In Luang Prabang I stayed at Kousavan Guesthouse, which is rated #1 on Hostelworld. The guesthouse is very nice. All the dorm rooms are colored, the showers are always hot, and it’s the first place I’ve had a legit free breakfast- eggs any style and a baguette.
My first night I did the typical backpacker routine- went to the night market for dinner, then Utopia bar, then the bowling alley. The night market is the best I’ve been to so far for shopping so it’s too bad I don’t have room to buy anything. Most of the clothes, bags and jewelry is handmade and looks expensive even though it’s not, or at least most of it is not. The style reminds me of Tibet or Nepal. The food on the other hand was disappointing. There are fewer food stalls and not much choice. The new thing here is a vegetarian buffet option at the market, which I chose to do. A huge pile of vegetables.
Utopia bar is definitely a utopia. Hidden behind a side street the bar is half indoors and half outdoors. After taking off your shoes you walk into a rounded open space with a thatched roof. The inside is filled with short tables, stools and couches. There are no exterior walls. After walking through the interior you step on a pebble pathway which winds around passing tables and palm trees. To the right in the back is a beach volleyball court and to the left is a small wooden bridge that leads to the bathrooms. At 11:30pm the bar shuts down and there are a mess of tuk tuks waiting outside to take everyone to the bowling alley.
The bowling alley is a large open white room with bright white lights. To the left side is a bar selling bottles and to the right are the alleys. The alley is in no way glamorous and the brightness is shocking after Utopia. Each game is 20,000 kip per person. I played against a guy I met from the Midwest. Barefoot of course. Bottles of whiskey, vodka and BeerLao crowded the tables. All the alleys were full for hours. I only played two games and went home but the party definitely continued.
My first day I walked around the town. There is a huge French influence which is apparent in the architecture and cuisine. Many of the hotels and restaurants on the Main Street have French names as well. Baguettes, paninis, quiche and aperitifs are on all the menus, and there are a few French pastry shops. The buildings all look French colonial with a hint of Asian design.
I had lunch at Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene, a lovely restaurant on the Main Street. Wicker chairs, glass lampshades and large colorful paintings adorned the walls. It definitely had a Balinese style to it. Although the menu has a French influence I had Beef Pho, which was very cheap. The rest of the menu is very expensive. I managed to get a table that faces outside. Behind me was a large tour group of older Italians having the tasting menu. It reminded me of the Yale trips I’ve been on.
I had a Laos massage at L’Hibiscus. It was not at all what I expected and it also wasn’t very good. Instead of getting a good stretch like in Thailand the girl just poked at my pressure points very weakly. I will not be wasting my money on any more of those.
On the Main Street in town there are good vendors all selling the same thing- fruit shakes and baguette sandwiches. For a snack I had a bacon avocado sandwich which was delicious. I then walked up the mountain to the temple in the middle of the town to watch the sunset. The viewing area was jam packed, which made it hard to take pictures, but at least I ran into all my friends. The view from the top is spectacular. You can see the Mekong River snake along side the town and mountains surround the whole city. The sunset was a deep orange.
The next day I walked around again, this time checking out the street near the river. The road has guest houses and restaurants on one side, and outdoor restaurants on the waterfront side. The river is down a slight hill. Across the river is a poorer residential area. I walked across the bamboo bridge which was actually scary. At points I definitely thought it was going to break. The bridge is built by a Laos family once a year and only stands for 6 months (during the dry season.) On the other side is a fancy river view restaurant, a handmade jewelry store, some delis and the hand weaving scarf store. The silk scarves are beautiful but not practical for a backpacker.
I decided to try a foot massage but it was just as weak as the Laos massage. Found a cheaper place at least though, $5 for an hour instead of $7.50 like the day before.
On Saturday I finally went to an elephant park. Everyone else I’ve met went somewhere in Northern Thailand so I kind of felt like I needed to get it over with. I feel that way about all the super touristy activities.
I signed up for Elephant Village but when we arrived at the park we realized the wrong company picked me up. I ended up at Nam Ou Elephant Farm. The rest of the crew in the van was part of a tour group and they were only doing a half day, so I did a full day at the park by myself, or the second half of the day I was by myself. It was awesome, like a private tour.
My elephant for the whole day was named Kham Mun, and she’s 35 years old. She was rescued from a logging farm where she was worked daily and her female organs were constantly internally tortured. She was really gentle but slow and not keen on taking directions quickly. I didn’t mind though, and felt bad when she was yelled at. I insisted on riding only on her neck which was not as prickly as I expected. With the big group we walked a bathed with the elephants. The group then left and I was given a lesson on commands. I really needed to speak forcefully otherwise she’d just ignore me.
I was then taken to the nearby resort for lunch. It ended up being a 5 star resort on the Nam Ou river. I was the only person at the restaurant and was fed an incredibly elegant lunch. After which I had an hour to relax at the infinity pool next to the restaurant, which also overlooked the river and was empty. The setting was to die for. A huge mistake turned into a private day of elephants and elegance.
After lunch I was trained to be a Mahout, someone in charge of elephants. I learned how to guide them and get on and off in different directions. We rode around the camp for a few hours then went back on the river again. My elephant continuously snorted on me, too funny. I got a Mahout certificate for the course.
My last day I went to Kuang Si Waterfall. It’s supposedly one of the top ones in SE Asia and by far the nicest and biggest one I’ve ever seen so far. The main fall was massive and there were many smaller falls on the sides. The fall had a gushing wind and mist. My friend and I climbed up the bumpy steep dirt path on the right side (literally on our hands and knees.) When we got to the top we found out there were also a stairs path on the left side, so we did that going down. Climbing up was fun though. On the top are a few lagoons that we could swim in. There were rand trees and leafy plants jetting from the water, and short bamboo bridges connecting the pools. The area looked like utopia. There were monks swimming in their robes and a Lao man pushing around a bamboo raft. The water was cold but refreshing and clean. We swam around for a while before heading back down to the town for some soup and our trip back to town.
That night, my last night, I went to the other river for dinner. It turned out that on the other side of the night market there’s another street full of restaurants on the Mekong River. So happy I randomly went with them and discovered this. The restaurants were cheaper than the ones on the other side and authentic Lao for the most part. I had a beef noodle soup with dried burnt peppers and garlic, and a coconut milk shake. Then back for one last night at Utopia.