We began the next part of our trip in Luang Prabang by taking a cooking class at Tamarind, which was recommended to us by our friends that we met at the cooking class we took in Hoi An, Vietnam #paystomakefriends #cookingaroundtheworld Just think, we'll be professional world chefs by the time we get back to California!
After taking a bumpy ride through the jungle in the back of a truck (including one of the bench seats breaking #whoops!), we arrived at the tamarind cooking school location. All the cooking tables and burners were set up in an open air room in the jungle, which added a nice ambiance. Our cooking class was made up of myself and Nate, a couple from Chile who was backpacking and traveling around, a couple from London, and two other solo travelers. Everyone was super nice and we had a fun night cooking and drinking together.
We began by cooking the purple sticky rice, and white sticky rice. Next we mashed up some fire roasted eggplant, peppers, garlic, cilantro and shallots, and some tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, peppers, and shallots to make some local dips. We then made some balls with the sticky rice and dipped them in our dips - our instructor said this was the Laos "chips and salsa" (side note: pretty damn delicious - I made this for a BBQ with friends back in Japan and they were a hit there as well!)
Next, we made some Laos "fried chicken". Basically mashed some chicken with garlic, shallots, and herbs into a paste - then stuffed this into a cut bottom of a lemongrass and fried it. We also cooked some fish in banana leaves, and a dessert dish of coconut purple sticky rice with fruit on top.
After we ate our delicious food, we got dropped off at the night market after our cooking class. We were stuffed! But, I love coconut (and food), and there were some mini coconut pancakes for sale. I could smell them before I could see them. I manned up, and made some room in my stomach so I could put some more deliciousness in there. #yum #alwaysroomforcoconut
The next morning, we had another tour lined up with Tiger Trails to explore some more of Luang Prabang's beautiful surroundings. We had a quick breakfast at Saffron Cafe again, along the riverfront before heading off.
On our tour, we had a man from Japan (yay! get to practice more of my Japanese :) ), and an American woman who was teaching English in Thailand, Sophie. We began our tour by heading over to Ban Pak Ou village so we could cross the river to the famous caves. We walked through the tiny village admiring the local craftsman and shops. One of the guitar shops were making instruments just like the sanshin in Okinawa #nice!
We headed down to the river front, where the Nam Ou (Ou River) and Mekong River meet. We hopped on a boat to head across to the famous Buddha caves. Before we boarded, we spotted some local pigs getting off one of the boats (maybe they had just made a quick visit to the Buddhas?? #prayingtobesaved #holypigs)
Crossing the river:
The Ban Pak Ou Caves lie across from the village, and are nestled into the limestone cliff, crammed with a myriad of Buddha statues (over 4,000). Our guide, Pheun, told us this was a holy cave because legend has it Buddha came here to stay one time. The people in the village across the way were skeptics and many didin't believe in Buddhism. But many people kept dying in the river near the cave, so the villagers began making offerings to Buddha in the cave in order to help protect them. This seemed to work and then the people believed it was holy. Many people also come here during their New Year (April 13, 14, and 15) to bring clean water and wash Buddha.
There are 2 caves here. The lower cave is known as Tham Ting, and has many, many Buddhas filling the cave; in every nook and cranny, varying in size from a few inches to some fairly large. There are also Buddhas silhouetted against the beautiful river in the background, creating a peaceful picturesque scene. Inside the cave, there are many flower offerings with incense, with locals and Buddhists believing the smoke goes up to the heavens so Buddha will receive their prayers. In addition, you can also get a fortune here, but it's in the local language and you'll need to have it translated.
People pour clean water in the tails of the dragon, so it flows down to Buddha for future luck.
In order to reach the upper cave, Tham Theung, we had to walk up a hundred or so steps. The entrance to the upper cave is enclosed by a carved wooden art decoration that once supported two massive wooden doors. The cave extends 54 meters (177 ft) into the mountain, with barely any light reaching the depths of the cave. To the left of the entrance, there is a carved wooden water channel where people wash their Buddha statues from home with the holy water to bless them for the New Year.
The Buddhas in this cave are brought to the cave every New Year by the local villagers and left there. The Buddhas are also much bigger than the ones in the lower cave but we noticed many of the Buddhas were missing limbs or part of their head. We asked our guide why this was and he explained they were damaged by either termites (they were made of wood), or when the red/black flag groups from China/Myanmar raided the area. #sad We also saw strings hanging off some of the Buddhas and he said the villagers did this for good luck. While we were admiring the many Buddha statues, we also got to witness some monks paying their respects and praying, which was a privilege to witness. #loveseeingdifferentculturesandreligions
After our spiritual experience at the holy Buddha caves, we headed over to Ban Xang Hai, also known as the "whiskey village". They have made a name for themselves by distilling and selling whiskey. Our first stop was a local whiskey vendor. We had seen snakes in sake in Okinawa as the famous Habu Sake, but here we saw large scorpions, insects, snakes, and lizards #ohshit I'm not a huge whiskey fan, but Nate is so he enjoyed tasting the different whiskeys. We also tried some local red and white wine. We ended up buying a small bottle of whiskey to add to our growing collection of alcohol from around Asia. #internationalbar
With whiskey fresh in our bellies, we headed down through the village to go check out the distillery, passing silk and cotton fabric stands, and jewelry vendors along the way. We learned that the whiskey and rice wine is made from the local sticky rice and takes about 4 weeks to make. They are able to produce around 2 jugs a day, then stick those little critters in the jar with the whiskey to help enhance the flavor. #yum
We had a tasty lunch (noodle soup and beer) before heading to my most anticipated spot of the day, Kuang Si Waterfalls. Along the way, we walked through Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. It houses Asiatic black bears (Moon Bears), an endangered species targeted by illegal hunters. The hunters used these for the traditional medicine trade, the restaurant trade, or even as exotic pets. It currently houses more than 20 rescued bears and gives them a second chance to live out their life comfortably. Ideally, in the forest, but hunters and poachers made that not an option anymore. :( They were pretty cute to watch playing and snoozing though.
We finally made it to Kuang Si Falls. I had seen amazing pictures of this place before we came and the scenery definitely lived up to the hype. Legend has it these falls were created when an old wise man beckoned water by digging into the earth. Under the new waters, a golden deer made its home under a rock under the falls. Kuang means deer, and si means dig - hence the name Kuang Si Falls.
The main waterfall is 60 meters (200 ft) high, and cascades down a limestone rich jungle into many smaller aquamarine pools and other falls (note: the water is not always turquoise, but during the dry season it is (Nov - May) :) #perfecttimetocome We began at the lower waterfall and worked our way about half way up into a less crowded turquoise, picturesque pool.
Nate and I hopped in the chilly, turquoise waters and began swimming towards another small fall to climb up to another pool with beautiful waterfalls. It was gorgeous, and I could have stared and swam in the blue-green water, surrounded by jungle all day.
Still in awe from the beautiful, breathtaking scenery of Kuang Si Falls, our tour ended with a cruise back to Luang Prabang on the Mekong River - about an hour and a half. Perfect, relaxing spot to take a quick cat nap, with the breeze from the boat on the river blowing gently through the open aired boat, taking in the peaceful views.
With it being our last night in Luang Prabang, we heard viewing the sunset at the top of Mount Phousi is a must-see. So we bucked up and headed over. Mount Phousi, the "sacred hill", rises 150 meters (492 feet) in the middle of town. Legend has it, it was moved here from Sri Lanka by the monkey king, Hanumen. We hiked 328 steps to the top and found a spot to sit on the crowded steps. While watching the breathtaking sunset over the Mekong River, we spotted several friends, including some people from our cooking class, and Sophie (the English teacher from Thailand) that we just finished our tour with. #smallworld #smalltown
On top of Mount Phousi also sits That Chomsi, a 7 tiered parasol with a golden pagoda sitting on top built in 1804. You can spot this golden sparkling pagoda from the river and most streets throughout the city. Many people also purchase flowers to offer blessings and caged birds, which are believed to bring good luck and happiness if you set them free. #touristscam?
After the sunset, we walked around the top of Mount Phousi with Sophie (from our tour), enjoying 360 degree views of the city, and the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. We then headed down the opposite side that we came up. On the way down the 355 stone stairs, we saw several golden Buddhas in different positions #apleasantsurpriseandview
We were then on a mission to find Utopia, a backpackers lounge/bar nestled along the Nam Khan River, and hidden along the streets of town. We just had a quick smoothie since there were lots of mosquitoes swarming around us #riverfrontproblems Definitely would be a nice place to chill during the day.
We then headed to one of the top rated restaurants on TripAdvisor: 525. This was a tasty spot with little tapas and delicious cocktails. We saddled up to the bar and made friends with the owner and bartender in between orders, while chowing down on sliders, and some yummy cheesecake shots. #delish
Our last morning in Laos before our afternoon flight to Cambodia, we decided to mix it up and have breakfast at some place other than Saffron (but it's sooooo good!). We headed to Le Banneton Cafe, a little French cafe known for their croissants. It was a nice relaxing morning and breakfast since we had no where else to be, so we took our time enjoying the food and taking in the scenery.
Across the street from Le Banneton, we checked out Wat Sensoukaram. It was quite a site to take in with it's bright red paint, and glistening gold details. In Laotian it means "Temple of 100,000 treasures" which refers to the 100,000 stones used to build in originally in 1718.
We still had a few hours to kill, so we figured the best way to do it was by getting another cheap massage before our "long" (1 hour) flight over to Cambodia. But not before buying a few more things shopping the stalls of Luang Prabang. After my relaxing foot massage and Nate's back massage, we headed back to the charming Luang Prabang airport in the back of their little tuk tuks.
Overall, our trip to Luang Prabang was fantastic. The town is small, and charming with beautiful history and people and lots of cool sites to see surrounding the city. It's also super easy to get to from either Bangkok or Cambodia, so if you ever find yourself in the area - definitely try and take a few days to relax in this delightful city. :)
Tune in for the next blog when we're off to explore the temples and history of Cambodia!
Follow in our Footsteps:
Tamarind Cooking School
Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos
Hours: M-S 11am - 9pm (closed Sunday)
Khem Khong Road, Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos
+856 30 59 01 898
Tiger Trails - Waterfall, Cave tour (Tour guide Pheun)
Ban Phone Peang Road
06030 Luang Prabang
+856 71 252655
Pak Ou Caves, Laos
Hours: 8am -5 pm
Fee: 20,000 Kip (US$ 2.60) per person.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center
ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ, Lào, Laos
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Fee: 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD)
Luang Prabang, Laos
Hours: You can climb the mountain from 6 am, there is no fixed closing time to allow people to watch the sunset from the top
Fee: 20.000 Kip (US$ 2.60) per person.
Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 20 23 881 771
Hours: 8am - 12am
Kingkitsarath Road, Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 212 424
Hours: 5pm - 11pm
Sakkaline Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 30 57 88 340
Hours: 6:30am - 9pm
Luang Prabang, Laos
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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!