Laos is quiet – very quiet! The whole country is slightly smaller than the UK but has a population of 6.5 million, so everyone is quite spread out. It’s also the end of wet season so there aren’t many tourists here (I’m the only person staying in my guesthouse) but there is a lot to do so I’m glad I made this a stop on my tour.
On my first full day in Luang Prabang I hit the city centre (but when I say city I mean the one high street) and walked round pretty much all the big sights.
Laos is very devout Buddhist and there are monks everywhere. On Friday everyone was preparing for the festival Bun Awk Phansa, marking the end of Buddhist lent, so there were paper lanterns going up everywhere ready for the celebrations on Sunday where they have a procession of handmade paper boats.
The Bun Awk Phansa festival celebrates the end of the period when monks aren’t allowed to travel so it’s often celebrated with boats adorned with flowers and illuminated with candles and lamps. I sat on the steps going down to the Mekong where there were many boat races going on, as this holiday also marks the start of the boat racing season.
I visited Wat May, the Royal Palace Museum (along with the Royal Car Collection), the Floating Buddha exhibition and the main temple Wat Xieng Thong before having a delicious French lunch at Cafe Ban Vat Sen (highly recommended).
After lunch I climbed up the steps to the Buddha Footprint (just a big hole in the rock really but an amazing view), saw Wat Siphouttabath and then popped into the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre – it sounds like a lot but everything is practically next door to each other.
But it was on Saturday when I had the best day – elephants are officially my favourite animals EVER! I went on a trek out of town with White Elephant Adventures. Four of us took a truck from town to the village of Ban Sum. We took a small boat across the river Nam Khan to where the Lao Loum, Hmong and Khmu tribes live, before trekking through jungle and rice fields to our kayaks.
We kayaked about 10 minutes to the Tad Se waterfalls and there we had an elephant ride round the jungle surrounding the waterfall before riding the elephants into the waterfall and swimming with them. It was amazing!
Our elephant went deep underwater, I got completely drenched but it was so worth it. We then got back in our kayaks and went down the river for a couple of hours. Luckily it was quite overcast yesterday, otherwise I would have been completely burnt, and it was a relatively cool trip down.
We got back just in time as the heavens opened last night to a proper monsoon downpour. If you come to Laos you must do this, I would highly recommend the tour and the girl who I shared a kayak with said this was definitely in her top 5 experiences – not bad as she is in the last 10 days of a year long world tour.
So today my shoulders are killing me but I had a very relaxing morning planned at Ock Pop Tok (East meets West) a silk weaving centre just outside town. They dye silks using natural ingredients from the gardens there and I did a half-day dyeing class, dyeing some silks and a scarf with bark from the Sappan Tree.
Luang Prabang has definitely been an experience, many people stay here for months, even years, but I’m ready to move on so I’m off to the Laos capital city of Vientiane tomorrow.