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Luang Prabang, Laos – Culture and Cool Weather

It is hard to believe that it was over a year since I was in Laos, a beautiful and sleepy South East Asian country. My story was left in the backpackers black hole; Vang Vieng.

After our river party experience this next town would bring more culture, cooler weather and a much slower pace. First, however, we would have to get there.

We met two cool unamerican Americans, Tayler and Kate, in Vang Vieng. Tayler joined Craig and I on the road to Luang Prabang and despite our persuasions, Kate left for the “U – S of A” to continue her real life.

The trip was, simply put, worrying.

Our driver was clearly either clinically insane or (most likely) on magic mushrooms, opium or a combination of the two. We first noticed something was wrong when Tayler realised her password was back in Vang Vieng – during a break, I asked the driver for help and he fell onto the floor laughing. Literally.

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We had set off at about 2pm in a minivan and during our journey we got a puncture, the brakes seized up (the driver tried to replace the brake fluid with water) and after switching vans the driver filled up with petrol instead of diesel.

It was a miracle we got there, but we did so five hours later than expected at around 11pm. Finding a hotel was the next challenge – the town was literally closed. The curfew of Laos was even more prevalent here and every bar, restaurant and hotel was shut for the night. Everyone was asleep.

We managed to wake up a night porter, get a room and get our heads down. The hotel was nice, new and fairly cheap but that was a bonus; the day had been difficult and I for one was glad to get some rest.

The next morning I woke up to a beautiful town that is a world away from the backpackerised Vang Vieng. The buildings are has haphazardly placed as any Asian town, but a certain architecture gave the whole place a cultured and civilized feel. The night markets had less counterfeit junk and more craft. The restaurants served a variety of good food. There were a few sleepy bars and virtually no nightlife.

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So we did what any young, adventurous travelers would do; Craig and I joined the middle aged holiday makers and took a cooking course.

And I am glad we did – I learnt a lot about preparing the staple SEA ingredients (Ginger, Glangal, Garlic, Lemongrass, Chilli), actually made some great food and visited a local market with a guide.

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The market trip was an eye opener; I learned about spices, herbs and vegetables that I had never seen before. I also saw fermented fish heads, various barely living sea life in buckets and deep fried baby chicks; these I would be happy to never see again.

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I really enjoyed the cooking day and got a lot out of it. We all created a dish each, with their guidance, and at the end we had a nice meal of all our food. They gave each of us a certificate and a cook book with some great recipes.

Cooking in Luang Prabang Photos

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Our stay in Luang Prabang ended up longer than we thought, due to us having to wait for flights to Cambodia, so we made the most of it and booked on some Trekking, Caving, Elephant riding and Kayaking.

Trekking in Luang Prabang

We managed to persuade the Mahout (elephant rider) to allow us to ride the elephant properly – on the neck (Mowgli style) instead of on a seat strapped to the back. While I had ridden Elephants before this was a first for me, and it was fun being able to direct her and be so close to such an amazing animal.

Trekking in Luang Prabang

The trekking was an eye opening experience. Our main guide took us across rivers, through jungles, an isolated village and he did it all in his flip flops. I have often thought that outdoors and nature becomes underwhelming the more you see and do, but here I was deeply inspired yet again in the mountainous Laos landscape.

This was the first time I had come across leeches and all I felt was a sharp pain in my ankle as one of them tore away, as it had bitten me through my sock. On of our guides took great pleasure in burning the leech after it had gorged itself on my blood.

Trekking in Luang Prabang

After trekking we took a Kayak down the cold river. Some our companions took great photographs of us but we have lost touch with them, so take my word for it that this river scene is truly amazing.

Adventuring in Luang Prabang Photos

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Back in Luang Prabang we took it easy. The daily night markets didn’t last long but offered a variety of bracelets, unique hand crafted gifts and plenty to look at. We spent our days casually strolling the city, and our nights looking for entertainment. We did find that the local bowling alley stayed open later than everywhere, till about 2am or 3am.

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Sometimes you meet really interesting people when travelling. The kind of people that you just would never come across in your life. Outside the bowling alley, waiting for a tuk tuk back into town, we spoke with an extremely proud Native Alaskan couple (essentially Eskimos, although that is surely politically incorrect) who were in town selling designs/art. The small insight into their lives was fascinating – they spoke of being “pure blood” in their heritage, strange cultures and their descendants from Mongolia.

The pace of this town was evident when we went to get some cash from an ATM later at night. They seem to be guarded by a policeman, but this one had fallen asleep on his bike and didn’t wake as Tayler posed for a picture.

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We passed the time by getting massages, drinking coffee and watching traditional shows but soon it was time to move on. The pace was too slow here and I was anxious for plenty of time in Cambodia, before we had to return to Bangkok for Christmas.

We left in the morning and parted ways with our good friend Tayler who left to return to America while we caught our flight to Cambodia.

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Next up; the ancient Angkor Wat, Vietnamese Villages and the dark side of poverty stricken Cambodia.

Luang Prabang Photos

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Written by Carey

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