The same day Ben and I left Muang Ngoi Neau by boat and arrived back in Nong Khiaw we took a bus ride from Nong Khiaw to Loang Prabang. Our “bus” ride actually ended up being a four hour songthaew ride.
The songthaew was packed with backpackers from all over the world – Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Kiwis, and even a few folks from the good ole U. S. of A.
About halfway into the ride our bus driver realized the necessary permit papers he had stored on top of the songthaew had gotten loose and flown off.
He stopped the songthaew and after asking a few of the New Zealand backpackers in the back of the songthaew, ascertained that they had flown off over 40 minutes ago. God knows why he had loosely stored critical papers on top of a fast-moving vehicle. Whatever his reason was I’m sure he learned his lesson.
Long term world traveling is all about balance. The right balance depends on the person and his or her mood at the time.
If you’ve been traveling with a group for a while and need some time to yourself, break away and go your own way for a while. Then if you start feeling lonely and in need of company put yourself back into a hostel where you can meet other people.
If you’ve jammed your schedule with intense activities for a few days go somewhere where you can just relax. If you get bored of relaxing get back out there and do some trekking.
If you’ve been navigating the chaos of a big city for a few days and start to feel overwhelmed get back to nature and go somewhere rural.
If you’ve been roughing it in rural villages for a week or longer and start to miss the modern comforts that a big city can provide hop on a bus and get back into civilization. This is exactly what Ben and I were doing when we got to Loang Prabang.
Loang Prabang was the first modern-ish city Ben and I had been to in over ten days. After rural Mai Chau, Quan Hoa, Dong Tam, Quan Son, Na Meo, Vieng Xai, Sam Neua, Nong Khiaw, and Muang Ngoi Neau, Ben and I were glad to be in a place that actually had 7-11 stores. It sounds weird but the availability of a 7-11 slurpee signals a welcome back to modern civilization in SE Asia. And it was good to be back.
After a quick lunch and settling into a guesthouse we went down to explore the night market at dusk.
Loang Prabang’s night market is an endless stretch of blue and red tents.
The vendors’ wares are displayed on blankets underneath the tents.
The market is difficult to navigate – the low hanging tents were not designed for people over 5’8’’ to walk under so Ben and I were constantly ducking. The customer aisle is also quite narrow – the only time we were able to move somewhat freely was while the vendors were setting up.
A little farther from the night market is a food market.
You can buy pretty much anything, including Babe’s head.
Just as the Iowa State Fair can fry anything and put it on a stick Luang Prabang’s night market can grill anything and put it on a stick. These weren’t the “fish sticks” we were used to from home….
After wandering through the markets Ben and I caught the sunset over the Mekong River.
The Mekong River is to SE Asia is to what the Mississippi is to North America, what the Nile is to Africa, and what the Amazon is to South America. The Mekong River is the biggest river in the region – starting in China, it continues and runs through and along the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The Mekong River borders Loang Prabang within Laos, providing a great means of transport as an alternative to bus travel. It also provides a great place to catch a sunset.
The next day Ben and I wandered to explore what Loang Prabang, “the City of Temples”, is known for.
The temples in Loang Prabang vary widely in material, design, and setting.
Many of them are spectacularly ornate, adorned with intricate gold designs.
The weather is pleasant in December in Loang Prabang – mid-seventies to low-eighties, a pleasant breeze, and shining sun.
Ben and I took a break from our temple tour to walk down to point where the Nam Ou River merges with the Mekong. Ben and I could have taken a boat from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang along the Nam Ou but we had opted for the bus.
A few boats lazily drifted by while we observed the slow-moving merger.
Loang Prabang’s “main street”, Sisavangvong Road, is crowded with colorful tuk-tuks waiting to give the tired tourist a ride back to their guesthouse or hotel.
A restaurant along Sisavangvong Road had put out a basket of Bird’s Eye chili peppers dry in the sun.
Bird’s Eye chili peppers are commonly provided on every table in every restaurant in SE Asia, along with limes. Being a fan of spice, I would make sure to tear up and put these in almost all my dishes, be it soup, rice, or noodles. A lesson I quickly learned was not to touch any other parts of my body, particularly my eyes, after eating – the spice stays on the hands and transfers pretty easily.
The courtyard above Loang Prabang’s main street provides a steep staircase with 328 steps that leads to the top of Phou Si Hill.
About halfway up the staircase you arrive at a ticket booth to gain entrance to the top of Phou Si Hill. A sign provides you with the number of steps you’ve already walked and the number of steps you need to go to make it to the top. It is a smart sell to put this ticket booth halfway up – by the time most folks have made it halfway they feel obligated to go the rest of the distance, whereas if the ticket booth and number of steps were at the bottom of the staircase, lazier tourists may opt out.
Making it to the top of the staircase and Phou Si Hill is all worth it though.
A balcony provides a view for 25 km in every direction.
Naturally it is a popular place for people to catch the sunset and Ben and I were one of many that day.
It was a good place to catch our final sunset in Loang Prabang.