Tree on Phou-Si Hill
This past September, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. Read on for her report on Luang Prabang, the artistic center of Laos!
In case you missed Part Two on Ayutthaya, click here to read it.
I flew from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Thai Airways, a petite but quite comfortable hopper with perhaps 40-50 seats. Please do remember that Laos requires a full page in your passport for the visa, plus USD $37 visa fee (at time of writing), so bring cash. The airport is about 30 minutes’ drive from Luang Prabang.
Street in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is the artistic and cultural capital of Laos. At first sight I fell deeply in love with this small, nostalgic city, with its intimate cafes, French architecture and boutique antique shops. Travelers should situate themselves near the Mekong river, within walking distance to the best restaurants and the night market.
Our first stop was the Japanese-owned Sonphao Restaurant, where we partook on a refreshing set menu of Lao fare. The food is typically light and revitalizing, with flavors of sweet lemongrass, tender pork and chicken, flavorful mushrooms and delicate fish sauces. One of the most tasty discoveries for me was kaipen-khay, or river weed. This is an algae that grows on underwater rocks in the Mekong river, eaten in dry sheets similar to Japanese nori. A local speciality of Luang Prabang is dry khai with sesame, eaten in strips as a side dish. I ordered a Beer Lao, which was a light, decent lager that came with its own story. A few decades ago, Lao students were sent on exchanges to universities in the Soviet Union and East Germany, and one came back with a recipe for beer!
Lunch at Sonphao, one of the best meals of the writer’s life
One of the major highlights of the city is Phou-Si Hill. A large Buddhist complex is spread all over the hillside in a gigantic and gorgeous maze of curving stairs, eye-popping flora, small spirit houses, Buddha footprints and statues of each Buddha. The view from the top of the valley and river is absolutely stunning. One warning—there are a lot of steps! At the very top, vendors sell frogs and birds in little cages, meant for you to release for good luck—however it’s not recommend to buy these as many frogs and birds die during capture.
At the food of Phou-Si Hill is an amazing Hmong night market, a mile-long string of colorful tents where vendors sell handicrafts, silks and handmade paper gifts. Haggling is a major part of the Laotian culture—but bring your Lao Kip, because only a few vendors take Thai Baht and almost none USD or euros.
View from Phou-Si Hill
Next to the market is the Royal Palace, home to the monarchy until 1975, when the royal family was banished out of the country by the communist party. You can wander from room to room, no photography and no shoes allowed (but there are lockers to put your stuff in). Old furniture, paintings, art, ceramics, gifts, musicians, even a chariot and a collection of cars and dragonboats are on display. Most impressive was the gift room, a series of glass chests that displayed various gifts given from presidents, kings, etc. all over the world to the Lao royal family. There is even a piece of the moon from the USA!
Next Up: Mekong Cruise!
For more photos from Wailana’s trip to Laos, check out the gallery: https://wittravel.wordpress.com/gallery/laos/
WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout SE Asia and we continue booking clients regularly around the region, to top destinations and off-the-beaten-path alike. Whether you’re traveling on your honeymoon or with a larger family, Thailand is a great choice for first-time and experienced travelers alike. Call 503-224-0180 to speak with one of our agents about a trip that’s right for you.