Hidden Jewel - Luang Prabang
I came to Luang Prabang on the first leg of my solo trip to Asia. I wasn't sure what to expect and was honestly a bit nervous, to say the least. I knew only a couple of people who had been to Laos and I was entirely unsure of what I was getting myself into.
With that said, Luang Prabang is now my favourite city in Asia. It is a gorgeous, French influenced town hidden away in the Jungle of Laos. It is located in a valley near the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
I arrived in the Luang Prabang International Airport after having just left Ryan hours earlier in Siem Riep. As a citizen of the U.S., I was able to receive a visa upon arrival in Laos by:
Ensuring my passport had at least six months validity from the time of entry
Having at least $50 USD for the cost of the visa
Having two recent passport photos
The process took a matter of a few minutes and then I was granted entry into the country for 30 days. It was the most hassle-free visa I've ever received.
Once proceeding through the airport literally surrounded by jungle, I was picked up by a van arranged by the hotel I was staying at. I did this because I arrived in the early evening and wanted to ensure I would have a safe & reliable way to the hotel. Although I ended up booking a van to myself, it made me feel comfortable knowing I had a safe way of transport. I organized the van through my hotel: Le Bougainvillier.
Staying at Le Bougainvillier was honestly one of the best decisions I made. It was run by a French woman, Valerie. She moved to Luang Prabang from France to start her hotel and it was simply charming. It was decorated with wooden beams & bookcases, Laotian and French-influenced decorations including puppets and it included a divine Laotian and French handmade breakfast. The breakfast was made with love with items bought fresh from the local morning market that took place literally right in front of the boutique hotel.
Valerie made me feel at home. She answered any questions and was always there to greet me in the morning or evening and help me plan my day. She gave me tips and helped put me at ease about safety in the town. During this time period, I happened to be training for a marathon and was uncertain if running in the town would be possible. However, I did end up going on some really nice runs which were very hot but awesome!
Valerie also recommended that I check out a cafe/bar called Utopia. I had so much fun just walking around the town. I made sure to get a sim card at the airport so I had cellular data at all times just in case I got lost!
Utopia was an amazing little cafe situated on the Mekong River. It had a laidback atmosphere with mats and pillows laid out on the deck of the restaurant overlooking the river. The people who worked there came around and took your order. They brought out fresh local meals out to you. It was so nice relaxing there for a bit!
While in Laos I wanted to see some local textiles. The city had a bunch of amazing stores you could buy locally handmade items. I circled around the stores for a while just in awe of all the ornate detailed pieces people had dyed and woven in the local villages.
Although not as famous as it's boarding neighbour Thailand, Laos was actually known as Lan Xang in the 14th century. This translates to Land of a million elephants. However today Laos has about 500 wild elephants left with around 500 now in sanctuaries. Although I wasn't planning on it, I ended up getting to see these magnificent creatures in person at a wonderful non-riding elephant sanctuary called MandaLao Elephant Conservation. It was here that I got to walk side by side with these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat and feed them delicious foods.
I choose to go with MandaLao because of how highly rated they were for being an ethical elephant sanctuary. I was able to simply observe the elephants and that made me feel ok about the whole experience. I was also with 4 other people only. So it was nice to be in a small group and not overwhelm these peaceful giants.
Getting to be so personal with the elephants was really a spiritual experience. I could really feel their wisdom and grace permeate everything around me. I felt I could feel their emotions and definitely had a deep connection with them.
While in Luang Prabang, I had the opportunity to explore Kuang Si waterfall. I opted to hire a tuk-tuk in town for myself for about $20 USD. He drove me out to the waterfall which is about 45 minutes outside the city and waited for me for a few hours while I explored. The entrance fee for Kuang Si waterfall itself is $2.3 USD.
I went to Kuang Si while it was Monsoon season in August. The water was overflowing and much more intense than what you usually see in pictures however it was still beautiful! I didn't end up going in the water but I was glad because there are leaches in there! I had a fun time exploring and made sure to be aware of my surroundings. You can actually explore to the top of the waterfall and wander quite a bit of distance up there. I definitely recommend checking this place out. There is also an Asian Black Bear zoo in the park itself. I'm not a big fan of zoo's but it was interesting getting to see these bears in person.