Despite a very long and bumpy journey, this charming sleepy town turned out a pleasant surprise.
It was early in the morning and our nightmare bus from Huay Xai arrived at the Luang Prabang train station. We had survived the most bizarre form of torture imaginable and were ready to swear off Laos completely as we disembarked along with dozens of other dumbfounded and equally exhausted passengers. A 100 baht tuk tuk ride into town later, we checked into our hotel to rest our very weary bones.
Feeling somewhat like human beings again after a much needed shower and disco nap, we wandered along the Nam Khan River later that afternoon and discovered what a gem Luang Prabang truly is. Among quiet residential streets hide artisan shops, small local restaurants and pubs. We stumbled upon a bamboo bridge that crossed the river and offered picturesque views down by the water.
We’ll Laugh and Toast to Nothing
Not knowing anything about Laotian cuisine whatsoever, we were about to receive a crash course in the delectable northern dishes at the lovely Tamarind Restaurant and Cooking school located across the street from the Nam Khan River. We started off with a toast, of course, to wash down the traumatizing memories of the night before and vowed to never take overnight transportation on our journey again.
In order to sample as many local dishes as possible, we opted to begin with the Dipping Sampler that included sticky rice, spicy sweet chili paste, mild tomato salsa, smokey eggplant dip and a garlic blend dip, along with dried vegetable sheets with tomato, garlic and sesame.
Being the ravenous omnivores that we are, we also chose the Five Bites taster plate that comes with sticky rice and five popular Lao snacks: pork sausage, leafy green vegetable pickles, dried buffalo meat, minced pork and eggplant salad, and leafy parcels of rice and aubergine pastes with herbs and noodles.
Other highlights of the meal included an appetizer of fried mushrooms in soy sauce (who knew I’d like anything with mushrooms in it, but it tasted like beef jerky!), chicken stuffed eggplants and a side of leafy greens with medium-rare steak.
Searching for Utopia
With our bellies full and our heads dizzy from wine, we casually made our way towards Utopia Restaurant and Bar through small alleyways and back streets. Stumbling upon the secluded hideaway, we were greeted with lazy backpackers lolling about on floor mats, surrounded by moody candles and old bomb shells used as planters as some Utopians enjoyed a sunset yoga class overlooking the river. Not a bad place to enjoy some after lunch cocktails.
Handicraft Night Market
With only one night in Luang Prabang (unfortunately), we decided to check out the Handicraft Night Market and grab some dinner. By far one of our favorite night markets so far, the food vendors had spacious seating to actually enjoy your meal and we were able to walk through the breadth of the market without being hassled aggressively to purchase wares. The grilled fish pictured above was declared Corinne’s favorite dish bar none and we couldn’t help but have a second helping along with some good old Beer Laos.
Kouang Si Waterfall
Definitely the highlight of Luang Prabang for many visitors, Kouang Si Waterfall is a brief but bumpy (at least in a tuk tuk) 40 minute ride out from town. Scenic views of the Lao countryside, small villages and rice fields dot the landscape as you breeze through locals on scooters and other tourists in minivans headed to the same destination.
The timing of our arrival around 2-3pm in the afternoon couldn’t have been more perfect, as the late afternoon sun’s rays shone through a canopy of trees above the falls. We also managed to arrive during a lull, devoid of the usual throngs of tourists, that afforded us amazing photos on the main bridge overlooking the Kouang Si.
Its blue waters are attributed to limestone particles that reflect light and result in the stunning turquoise blue that we see. Becky and I couldn’t resist taking a short dip in one of the wading pools (it’s pretty cold and slippery!) before making our way back down to the entrance and our tuk tuk driver waiting to take us back into town.
All in all, Luang Prabang’s quiet charm, savory food and natural beauty won us over and had us wishing we could stay just a few more days.