Tag Archives: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, Laos

4/2 – I have not been looking forward to today.  We bought tickets two days ago for the bus up and over the mountains to Vang Vieng, about 7 hours south.  Every blog post we have read calls this the Bus From Hell, and advises against taking it if at all possible.  The roads are so narrow and the turns and switchbacks are so tortuous, that even the strong of stomach are advised to bring barf bags, and those with a tendency toward motion sickness are advised to take the plane.

To make matters worse, Jim and I are both suffering from something we ate yesterday. I’ll spare you the details, but we couldn’t have picked a worse day to be stuck on a bus.
In anticipation, I went to the mini-mart near our guesthouse last night, to see if they carried Dramamine (pills for motion sickness).  “I’m taking the bus to Vang Vieng tomorrow”, I said.  The clerk walked right over to the shelf and gave me the generic Thai equivalent of Dramamine.  I was obviously not the first person with this request!
The tuk-tuk picked us up at 8:30am and took us to the bus station.  We had assigned seats right up front, but the seats were over the wheel well, with no room for our legs.  We moved back a row and hoped that no one would challenge us for our seats.  This would have been unacceptable behavior in China, but here, no one seemed to mind.  30 minutes before departure, we both popped a Dramamine. 


As I had not gotten much rest the night before, the pill put me right to sleep.  Jim wasn’t so lucky.  Every once in a while, the bus would bounce so jarringly that I would open one eye, observe a hairpin turn, and go back to sleep again. So, sorry to say, no pix out the bus window.  The shocks on the bus were bad, so every bump in the road made the bus bounce twice.  My teeth were rattling in my head. There was no AC, and the temp was in the 90s.
We stopped twice for toilet breaks – best not to describe rural Laotian toilets.  Our promised lunch break didn’t occur until 3:30pm, and I wasn’t hungry in the least.  We arrived in Vang Vieng by 5 in the afternoon, and shared a tuk-tuk into town.
So now we are at the Laos Haven Hotel, showered and rested.  It is a tiny town, compared to Luang Prabang, with only one main street, and not many tourists.  Here is the view out our hotel window, of the main street.image
Traffic on the main street.image

Looks like this will be a nice place to relax!

Luang Prabang – Utopia, a Wat and a Bamboo Bridge

3/30 – We are thoroughly enjoying our time in this relaxed and friendly Laotian town, and have decided to stay a few days longer. There are lots of touristy things we could do, like visiting a Hmong village, taking a bus to a waterfall, or learning how to train elephants, but we are content to walk around town, investigate the temples, talk to anyone who speaks English, eat good food, and drink the occasional Beer Lao – the Beer of the Wholehearted People. The local folk are friendly, but not pushy, which is very nice.

Today we walked to the other side of town, along the Nam Than River, where we have not spent much time. Here we found the famous Utopia Bar, where the younger set sits on cushions and stares out at the river while drinking beer and listening to old Bob Marley music. Groovy. We had a beer, then moved on. image

We found another wat, which featured the mirrored mosaics that I like. Here is the Tree of Life, and the little Lao people covering the wall behind the Buddha statues. image


Here are the funerary urns used by the former kings of Laos, now permanently on display, as there are no more kings.image


The hand positions of the Buddhas are important – palms front is an entreaty to stop arguing, and hands at his sides is an entreaty for rain.image


We spoke with two orange-clad 17 year old monks, who explained that they were novices until the age of twenty, at which time they would decide whether to stay at the monastery. One was inclined to stay, the other wanted to go abroad to attend university. Jim asked lots of questions about some of the images we’ve seen in the temples, and they were happy to supply the answers. Very personable young men – they appreciated the chance to work on their English, and we appreciated the chat.

In the afternoon, we came upon a long bamboo bridge, that we had to pay 75 cents to cross. I thought someone should be paying us to cross this bridge! On the other side was nothing at all, just bulldozed land. I’m glad they didn’t charge us to walk back. image


It was a beautiful place to be at sunset.image

Luang Prabang – Whiskey Village and the Pak Ou Caves

3/28 – This morning we had an early breakfast so we would be ready for our tuk-tuk at 8am. We are taking a two hour tourist slow boat up the Mekong River to visit Whiskey Village, and see the Pak Ou Buddha caves. There are seven of us (two young women from Hanoi, a Spanish man from Barcelona, and a couple in the back that we never got to speak to) in the long boat, which is motor driven, so is not really that slow. The morning is overcast and it is actually a little chilly on the water.

We see fishermen and children along the riverside, and deer and water buffalo on the far shore. imageimage
We stop for gas at a floating gas dock. image

An hour and a half into our ride, the driver stops at a set of rickety steps, and we disembark and climb up to a tin-roofed shack containing a metal drum distillery heated by an open fire.image


Whiskey Village produces 100 proof rice whiskey, as well as red and white rice wine. The proprietor offers samples to anyone who wishes to partake. Jim tries some of each, and is drawn to the small bottles containing whiskey-preserved snakes or scorpions – powerful medicine. I remind him that we already have several of these bottle at home, from his previous Asian adventures!image

It’s 10 in the morning, too early for me to drink whiskey, so I walk further to see what else the village has to offer. Women sit at their looms, producing bolts of cloth and scarves in either cotton or silk. They each entreat as I pass, in low voices with eyes downcast, “Beautiful for you madam, lucky scarf, cotton for you, silk for you, discount for you.”

As backpackers, we normally have a “no buy” policy, but the morning is chilly and the thought of a shawl around my shoulders leads me to engage with one of the women. She allows me to take her picture, and we negotiate for a light cotton turquoise shawl, which ends up costing about $2.50.image

“Lucky for you, madam”, she says, and brushes the money over her other wares, transferring the luck in hope of future sales.

In 20 minutes, we are all back on the boat. I see that my fellow female travelers have each bought a scarf. The men are smiling, so they must have enjoyed the whiskey and wine.

Now we continue our journey north to the Pak Ou caves, where a bamboo bridge and a set of steps brings us to the mouth of a cave filled with small Buddha statues, mostly made of wood, that people have been bringing here for over two hundred years.

The lower cave area is illuminated by natural light from the mouth of the cave.image

We emerge and walk up another set of steps to find the upper caves. These are not illuminated, and you need a flashlight to enter. Jim, as always, is prepared, and I am able to capture some pix with my camera’s flash.image

Jim would have been happy spending several hours here, but our boat driver has only allotted us 40 minutes, (one of the reasons we try not to take group tours), so we pull ourselves away and hurry back down the steps.  Sure enough, he is waiting for us – everyone else is already on the boat.

Our return trip is heading south with the current, so it only takes an hour to get back.  The sun is now fully out and the day is hot – don’t need my shawl any more, but am glad that I got to meet the woman who made it. A beautiful day.image imageimage


Luang Prabang – Tak Bat and Mount Phou si

3/27 – This morning we rose at 5am to view the daily ritual of Tak Bat – giving alms to the monks at daybreak.  Every day, the townspeople line the streets near the 33 temples where monks reside, and prepare to feed them sticky rice, crackers and little packets of food.    


The townspeople remove their shoes, and sit so their heads are  lower than the monks’ heads, out of respect.  They dip the food with their hand, and do not make eye contact with the monks, who are meditating as they walk.  The ritual is performed in silence. This is the only food the monks will eat today. Monks eat morning and noon, and then fast until the next morning. image

When the youngest monk at the end of the line has been fed, the ritual is over until tomorrow.IMG_8424


As we were near another wat (temple), we peeked in. Prayer candles are lit in the shrines, and young monks are tending the grounds. A monk is having his photo taken – very unusual.

We spend the day relaxing in town, eating good food and taking in the sights.

In the late afternoon, we walked to Mount Phou si, the highest point in Luang Prabang. There are two set of steps, on opposite sides of the hill. We go up the steps facing the main street – up, up, and up some more!image


You may purchase little birds in reed cages, and set them free at the top of the hill. This will give you merit for your next life. I don’t know what happens to the people who imprisoned the birds in the first place…image

There is a wat at the top of the hill, and a view of both the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River. imageimage


The steps down the back of the hill were rich with Buddha statues.

A peaceful ending to our day.image

Luang Prabang – the Palace and the Library


3/26 – It’s still cool and overcast, with a drizzle of rain, so we decided that today would be a good day to visit the palace; home to the Kings of Laos until the last was overthrown by the Communists in 1975.  Like other places, we are required to remove our shoes before entering, and store our cameras and phones in a locker. IMG_8340

Outside there are gardens and a pond filled with hungry fish that rise to meet anyone that approaches.  image image
We see the gold-covered conveyances that once carried the king on ceremonial occasions.image
There was a large garage filled with Mercedes Benz and other cars given to 20th century kings as gifts, including a white Ford Edsel in mint condition.  Sorry, no pix allowed there either.  Inside the palace, we see bedrooms, dining rooms, and a very impressive golden throne room, with walls covered with mirror mosaics of tiny Laotian people.  Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.image
Several rooms are dedicated to gifts given to the king by foreign governments- France, Britain, China, Japan…  I’m starting to feel embarrassed to be an American – no gift from us?  Then I spot it – two pens on a stand given by Richard Nixon, and a moon rock.  Thank goodness!  I can hold my head high once again.
Walking back from the palace, we see the Luang Prabang Library, where tourists are encouraged to donate to buy a book for one of the two Library Boats that cruise the river to bring literacy to village children. image
At lunchtime we investigate the street stands, and Jim finds a lady grilling chicken and fish.  It smells so good, he just has to have one!

 image image
One more wat, and we’re done for the day – we plan to get up very early tomorrow morning!

Luang Prabang, Laos – a Wat and the Night Market

3/25 – We awoke to the sound of birds outside our window.  The ceiling fan circled overhead.  What a peaceful, easy feeling – we’re not in China anymore!  Yay!  We were too tired to attempt supper last night, so we got dressed and set out this morning to explore Luang Prabang.  The day is overcast and in the 80s – perfect tropical weather.  Flowers abound.  Our guesthouse is quiet, with tables outside.  There are signs reminding us to remove our shoes before climbing the stairs or entering a room.  image

Our quiet little street ends at the Mekong River, a flashback name for those who remember the Vietnam war.  We walk to the main street, where a row of food stand vendors vie for our business.  Sabaidi!  the women call – hello!  They offer all kinds of baguette sandwiches, crepes and coffee – the former French colonial influence is evident.  There are lots of young European backpackers and Chinese tourists here.   We see our Chinese friends from the bus, and sit down to have a chicken avocado baguette and a fresh fruit smoothie.  It’s been a month since I’ve had bread – it tastes so good!  The currency here is the kip, and 10,000 kip equal about $1.25.  To make it easy on my brain, I start removing four zeros to calculate prices.  Food and fruit are very reasonable here – $3.00 total for the smoothie and the sandwich. Fortified, we cross the street to check out the nearest Buddhist temple.  Luang Prabang is home to 33 temples or wats, and support of the monks is very important to the people here. IMG_8305

   After an afternoon nap, we head back out to find some supper.  There are all types of eateries here – Thai, Lao, French, Chinese, and even a Spanish tapas place – from white tablecloth restaurants to street stands.  We find a little cafe and order chicken with basil and rice, and the local beer, Beerlao.  We are given forks – it feels strange to not have chopsticks… Every evening at 5pm, the main street is closed to traffic, and the night market sets up – hundreds of vendors selling everything from clothing, toys, silks, jewelry, artwork of all sorts, to pastry, fresh fruit and spring rolls. Very laid back, no pressure.  Bargaining mandatory.  Here are Buddhas painted on turtle shells.

A relaxing first day – we like it here!

Boten, Laos to Luang Prabang, Laos

3/24 – the story continues from previous post, 15 hours into our bus ride:

We walked into the golden stupa at Boten, which welcomed us to Laos.  We had to fill out forms and purchase visas here, which was no trouble.  Bring a passport photo, and the equivalent of $35.00.  Other blogs indicated that we would have to pay in US dollars, but we had no trouble paying in yuan.  We then had to stand in line to get through Customs.

When we emerged, I couldn’t see anyone else from our bus, but we could still see the big blue bus on the line of vehicles going through the border crossing.  There were plenty of people standing around, so we stood too.  After a while, the bus to Ventiane that had been behind us pulled up, and most of the people started getting on.  A taxi driver approached us and tried to usher us into his taxi.  No, no, we said, we don’t need a taxi.  We’re waiting for our bus.  With little English, he indicated we should get in his taxi to get to our bus.  Now I was worried.  Where were the other people from our bus?  We walked back across the border, and the big blue thing we mistook for our bus was actually a big blue truck.  Oh no!  The bus left without us!

We went back to where the people were boarding the other bus.  One man had a phone, and called someone, and handed me the phone.  A female, in stilted English, said our bus was 8 kilometers down the road, and we had to take a taxi to catch up.  That explains the insistence of the taxi driver – our bus driver must have sent him when he realized we were not on board.  But where was he now?  When we refused to get in his taxi, he had gone.  We were stranded!  We looked up and down the street, but there were no other taxis to be found.  Then the Ventiane bus pulled up and opened its doors.  The driver indicated that we could hop on.  He would take us to our bus!  We sat on the front step for a 10 minute ride down the road, and breathed a sigh of relief when we spotted Big Blue in front of a thatch covered eatery.  We thanked the driver and ran back to our bus, where our driver was looking a little worried.  We agreed not to let the bus out of our sight again!image


We got something to eat, although my stomach was in a knot, and got back on the bus.  Now that it was daytime, I wished I could sit up, but lying in my bunk was really the only option.  Tried to take some pix out the window, with limited success.image image


We are definitely not in China anymore.  We pass little villages with thatched roof shacks, and children playing in the dirt. Note that the huts are equipped with satellite dishes.image image

We see wild pigs, a water buffalo, goats and chickens in the street.  When the bus stops for a break, the men pee over the cliff on one side, while we women squat behind a big rock on the other.  The road is so narrow that only one vehicle can pass at a time, so we stop whenever there is oncoming traffic.  It’s slow going, and very bumpy where the road is not paved. We read that during the wet season, buses cannot complete this journey. It’s a gray day, and I hope it’s not going to rain!

By mid afternoon, we are stopped more than we are moving. The road is being paved, and we get to watch whole families working at the roadside.image

Somehow, the afternoon passes, and now it is dark. As we approach our destination, the driver stops whenever we get near where someone lives, and he has to get out to retrieve their baggage from the storage area. Then we pass some restaurants, and the bus stops to deliver boxes of supplies. At 9:30pm, 27 hours after we boarded, we finally pull into Luang Prabang. I’m so tired I can hardly see. A Chinese couple from the bus ask if they can share a tuk-tuk with us, and we all pile in. The night air is warm, and there are flowers everywhere. Our guest house is right in the middle of town, and we register and tumble gratefully into a hot shower and a soft bed. We’re here!

Kunming, China to the Laotian Border

3/23 – Today is our last day in China, and we have some errands to run.  Most important, Jim has to find some more Lipitor.  We’ve had no trouble refilling his prescription in Europe, Türkiye, and the former Soviet countries, but this medicine is prohibitively expensive in China.  Jim’s research indicates that cholesterol medicine is not something widely prescribed here.  After trying several pharmacies, we walked into a hospital and tried the pharmacy there.  They had the generic equivalent of Zocor, a similar drug, so we purchased a month’s worth, standing on three different lines to get registered in the system, pay up front, then collect the pills.  Bureaucracy aside, we probably got them faster then waiting for a pickup at Walgreens, and without a word of language…

We ate lunch, packed up and left our hotel by 3pm, to take the Metro to the South Coach Station for our bus to Laos.  The Metro is brand-sparkly new, with attendants to help you purchase tickets from automated machines, and attendants to help you board the train. This photo courtesy of Google. image
You wait for your train behind a wall with sliding glass doors that don’t open until the train arrives, so no one can accidentally fall onto the tracks. image
The stations are announced both in Chinese and English.  The cars weren’t packed full.  It was a great experience!
Kunming recently built four bus stations located at the four compass points of the city, to spread out the traffic jams that used to occur at the central bus station. If you are traveling south, your bus leaves from the South station. So logical!  Here is Jim waiting for our bus to arrive.image

We boarded our overnight sleeper bus at 6pm for the 400 mile, 24 hour trip south across the Chinese border at Mohan to Luang Prabang, Laos. Some of the buses looked new and posh, but ours looked like it had seen better days, and lots of mud.image

The bus has three rows of double-decker bunks running head-to-toe, and an area in the back where it looks like lots of people are just crammed together.  No toilet on board, but we understand that the bus will stop every few hours.image

Jim and I have bunks on the left aisle, so we can see out the window.  The folks in the middle aren’t so lucky.  We’ve been issued blankets and pillows covered with light blue flannel sheets featuring Snoopy (spelled Snopy – in China, close is good enough…) and Woodstock – this is going to be just like a fun sleepover!  At 5’6″, I fit comfortably in my bunk, with my feet touching the board at Jim’s head.  At 6’3″, Jim looks like a pretzel.  One of our fellow passengers pantomimed that Jim would be better off stretching out on the floor!  Before too long, the rocking of the bus lulled us to sleep.
3/24 – at 2am, the bus stopped, and stayed stopped until 5am.  What’s the use of an all night bus if it’s not going to drive all night?  We’ll never know.  Today is Jim’s birthday.  He said there is no way he would rather spend his day…
At 10am we reached the border at Mohan, and officially left China, then walked up to the golden stupa that welcomed us to Laos.


This epic saga continues in the next post!