Time for some real talk, Luang Prabang is freaking beautiful. If you were only going to check out one place in Laos this would be my recommendation. No hesitation. We arrived here fresh off of a mini bus from Vang Vieng and were immediately under the impression that we'd left the best of Laos 'til last.
Backtracking a just a little Nick and I managed to find THE BEST way to get from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. Most of the mini busses and all of the regular sized busses are still taking the old road between the two but we managed to find a couple of companies that run one or two busses a day to Luang Prabang using the newly resurfaced road that forks left instead of right about halfway through the journey. This cuts out a huge swathe of road that's full of potholes, hairpin bends, huge drops and is prone to landslides. I'm so happy that we discovered it! We booked the 9am Japanese bus (it has seat belts!) from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang with a tour operator on Ban Savang. (Directions: Starting at the place you rent tubes from because everyone knows it walk towards the river, follow the road around to the right past a few air conditioned mini marts and two bars showing Friends and it's there on the right opposite the Domon Guesthouse.) I would strongly suggest that it's the only way to do this journey! Everyone I've ever spoken to or read about who's taken the other road has hated it, why would you do that to yourself?!
Back to Luang Prabang and the first place Nick and I ate was Indigo Cafe which we chose because they actually have a vegan page in their menu.
Whilst our first visit was farcical due to a huge language barrier between us and our waiter, who kept bringing us beer no matter how many times we asked for water, the food we ate hit the spot. Nick went with the Indigo Fried Noodles, no egg, which is a little like a room temperature pad thai and, despite the silly plating, is apparently tasty enough to order more than once.
I wanted something that I could be assured didn't have chilli so I chose the Khoa Khng Taohu which is a coconut based sauté flavoured with ginger and lemongrass.
This was actually kinda bland the first time I ate it and then intensely gingery the second time around. The third time I ordered it my cold was so bad that I couldnt really taste anything but it made great comfort food. On our final visit I decided to branch out and try the Lap Hmak Kheua with no chilli which kinda worked in that the chilli was there on the side and I could move it.
Now from what I know about the traditional Laotian minced meat salad Larb I think that this was Indigo Cafe's vegan take on it. I was excited to have finally found somewhere I could try it sans chilli and it was definitely enjoyable, it came with a side of rice but I wished there had been more lettuce to make little crunchy salad pouches with!
I had been warned by a Happy Cow reviewer to avoid the spring rolls as they were served a pork filled variety and I can definitely see how that mix up could happen here, the menu item "spring rolls" is in both the meat and vegan sections of the menu and, having been in a hidden pork situation before years ago, I decide to skip them.
As with almost every other city I've visited in Laos or Thailand there are beautiful Buddhist temples and Monasteries all over the place. The French influenced architecture is gorgeous too and there's a really special feel about the city. I don't really know how to explain it, it's kinda peaceful whilst being busy and despite being packed full of tourists it didn't seem like they were over-running the city and ruining everything. I might have felt differently about this if I hadn't decided to skip watching the monks receiving alms early in the mornings, the more I read about how they feel about this tradition and how much tourists have ruined it I just didn't want to play any part in it. Not everything is for westerners to gawp over.
We chose our hotel really well, it was in the perfect location right by the morning market which is just one street south of the night market. It was also right by Wat Mai at one end of the street and the Mekong at the other. Lao Lu Lodge has cute rooms which are a little noisy in the mornings but they have air con and everyone working at the hotel was super lovely. After we extended our stay we ended up in a twin room which was kinda cute and turned out to be a good thing when I got sick during our last couple of days!
Breakfast every day was bread and jam with fresh fruit and juice. I usually subsidised this with Peanut Butter from my stash or something from one of the many juice spots around the corner.
The night market quickly became our go-to for dinner once we'd realised that you can't rock up 30 minutes before closing and expect there to be any food left. This all vegan buffet is a fill your plate as high as you can deal and it costs 10,000 kip which is about 80p / $1. Crazy.
First night plate, I think I did a pretty good job of piling my plate high with delicious noodle dishes, tofu dishes, rice and deep fry. They even had deep fried bread. Like, battered and fried. It was great! I think my second night plate was more impressive though.
I really enjoyed their fresh spring rolls, the macaroni style pasta dish, the steamed butternut squash and the veggie fried rice. Oh and the deep fried bread of course. I didnt take third or fourth night pictures because we ended up there after dark but rest assured that I made the most of the buffet! If spicy food is your jam then everything here will probably be a little bland but they have you sorted and the long communal tables have a variety of hot sauces for you to choose from.
Just down the road at the beginning of the street the night market is on is a whole row of juice and baguette sandwich places. We came here a lot so that we could offset the deep fry with 80p fruit juices. Our favourite stall was Nancy's whose stall we went back to over and over both in the evenings and at breakfast.
Both the Apple, Lime and Mint and my own off-menu creation, Orange and Mango, were my favourites and Nick loved Orange and Pineapple.
Our week in Luang Prabang was totally like doing a juice cleanse just one where you intersperse the juices with deep fried bread. I think this could totally catch on.
I don't often drink booze but I find it hard to resist quirky bars and drinks that are delicious so when the two come together I tend to cave. As soon as I spotted a mojito on the menu of this pop up bar in the middle of the night market I couldn't resist.
Food and drink aside Luang Prabang's environs are gorgeous and we knew we had to take a trip out to Kuang Si Falls because holy wow is this place gorgeous. It totally lived up to every picture I'd seen of it on the internet, it makes the Blue Lagoon from my last post look like a random puddle.
This was yet anther place where other tourists wanted to take pictures with me, this lady was hilarious. She'd just taken about a million highly posed pictures on her own and then she insisted that I joined her!
Another reason to visit Kuang Si falls is that right there at the entrance is Tat Kuang Si bear rescue centre. Now I didn't take many bear pictures, certainly none that are good enough to share, because I was far too busy squeaking internally to focus my iPhone. This place is small but really wonderful.
Tat Kuang Si bear rescue is run by Free the Bears and is a haven for both Malaysian Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears who have been rescued from the illegal bear bile trade which I didn't know a whole lot about before my visit. Nick and I were actually really lucky because we arrived at just the right time to watch two bears playing together in a small pool. At one point one of the bears left and came back with a snack for their bear friend. It was an amazing moment to witness especially knowing what kind of lives the bears would otherwise have been living if Free the Bears hadn't intervened. Laos Free the Bears work really hard to improve the effectiveness of the response towards the illegal wildlife trade which is sadly still rife in Laos as well as working to increase environmental awareness among local communities and school kids. If you're in a place to help a bear in need you can make a donation here.
Overall I really enjoyed travelling through Laos, as a country it was super different to anywhere I'd been before and I definitely found some aspects, like the fact that there isn't a train system, challenging but it's totally a good thing to push your boundaries now and again to see which things are just deal breakers. I also liked that every place we visited was totally different from the last which kept me on my toes and made the whole journey super interesting.