Lao PDR Diaries: Luang Prabang & Vientiane

The alarm went off at 5:30 am.

I opened my eyes, and saw the eerily life-like portrait of a Laotian woman hanging on the opposite wall looking at me. Then I saw a stranger sleeping on the other bed. Well, not a total stranger. She is Guonmin from Guangdong, China. We met on the slow boat a day ago…or was it two days ago? I can’t remember. All I know was that we were the only Asians on the boat…aside from the crew, of course.

We were both dead tired the night before because we were on the boat for 8 hours. After checking in and dumping our bags in the lodge, we scurried off to the night market for dinner. Of course we couldn’t miss the famous $1 Laotian buffet. Turns out the one we went to serves vegetarian dishes. Bummer! All the while I thought all the fried things I dumped on my plate were meat. But because I was too hungry to bother looking for the grilled meats, I gobbled up what I got, and we went back to the lodge.

We agreed we should sleep early that night so we could wake up in time for the alms giving ceremony or tak bat, hence, the alarm.

Took this shot from the other side of the road

Fortunately, our lodge was just a few minutes walk to Wat Mai in Sisavangvong Road where the alms giving starts. We could already hear the Buddhist chants as we passed by the morning market.

The ceremony is supposed to be a solemn tradition. Unfortunately, there are disrespectful tourists who treat this as an attraction. They even take pictures of the monks up close!

We then went back to the lodge for breakfast.

I tried to do some work, while Guonmin went out to look for a new hostel because I was to transfer to Villa Maydou later that day, and couldn’t bring her along. Even though we parted ways for a day, we met up again the following day, and went to Kuang Si Waterfalls.

Kuang Si Waterfalls is about an hour away from the town. I think we paid LAK50,000 for the round trip van transfer, and LAK20,000 entrance fee.

I wasn’t expecting to see bears! Apparently, they have a Bear Rescue Center, and they’re the first ones you’ll see when you start the trek.

Kuang Si has several tiers, and you’ll find it difficult choosing where to swim.

I was impressed that the park is well-maintained.

They say Kuang Si has turquoise waters, but it was more powder bluish when we were there. It looked unreal!

We decided to check out the main falls first before we went for a dip at the lower tier.

The water was cold, and was the perfect respite from the humid afternoon. We also got free foot spa courtesy of the tiny fish that nibbled our dead skin cells. 🙂

Recorded using the AEE Magicam

We left just in time before the rain poured.

When we got back to town, Guonmin and I parted ways again. I went to an internet cafe, and tried to book a ticket to KL. Tried – because the connection was so sloooow I spent an hour, and my booking still wouldn’t go through. I finally gave up on it, and went to one of the several agencies along Sakkaline Road to book my bus ticket to Vientiane. I went back to my guesthouse and called it a day.

Remnants of the past, French Colonial architecture, co-exist with the numerous temples scattered around Luang Prabang.

On my last day in Luang Prabang, I just walked around town.

It was funny, actually, because I kept bumping into the same people from the boat every day. This is probably why I felt Luang Prabang was a bit touristy. I rarely see locals – and by locals, I mean residents who just go about their daily routine – in this side of town. The only locals I see here either own/run a guesthouse, cafe/restaurant, souvenir shop, or a tour agency. Or maybe I just didn’t explore enough. I don’t know.

When I finally got tired of walking around town, I sat by the park across the Royal Palace, and had a moment of reflection. I couldn’t believe I was already on my second week of traveling solo. I was proud of my small achievements like not getting lost, or not getting left by the plane, or not getting mugged, or not losing my things, or not having a meltdown. haha I was like “I got this.”, and my confidence meter went up.

Haw Pha Bang inside the Royal Palace

At around 5:30 pm, the tuk-tuk picked me up from the guesthouse. It was part of the package when I booked my bus ticket to Vientiane. It was almost sunset, so the vendors were already setting up their wares at the night market. On our way to the bus station, I saw kids on their bikes on the way home from school as well as other locals on their daily commute. I felt like this was the only time that I saw the ‘real’ Luang Prabang.

When I got to the bus station, I was surprised to see Jackie – a Scottish woman I also met on the slow boat. We stayed at the same guesthouse in Pakbeng during our one night stopover. And what a coincidence, she was also heading to Vientiane. We also found out the seat numbers we were assigned to were next to each other even though we booked our tickets separately from different agencies!

I think our bus left a bit past 7:30 pm. Anyway, 15 minutes into the ride and we heard a thud. The driver stopped, went down, and checked something under the bus. Jackie and I just looked at each other. It’s going to be an interesting ride, we thought. I think she had a hard time getting some sleep because the road was bumpy, winding, and there was a thunderstorm. Luckily, I’m used to rough roads in The Philippines.

We arrived at the Northern Bus Station in Vientiane at past 6:00 am, and it was still raining. We got a tuk-tuk, and I asked the driver to drop me off at Nam Phu Fountain. Jackie got off in a different area. When I got off Nam Phu Fountain, I just followed the instructions Moonlight Champa gave me, and found it in no time.

I obviously arrived way earlier than the check-in time, but the owner, Brad, was gracious enough to offer me free coffee and bagel, and a free map while waiting for my room to be ready. I just used the time to book my ticket to KL. My room was ready by 9:00 am, but I was given a room on the third floor which was a bit of a hassle because they don’t have a lift. Anyway, I freshened up, did some laundry, logged in a couple of hours work, then went out for lunch and did some sightseeing.

Lao National Museum

I first went to the Lao National Museum because it was just a few minutes away. However, it was closed because I went during lunch time. Together with a Japanese guy, we waited outside until 1:00 pm. When it re-opened, I paid the museum fee, and left my things at the locker. I think there were only 4 of us at the museum that time. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about museums that freak me out. I just find it really creepy being in a room with deafening silence surrounded by ancient things. It was so funny because I was sprinting just to get to the exit, and somehow went out on the wrong door. I went around the whole compound just to find the entrance so I can get my things from the locker. LOL

Hindi ako na-inform, suma-sideline pala bilang tuk-tuk driver sa Vientiane si Chavit Singson. LOL

There are tuk-tuks just outside the museum that can take you around Vientiane. If I remember correctly, the guy quoted LAK80,000 for 1 hour which includes visiting 4 temples. I said I didn’t want to go to Pha Tat Luang, so we agreed on LAK60,000.

Wat Si Saket

We first went to Wat Si Saket.

There is a nominal fee of LAK5,000, and it’s good to know that it’s being put to good use. They were doing some art restoration in the main temple that time.

Haw Phra Kaew

And just across Wat Si Saket is Haw Phra Kaew.

I thought the name sounded similar to the temple in Bangkok. Then I found out this temple used to house the Emerald Buddha, now in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. That’s why.

Patuxai Monument  |  Patuxai’s ceiling with depictions of the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra

You can actually climb to the top (with entrance fee, of course), but because it was so hot that day, I decided not to.

The tuk-tuk brought me back to the guesthouse, and for LAK40,000, we agreed that he would pick me up the next morning, and bring me to the airport…which was like 15 minutes away from where I’m staying at.

Last stop for the day was Patuxai. Yes, it looks like Arc de Triomphe, and ironically, it was erected to commemorate those who fought for independence from France.

0 thoughts on “Lao PDR Diaries: Luang Prabang & Vientiane

  1. Kuang Si is really beautiful. It's now one of my favorite places ever. 🙂

    Actually, crowded na ata yang lagay na yan when we went, but because there were so many tiers, hindi nagsisiksikan sa iisang spot ang mga tao. 🙂

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