Luang Prabang

Absolutely my favorite spot in Laos!
I really enjoyed Luang Prabang. It was beautiful, relaxing and offered ample culture. I arrived in the city early Thursday, Sept. 25 after taking the night bus from Vientiane. The ride was bumpy and uncomfortable. I didn’t get much sleep, especially because the seats were two together on each side of the aisle, so I was sleeping right next to another person. Happily, though, my bus partner was Yogi, a cool guy from Indonesia. I didn’t know who to expect to share the ride with, but it worked out well. Yogi was a funny guy and had also spent some time in Korea. We chatted for a while before trying to get some sleep. I felt comfortable next to him and wasn’t freaked out when our butts inevitably brushed up against each other as we rode through the country. But I was certainly happy to be off the bus the next morning and went directly to Central Backpackers, where I was able to secure a bed and check in immediately, even though it was only 6:30 a.m. I was glad to have a bed to sleep on and decided to sleep until I could sleep no longer, which turned out to be about 11:30 a.m.
 
View from Phousi Hill
Once I finally woke up, I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city. I enjoyed exploring several of the temples, of which there are many, and decided to climb Phousi Hill. The ticket cost 20,000 kip ($2.50) to climb the staircase to the top of the hill. There are actually two staircases, each on opposing sides, which allow access to the top of the hill. The top has some great views of the city and it definitely worth a visit. By the time I climbed down, the night market had started, so I walked around that for a bit before grabbing dinner and calling it a night.
Tak Bat
The next morning I woke up at 5:40 a.m. to watch the Tak Bat, the morning ritual of the monks walking around the city collecting alms. I caught the tail end of the ritual, but was able to see several monks gathering food from some of the locals. There is a lot of hullabaloo about the ritual being ruined and becoming a tourist spectacle. But from my observations, it still seemed like a solemn ritual. I think if you are going to observe, then just don’t be an idiot and get up in the way of things. After most of the monks seemed to have returned to their temples, I ventured over to the river for a short time to see the lingerings of the sunrise. Then I headed back to my hostel to get a bit more sleep.
Kuang Si Waterfalls

I woke up again around 9:30 a.m. and ate breakfast. Then I got ready to set out on the ride to Kuang Si waterfalls. We left around 11:30 a.m. and got to the falls about an hour and a half later. We had a short two hours at the falls. The entrance into the waterfall area set me back another 20,000 kip, but it was well worth it. Near the entrance, there is a small Bear Rescue Center that is home to Sun Bears. The bears were easy to see from the path and the center had some good information about the mission to protect the bears.
The falls have several tiers, which are stretched out with pools in between. At first, I thought a small fall near the bottom was the main attraction, but decided to keep walking to see if there was more. And good thing I did, because the start of the waterfalls was incredible! It was really a beautiful sight. I decided to hike to the top, not sure how difficult it would be. It was more strenuous than I first anticipated, but nothing I couldn’t handle. There were parts that were a bit unsettling, but I made it through unscathed. And barefoot. That may have been my favorite part of the falls. I had my shoes on for a good while, but almost lost a flip flop when crossing a bridge that had a powerful overflow of water streaming over it. I then took off my shoes and discovered how soft and incredible the ground felt to walk on. It was comfortable to walk on the ground even all the way to the top of the falls.
Once I returned down, I decided to go for a swim in one of the pools. On my way, I encountered a group of three or four drunk men (I am fairly certain they were Chinese) who asked if they could take my picture. I denied their request, and they seemed to accept it. Until I got to the pool area, where they were taking pictures with and of other Western tourists. I took off my outer clothes and entered the pool in my bikini. Once in, I asked another girl in the pool to take a picture of me with the falls behind. As I started to pose, one of the men came over, trying to join the picture. I asked him to leave, but he was adamant, so I had to shove him away to finally be free of him. It was frustrating, but I let it slide and had a nice conversation with the girl who had snapped my photo. As time went on, the men kept trying to sneak pictures of us, which was both obvious and infuriating. I kept my camera in front of my face, which deterred them. But once I got out of the water, one of the guys took a few photos with his phone. I told him to stop, so he nodded and turned away. I then got my towel and turned to see him taking more photos, so I made a big X with my arms, “Stop. No.More.Photos.” and he nodded and turned away. Then I readjusted my towel, and again I saw him taking photos. I was so done. I ripped his phone from his hands and deleted every photo he had of me. Their belligerency was upsetting, but I still had an enjoyable time at the falls.
After returning from the falls I was quite spent. I took a shower and then enjoyed some more Internet time, watching the last episode of Rookie Blue. I later headed back to the night market for a light round of shopping and then to Nazim Restaurant for some Indian food. It was an enjoyable evening.

Cooking Class
Saturday morning I did a cooking class with Tamarind. It was an exceptional class! We met up at Tamarind Restaurant, where I discovered that a girl, Toni, that I shared the hostel with in Vientiane was also taking the cooking class! It was nice to run in to someone I had previously met.
The class started with a very brief tour of the market and explanation of the different types of foods.  We were then taken to the cooking class facility, which was a beautiful kitchen in the countryside. It was an incredible place to cook. We had lovely views all around and a nearby stream.
Much of Lao cooking, or at least the dishes we made, is done by pounding ingredients in a mortar and pestle. We made several dishes, starting with sticky rice and a spicy eggplant dip. Our other dishes were fish steamed in banana leaves, stuffed lemongrass, larb and coconut sticky rice. All of the food was incredible! The most notable dish was the larb.
Larb is a minced meat salad that can be made with pretty much any meat. We made larb with buffalo. Already interesting, but the real intrigue is that the salad usually includes intestine and bile. Yep, bile. The Lao people take using every part of an animal to a whole new level! Now, we were able to make our larb without the intestine or bile, but our instructor made his first to show us the process and included both. So I was able to try it, and it tasted pretty good. Though my larb didn’t include the extra ingredients, it tasted quite similar to our instructor’s, so I do not feel inclined to ever add bile. After all of our hard work cooking, we were able to sit down to our feast and enjoy a delicious meal. It was a great class, and I would highly recommend it!
After class, Toni and I decided to grab a coffee and had a lovely chat. We then wandered around the city for a bit, checking out some of the temples. On our way back to our hostels, I stopped to get cash from an ATM, and we met a girl named Patricia as I waited in line. We joked about the ATM running out of cash, which it turned out it did. So the three of us left together in pursuit of another ATM. Once we got our cash, we decided to continue on together after a short break. We planned to go back to our hostels and then meet again an hour and a half later for dinner and to enjoy the night market. I dropped off some stuff at my hostel, then went for a pedicure before meeting up with the girls.
We all joined together again and proceeded to have a delightful evening together. They were both great fun, and the three of us got along very well. We had very similar sensibilities and dispositions, so it felt comfortable and easy to be together. We grabbed some food from the night market-papaya salad and fresh spring rolls-where a guy, Nick, struck up a conversation with us and then joined in on our group. The four of us then set off to stroll around the tents in the market. We did a bit of shopping, then ate the remaining spring rolls while sitting on the sidewalk at the end of the market and chatting. After some convincing from Nick, we headed to Utopia Bar, the night spot most of the young travelers in Luang Prabang go to. It was a nice bar with a great vibe. And we finished the night off with a bit of dancing. I was sad that I didn’t have more time with these great people (well, mostly Toni and Patricia…), but so glad to have been able to share a wonderful day together. I had such a fantastic last night in the city.
Sunday morning I took the beautiful bus ride to Vang Vieng.
Luang Prabang is a fantastic place, and I would have been perfectly content to spend my whole week in Laos in that city alone. It is a treasure.
Luang Prabang Gratitude Journal
1. I am grateful for companionship, however fleeting.
2. I am grateful for cooking classes.
3. I am grateful for quiet.
4. I am grateful for waterfalls.
5. I am grateful for food.
*NOTE: Exchange to/from Laotian Kip in Laos. It’s nearly impossible to do it outside of the country.

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