Tag Archives: luang prabang

Agent Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part Five — Luang Prabang, Pt 2

Last month, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. This month we are posting sections from her journal–read on for her insider tips!

In case you missed Part Four on the Mekong Cruise, click here to read it.

After the 3-night Mekong cruise, we disembarked at Luang Prabang for one final night in this charming town. Our hotel was the the Angsana Maison, a lovely, historic hotel just 20 minutes’ walk from the night market. This property had a soothing atmosphere. Its white walls and intimate spa contributes to a simple boutique charm.

That day we drove in a passenger van out to the Kuang Si waterfalls, about 45 minutes to 1 hour from the city. As it had stormed violently the night before, the waterfalls had erupted into an impressive flood. During drier months (early Spring), people can usually swim or wade in the small pools at the base of the falls.

IMAG1655

One of the highlights from the Lao trip I haven’t mentioned yet is the monk walk. Every morning, monks from the local temple line up and collect rice from villagers. They walk around a few blocks with their baskets, stopping for just a second for kneeling townsfolk to scoop out their morning rice. I bought a little sitting map and a large wooden tub of rice and waited for each monk—the older ones to the front, the younglings at the back. The line advances pretty speedily, so you have to move fast to scoop your rice into their tubs!

IMAG1377

IMAG1278

If you visit Luang Prabang, don’t forget to hop on a tuk tuk. These are different than Thai tuk tuk cars—in Lao they are quite colorful, blue trucks slathered in strips of bright yellow and red and green. We drove out on one of these to the food market—a delicious collection of Lao goodies you won’t find anywhere else in the world: juicy bacon, marinated meat, lemongrass, buffalo jerky, strong coffee—even wasp eggs!

IMAG1393

That evening after a delicious dinner by the river (steamed fish in banana leaf!), we drove out to a house in the residential district to attend a Baci ceremony. The Baci is a traditional ritual used to celebrate important events. Most Lao people are animists who believe in indigenous gods (phi) and thirty-two khwan, or spirits who inhabit the body. The Khwan bestow health and prosperity onto a person, and their absence directly correlates to illness or harm. The main purpose of the Baci is to call back your spirits, and it is often performed to welcome guests and travelers.

IMAG1617

A band of fifteen elders and a priest greeted us with a tower of bright orange flowers, strings, bananas and sweets. The ritual was brief but beautiful, and involved several dances from five 13- to 16-year-old girls in costume. We each had our wrists bound in simple ropes, which we could keep on for 3 days for full spiritual potency.

WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout SE Asia and regularly book clients around the region. Call 503-224-0180 to speak with one of our agents about a trip that’s right for you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Laos, Our Travel Agents, Vendors, Vexplore, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Agent Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part Four — Mekong Cruise

Last month, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. This month we are posting sections from her journal–read on for her insider tips!

In case you missed Part Three on Luang Prabang, click here to read it.

IMAG1261

Mekong Sun

The next morning we embarked and sailed north of Luang Prabang on the Mekong River. This river cruise was truly a unique experience.

Our ship, the Mekong Sun, was a midsize riverboat with 16 crew and 14 cabins. The Sun typically sails 3, 6, or 8 days from Luang Prabang, though there is the impressive 10-day to Chiang Saen or 12-day to Vientiane cruises.

The ship moves at a leisurely pace, so that you might hardly notice the current at all. Like all water traffic on the Mekong, the Sun does not travel during the night due to riparian flotsam and jetsam. Breakfast is Western, lunch is Western/Asian mix buffet, Asian set meals for dinner with some limited choices for drinks. If you’re brave, try lao lao—distilled Lao moonshine served in shot glasses—or any of the delicious South American or French wines.

IMAG1536

lao lao jars

While I was onboard, passengers were a mix of Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Americans, Thai, and one journalist from Hong Kong. There’s ample space onboard—you never feel too crowded with an open-air sun deck and a shaded dining area—however, there’s no A/C anywhere except in the cabins, so travelers during the humid months (summertime) be aware!

IMAG1525

Pak Ou Caves

Three days on the Mekong is a good amount of time—the first night is docked at Luang Prabang, followed by a morning food market visit and afternoon sail up to the Pak Ou Caves. On the third day, passengers can visit a few villages along the riverside and top it all off with a splendid BBQ dinner on a sandy beach.

IMAG1565

Kids at play between school

The marvelous cruise director Ben leads the shore excursions to the villages and serves as a facilitator between the crew and the passengers. He even shares meals with the guests and one evening on the cruise he does an hour presentation on Lao culture and history.

IMAG1469

off to school in the morning

I think the ship would have benefitted with a bit more on-ship activities in the lazy afternoons—tai chi or yoga for example. One afternoon the chef did hold a cooking demonstration on Lao cuisine.

IMAG1585

children reading the side of a temple

The Mekong Sun – Just the Facts, Sir

  • Built in Laos in 2006
    • 2 decks with 11 classic cabins on the main deck (12 m²/129 sq ft), all facing out onto the water and with wide sliding windows with a French balcony providing a fantastic view of the passing landscapes
    • 3 superior cabins, one in the bow of the main deck (16 m²/172 sq ft), two on the upper deck (18 m²/194 sq ft). The two cabins on the upper deck have their own small private balcony; the one in the bow has a superb panoramic view to the front
    • All cabins with en-suite shower/WC and air-conditioning
    • Large sun deck with bar service and restaurant/bar area
    • All guided offshore excursions and meals are included
  • Catamaran, two steel hulls, two decks, with teak and mahogany superstructure
    • Weight: approx. 100 tons
    • Length: 40 m
    • Width: 7,5 m (at its widest part)
    • Depth: approx. 0,9 m
    • Two diesel motors with 550 hp each
    • Fire alarm
    • Crew: 16
    • Construction completed in 2006

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Cruises, Laos, Thailand, Travel by Ship, Vendors, VOTM, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Agent Trip to Laos: Part Three — Luang Prabang

IMAG1332

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.

IMAG1280

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!

IMAG1237

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.

IMAG1323

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!

IMAG1333

Night Market

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Laos, Thailand, Top Experiences In..., Travel by Taste, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?