In March, we decided to visit Laos, Cambodia, and Bangkok for Nate's annual birthday trip this year (especially since Peach was having a sale from Okinawa -> Bangkok for only $55!) I was super excited to go explore some more of Southeast Asia! #seeingtheworldonecountryatatime
After taking a late night flight into Bangkok, and spending the night; we took a short flight over to Luang Prabang, Laos to begin our next adventure. Luang Prabang (literally meaning "Royal Buddha Image") is a charming, sleepy, little French colonial town sitting in between the Nam Khan and Mekong River. It is the perfect mix of Indochina and European architecture. Every morning at dawn, hundreds of monks from various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms of rice from kneeling locals and tourists. It's decorated with golden-roofed temples, mosiacs and murals of the life of Buddha mixed with teak balconies, and 19th century shuttered windows. And the town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site (easy to see why).
From the tiny airport, we caught a little tuk tuk for a quick ride into town to check into our hotel. Once we were all checked in, we walked a few blocks to the 'downtown' area to check out the local night market and get tickets for the Royal Ballet Theater.
We had a tasty chicken sandwich and fruit smoothie before perusing the local merchants for souvenirs at the local market. Plenty of good stuff we'll have to buy - scarves, pants, shorts, headbands, etc
Finally, it was time for the Royal Ballet to begin at the Phra-Lak Phra-Lam theater. They performed the Lao version of the sacred poem, the Ramayana. These performances took place regularly at the court of Luang Prabang but when the communists were in control, they abolished the royal rituals and dance. In 2002, they were able to start performing again. The slow-moving traditional dances with ornate costumes are accompanied by a 10-piece Lao orchestra. The music, story telling, and costumes were mesmerizing to watch.
Part of the performance:
We decided to grab a late night bite at Tangor. We enjoyed some ratatouille bruschetta, spring rolls, ceviche, and some bao burgers, all washed down with some basil mojitos #tasty
The next morning, we strolled a block down the street to enjoy a delicious breakfast at the riverside cafe, Saffron. Nate had his favorite, a breakfast burrito, and I drank a Laos latte (coffee with condensed milk which I'm becoming addicted to) with a breakfast bagel. The bagel was made with toasted cascara (coffee cherry skin, supposedly super healthy and essentially recycled food since it's normally discarded.) A great way to start the morning before our bike ride tour around the city.
We were then picked up for a private bike ride tour around the city through Tiger Trails, with our local guide, Put. Nate and I always try to at least learn 'hello' and 'thank you' in the local language so those were some of the first things we asked Put.
"Sa ba dee" = hello/good afternoon/morning/goodnight)
"Cop chai" = thank you
The first stop was at a local market which was stocked with all types of veggies, meat, and frogs, and bugs! Put told us the Laos people eat frogs, turtles, ant egg,s crickets, and fermented vegetables, and we saw all of these hanging out at the market.... Since we've been traveling in Asia for a while, and me not wanting to be a chicken shit anymore, I asked Put if we could try some of the toasted crickets. So he bought a few from one of the local merchants (usually you buy a whole plate!) As long as I didn't think too much about it and didn't look at it, it wasn't too difficult. I tried to just concentrate on the flavor and not me eating an actual bug - it had great flavor (salty and garlicky) and a crunchy texture. Made a great snack (wonder where I can buy these for some movie snacks back in the states?? ;) ) We also saw Put's mom selling vegetables at the market #allinthefamily #localexperience
Pictures of the local market below (including the bugs, frogs, toads, and turtles for sale!):
Next, we visited the Wat Xieng Thong ("Temple of the Golden City". It was built in 1559-1560 by the Lao King Setthathirath (the 2nd great king of Laos). This use to be the royal temple until it was moved in 1975 (when the civil war ended) and where the Lao kings were crowned.
Put taught us about the local history telling us Laos used to be called Lang Sang (meaning millions of elephants). Laos also used to include Lanna (north Thailand, until Thiland took it). In 1799 and 1828-1829, Thailand demolished the capital, killed the leaders, burned the temples, and took the king and his family to Thailand and made them suffer before they were killed. Then France, and then the US took over. In 1975, Laos finally got their independence.
Before the temple was built in 1560, the temple area was used as an entrance to the city. Every prince would have their ordination at this temple, and would have to meditate for 7 days in addition to meditating across the Mekong at another temple for 3 days. In 1887, the black flag group (Chinese bandits) came on the Nam Khan River and destroyed all the temples in Luang Prabang, stealing a lot of property and treasures. Every temple except one, Wat Xieng Thong. This was because the leader at that time of the black flag group was a monk at this temple when he was younger so he didn't want them to burn it. #loyalty This temple became their army headquarters. #themoreyouknow #gettineducatedbythelocals
When we first walked in, we saw the royal funeral hall (built in 1962). The last king died here in 1960. His body was here at the temple for 7 days, and then there was a parade for 1 km down the street. His ashes are still in the temple. His son was never coronated but he was still called a king until 1973. In 1976, the communists took him to the north and put him in jail where he was also a slave laborer until he died in 1976. The royals were buried kneeling, with their hands up to their face so they're ready for the next life.
There are several buildings on the temple grounds that have murals and stories painted on the wall. Put was kind enough to tell us a few which Nate and I appreciated #lovelearningaboutthelocalculture
There was also many murals painted on the walls of the main temple. We learned about Buddha's origin story from India (see picture below on the left). Buddha had reached enlightenment when evil kept trying to attack him. The arrows couldn't hit him because he was a Holy Man. When his hands are in his lap he keeps evil away, and when he put his right hand down he subdued evil and Mother earth came up. She used her hair as a pipe for water to drown the evil, which created the ocean. The gods then came down from heaven to come and appreciate Buddha, and apologize to him for not protecting him.
There is also a huge beautiful mosaic of the "tree of life" on the outside of the main temple which depicts two local stories. It also has become a famous art print from Luang Prabang. While admiring the mural and listening to Put tell the story of it, we got to witness some of the local monks cleaning up around the temple.
Next, Put took us to the UXO Laos Visitor Center which focuses on the unexploded ordnance in Laos in the Second Indochina War. Still 40 years later, the people of Laos are still injured or die daily from these bombs left all over the country. Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million tons of ordnance was dropped on Laos (up to 30% failed to detonate - 80 million), and 25% of villages in Laos are still contaminated with these (41 out of the 46 poorest districts in Laos).
We watched a few informational videos describing the effects of the UXO on Laos, and how they are currently trying to clean it up. Right now the land being cleared of UXO is divided into grids, and clearance teams work along the grids with metal detectors to identify any UXO. It's a long and detailed process, but overall thorough. It was sobering and sad to see the effects war can have on a country and innocent civilians (especially children) even decades later.
After being reminded of the devastating effects of war, we rode our bikes across the town to visit a local farm as well as a local craftsman, giving us insight into the locals daily life and businesses.
Riding our bikes a little farther into town, we got to see a local handmade paper and craft store.
We finished off our bike tour through town with lunch at a local spot - delicious noodle soup (similar to pho, which I love) #heaven #iwanttoeatthiseveryday Our tour guide also saw one of his buddies at lunch who's a tour guide for Japanese tourists - so I got to practice some more of my Japanese while abroad #yay #stillabeginnerthough #onewordatatime
Once we were back at the room, we headed off in search of a cheap local massage. For around $8, Nate and I both got a deep tissue massage at a spot overlooking the river. I'm not use to deep tissue massage so it was a little rough for me - but Nate said it was one of the best massages of his life - and for only $8! #impressed #iwantamassageeveryday
Nice and relaxed (and for me, bruised!) we headed back to the room to relax during a crazy downpour (see video below). But as in most tropical countries, after about 15-20 minutes it was back to being sunny. :)
Tune in for the next blog on the rest of our trip in Luang Prabang!
Until next time - M
Follow in our Footsteps:
Saynamkhan Ban Vatnong Hotel (nice hotel, friendly staff, great location)
Ban Vat Nong, Khoum Xua Road,, Luang Prabang, 06000 Laos
Royal Ballet Theater
Royal Palace Gardens
Hours: 6pm (Oct to Mar) and 6:30pm the rest of the year; Mon, Wed, Fri, and Sat
Fee: 150,000 kips (rows A,B,C), 120,000 kips (rows D,E,F,G), 100,000 (rows H,I,J)
63/6 Sisavangvong Road, Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 260 761
Hours: 10:30am - 11:30pm
Khem Khong Road, Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos
+856 30 59 01 898
Tiger Trails - Bike Tour
Ban Phone Peang Road
06030 Luang Prabang
+856 71 252655
Wat Xieng Thong
Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos
Hours: 8am - 5pm
Fee: 20,000 kips
Behind Chao Anouvoung Monument | Phothisan Road, Luang Prabang 0600, Laos
Hours: M-F 8am - 12pm, 1pm - 4pm
*Massage spot 2 doors down from Saffron cafe (don't know the name but it was cheap and good!)
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!