Luckily we saw Ted and Than just before the parade started and so we joined them for a Beer Lao at a sidewalk cafe -- front row seats for the show.

And what a show it was! I have never seen anything like it. Row after row of costumed people walked by, along with a few flat bed trucks carrying very old monks or monks beating big drums, or monks just sitting there getting soaked by the crowds.

Finally, the highlight of the parade was a big float carrying a huge (fake) boar with a beautiful costumed Lao girl lounging on top of it. After the boar passed, the crowd followed in the streets, splashing water, throwing flour, and laughing and talking and having the best time. I think I took about 50 pictures during the 30 minute parade alone.

After the parade, the four of us walked around visiting more temples and doing a very bad job of staying dry. After a little snack back at our guesthouse we just had to take a nap. It's amazing how tiring it is to walk around laughing all day...

Playing Songkran

It has been an amazingly fun and exhausting day today. We started our New Year by eating breakfast at our guesthouse's restaurant on the river. After walking around town a bit (and dodging kids throwing water) we headed up the hill to where Ted and Than were staying at the Pan Sea hotel.

The Pan Sea Hotel sits on a beautiful location overlooking the back side of Luang Prabang (if you consider the Mekong to be the "front side"). The infinity pool and the rooms are beautiful as well. But are they worth the US$200 price? I don't think so. I'll take my US$15 guesthouse on the river, thank you. Not to mention, the hotel charged Piyawat and me US$10 for laying out at their pool with registered guests. Just plain tacky, in my opinion.

In any case, we eventually headed back to the downtown area to "Play Songkran". Basically the idea is to splash everyone who walks by or drives by with ice cold water. When no one is driving by, then you just turn to your friend next to you and pour a big bucket of water over his head. Add freely flowing Beer Lao and you have perfect low-tech fun. Needless to say, you get very wet, very quickly.

After a few hours, we needed to take a break, so the four of us took a boat across the river. We wandered through the small village watching the festivities. At one point we sat down on a tiny bench underneath a wooden house to eat fresh spring rolls and a solid dried rice pudding inside lettuce leaves.

Eventually we made it back over the river to our guesthouse where the party was still going strong. Only the setting sun slowed down the revelers. At dinner (on the river again) we sat and relaxed and watched lightning from an approaching storm light up the mountains across the river. From the sounds of it, nature will have her own "water splashing" festival tonight.

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