Luang Prabang, Laos

ສະບາຍດີ (sah-bai-dee) from Laos!

We took advantage of a holiday weekend to explore a part of Laos in and around the city of Luang Prabang.  We didn’t know much about Laos, except that it was nestled between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Myanmar and its cuisine was a hybrid of those neighboring countries.  What we found was a charming, relaxing town, with gorgeous Wats (Buddhist temples), friendly, modest people, saffron robed monks and an untamed yet stunning scenery… and of course the food was amazing.  Laos is not nearly as developed as it’s neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, but there is a rustic tourist area on the peninsula where the Nam Khan river meets the Mekong river.

The main drag is lined with restaurants, market stands and shops.  No chain restaurants, not even a Starbucks (gasp), which is refreshingly rare in this era. Also very few, if any plastic tchotkes. Luang Prabang’s main merchandise on display at the markets is locally crafted goods.
The public library was in the Christmas spirit
For the culturally challenged, these types of posters are common sites
Cycling through the city, exploring the city and temples with shoulders to knees covered to be respectful. Hats and shoes need to be removed before entering a wat.
Where the Nam Khan meets the Mekong
The only item acquired was a scarf from this talented handloomer
Wat Xiengthong, one of the oldest in the city
Sparkly wat facade detail

How to pronounce Laos

Laos rhymes with “mouse” and it’s a noun.  Lao like “cow” is an adjective, used to describe the people and language.

Buddhism is the primary religion of Laos

These are TUK TUKs, the Lao taxi

The beautiful public waste cans! Very refreshing to see so little plastic.

Buddha, Marigolds and Sticky Rice

Wat offering made of marigolds and banana leaves
Sticky rice ball offerings (found and stuck just about everywhere)

View from Mount Phousi over Luang Prabang
Lots of tourists climb Mt. Phousi for sunset.

Christmas Day

We celebrated Christmas by getting up to watch the Buddhist alms giving ceremony which begins at sunrise, about 5:45 am.  We watched as locals and tourist gave the monks sticky rice (in hand rolled little balls) and sweet snacks.  The monks only eat what they are given for the day and they stop eating at noon.

Stools set up and ready for the alms ceremony
We were surprised to see so many sweets given to the monks.

The saffron robes

Alms ceremony at sunrise

Kuang Si Falls

After observing the monk alms ceremony, we hopped in a Tuk Tuk to see one of the nearby waterfalls, the Kuang Si Falls.

The falls are stunning and truly this color, if not more so in real life
Top of the falls, certainly the Ewoks live here.
There are 3 areas designated for swimming. It was too cold for us, but some people braved the temperature.
Next to the falls is a rescue center for the Asiatic Black Bears (Moon Bears), one of the 8 bear species in the world, along with black bears, brown bears, pandas, polar bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears and sun bears.

Enjoying that young cool coconut

Mekong Happy Hour

We got back in time to have happy hour on the Mekong River and enjoy the sunset by boat. The Mekong river flows 4,350 km (2,703 mi) through 6 countries starting in Tibet through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, the Vietnam delta, and then into the South China Sea. It’s 12th longest river in the world and the 7th longest in Asia.

Beerlao, the beer of Laos!

And wait, another fricking’ sunset, same boat ride.

Happy holidays!

We ended the day by enjoying a nice dinner of local cuisine, all recommendations by our young waiters. It’s easy and more interesting to order this way!

Not a bad way to celebrate Christmas!

The other side of the Mekong

We heard from another traveler that there was a rural path on the other side of the Mekong that connected 7 less visited Wats. This other side is less touristy and more off the beaten path. We decided to take some beater bikes across the river via boat to explore.

This side of the Mekong is not developed like the city

This long skinny, windowless structure used by monks to practice walking meditations.
123 steps to Wat Chomphet, built by the Thais in 1888. Some Wats have a nominal fee to visit. 10,000 kip is about $1.20 USD, which was collected by this woman.

Wat Tham Sakkarin (Sakkarin Cave)
This young monk offered us a spare light and a tour of the cave.
We found out that this route is not ideal for bikes.
The last temple on our journey was worth the effort.
Luckily we found a local taxi – or at least some guy with a boat – to give us a ride back to the city.

The reality of war

Sadly, in addition to being one of the poorest countries, Lao has the unwanted distinction of being per capita the most heavily bombed nation in the world which we learned at the UXO museum in Luang Prabang.

Between 1964 and 1973, the USA flew more than half a million bombing missions, delivering more than two million tons of explosive ordnance, in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory. The ordnance dropped includes more than 266 million submunitions (known as “bombies” in Laos), all released from cluster bombs.

It is estimated that up to 30% of all ordnance did not explode – that’s 80 million bombies. These UnExploded Ordnance (UXO) continues to remain in the ground, maiming and killing people, kids (they look like toy balls), and hindering social-economic development and food security.  Copy credit to UXO museum:

On a lighter, tastier subject…

One major draw to traveling to Luang Prabang was the food and it did not let us down.  Don’t get us wrong, we still enjoy the food of Taiwan, but we crave the hot and sour spices of SE Asia.  We tried everything from nice restaurants to street vendors and we couldn’t get enough of the noodles, sticky rice and flavors of Laos.

Breakfast: Khao Piak Sen (chicken or pork noodle soup), local fruits (papaya, mango, dragon fruit, banana), bread w/ 3 fresh jams (tamarind, pineapple and tomato)
Street Kao Soy (L)  and Khao Piak Sen (R)
Mekong river weed – surprisingly tasty! Similar to baked Kale
The morning market includes lots of things we don’t think of as food – including rats.

Buffalo Milk Ice Cream

Creamier than cow’s milk
The buffalo


Fresh fruit stand at a day market. Discovered sapodilla (looks like a potato) and fresh tamarind here.
Fresh fruit smoothies at the night market!

No problem finding a good glass of wine, thanks to the French!

A fav! Khao soi or khao soy is a Burmese-influenced dish served widely in northern Laos and northern Thailand
REAL fish sticks

Opportunity to give back

While wandering through the streets we came across an after school program called Big Brother Mouse which also publishes books in Lao and English. Here, native English speakers are invited to come in and talk with the local kids that want to learn and improve their English.  We took a couple of hours on our last day in town to attend their evening drop in session from 5-7 pm. A humbling experience to say the least.

Team Big Brother Mouse: Passionfruit, Leekou, Susie (from Hungary) and Pickles

Working hard to get ahead in Laos

Seventeen year old Leekou Vang walked in and sat himself at our table, ready to talk about anything with the three of us (above). We learned that he has 6 brothers, 2 sisters. He does not own a computer (too expensive) and he has never flown in an airplane. He was a monk for a year, which is common for most males at least one point in their life. It’s sort of like the military in the states as they cover room, board and education. He goes to school from 7:30 to 4:00 pm, then to Big Brother Mouse every single day from 5:00- 7:00 pm, then he works as a security guard every single day from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. He just got a new job at a restaurant on the main drag which will allow him one day off a week. He says he is not tired, he just wants to see his family more. His brother studied English in college and wants to set up a teaching room at their home, but first he needs to make tables for the students.

He showed us pictures of him in Hmong garb from a festival held over the weekend.
Monks also come to Big Brother Mouse
Poster at Big Brother Mouse to help the foreigners better understand Lao culture.

An Idealist…

If we had more time we would have loved to spend time at the Elephant Conservation Center, but that gives us a reason to return to this beautiful country.

Happy holidays with love from…


Pickles & Passionfruit

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8 thoughts on “Luang Prabang, Laos

    1. Thanks, Rob and for sharing your blog post on this incredible place. I LOVE YOUR POST & PICS! “Buddhist Vatican” is spot on! And those morning and afternoon “monk jams” were incredible! I too loved the bamboo basket garbage cans which didn’t make the cut here, but maybe should have? And yes, the morning alms had its share of yahoos w/ cameras and even flash, up in the faces of the monks (I had it in me to tell a few obnoxious ones, “no”). It was hard to watch people being so disrespectful as if it was entertainment. The slippery slope of tourism. We enjoyed lingering until the hoards of HiAce vans and tourists left and only a couple local women remained, still sitting on their stoop, with baskets of sticky rice, waiting for the last monk to pass. That was the real deal. And yes, the elephant tours (groans). Bittersweet indeed. It’s refreshing to see the “riding” falling out of vogue, finally – slow change. The only org I could support in that region is the Elephant Conservation Center but 2 hrs away was too far this time. S and I spent a lot of time talking about the “western creep” in LP, Laos and what may come in time. Some may be good, but some will be culturally devastating I think. Taiwan struggles with this as well. Laos, it’s a seductive place indeed. Thanks for looking and sharing. XO

  1. I always look forward to your blog posts which are consistently informative, entertaining, educational, sensitive, and beautifully written and photographed. Thank you for taking us along on your world tour!

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful journey. Your pictures and words took me back. I appreciate that you talked about the amount of bombs the US dropped in the country in the 60s and 70s and how that unnecessary act still cripples the country today.

  3. Wow, I just took a vicarious trip to Laos with you, made all the better by your narration and eye for beauty. Thank you. xoxoxo

  4. Thanks for sharing the pics. I love to see the places that you visit. Some of the pictures reminded my trip to Thailand. We also got up early to give the monks food.

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