Luang Prabang

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The quiet gem of Luang Prabang, is nestled at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. The former capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to Buddhist monasteries, colonial architecture, French dining and outdoor adventure tours. Here backpackers (like us) calm down and grow up as they rub shoulders with a more sophisticated crowd. For myself, Luang Prabang is not only THE place to visit in Laos, but it is THE reason to travel there. We arrived by plane from Hanoi checked into a cosy and stylish little guesthouse, with cheeping songbirds kept on the veranda and banana pancakes for breakfast.

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On our first morning we took a little wander around town, whilst it speckled with rain. The climate here was a lot cooler and less humid than we’d grown accustomed to and it was a pleasant change.  It didn’t take long to explore the town (it is relatively small) on foot, stopping to book activities for the following day, and we soon found ourselves in a café eating cake. The palace and temples are beautiful, of historical interest, and offered shelter from the rain.

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In the afternoon, when the weather had cleared up a bit, we took a tuk tuk to visit the stunning Kuang Si waterfalls. When you arrive, you walk past large enclosures containing Asiatic black bears, who have been rescued from poachers. As well as waterfalls, there are beautiful pools with bright sky blue water. These pools are popular for swimming in, but after testing the waters temperature, we opted out on this occasion.

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The next day was our organised activity day. We were picked up in the back of a four-wheel drive car turned giant tuk tuk, and taken to the river where we travelled by boat to the Elephant Village sanctuary. I’ve heard very bad things about the treatment of elephants in tourist attractions across South East Asia but my prior research, and our experience, indicated that the elephants at this particular sanctuary were well cared for and not worked too hard. We road elephants – sitting on the necks, which was quite nerve racking – and, most amazingly went for a swim with one of them. We sat atop of an elephant as it submerged itself underwater – such a memorable experience. Afterwards we took a paddle in a double kayak, with a guide leading us through some small rapids (very small). We must have made an awesome team, paddling hard (despite my suspicions that Matt was frequently slacking out of sight behind me) as we arrived at the pick up point early. This gave us time to be introduced to the local way of fishing and Matt was given a go throwing a weighted net into the river. We headed back into town soaked, with very tired arms, and very happy.

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For dinner we were spoilt for choice, and I don’t remember the name of where we decided upon, but I was oh so happy to eat a rich meal consisting of melted soft French cheese. That meal just made me so happy. After we had eaten more than our fill, we waddled over to the night market. It was by far the best we’d been to so far; firstly because there were brownies and cakes, but also because it was filled with stuff you actually wanted to buy. I wanted to buy lots of it at least. Maybe the items were locally handmade, or perhaps they were mass produced in China, either way they appeared to be of a much higher standard than some of the cheap tat we’d so often come across in tourist markets.

Luang Prabang is up there with Hoi An and Chang Mai as one of our favourite places in SE Asia.

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