Luang Prabang is a small historic city in northern Laos where Nam Khan River flows into mighty Mekong River. The historic center of the city is situated on a peninsula formed by those two rivers and is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even though the city has become very touristic in its center with excellent dining opportunities and boutique hotels, it was still a calm place and a good way to start our visit to Laos. Luang Prabang is surrounded by a mountainous scenery, so there are also attractive sights outside the city limits, such as the Kuang Si waterfalls or limestone caves.
A Bad Start in Luang Prabang
I personally did not start in a pleasant way in Laos. After already having had some stomach issues back on Koh Rong in Cambodia, as soon as we arrived in Luang Prabang, things got worse with diarrhea, fever, and shaking. I think the source of these problems still point back to Cambodia.
As we have been travelling in countries with all kinds of tropical diseases (e.g. Malaria or Dengue Fever), I could not just sit it out as I would have done in Switzerland. So I had my first hospital visit on this trip to get a blood check. Luckily, the results were negative for all the tropical diseases, but I had some bacterial issues. A pack of antibiotics accompanies with some other medicine however brought my body back on track within two days, which was good as there is really excellent cuisine in Luang Prabang.
The whole visit to the hospital and the medicine cost me around $50. Back home in Switzerland, probably even shaking your doctor’s hand costs more J But I have to admit, the medical facilities back home are also much better, but for a simple blood test, they were sufficient.
The Historical Center
Luang Prabang’s historical center is really small and can easily be visited in one day on foot. Apart from numerous temples and pagodas, the royal palace, and all the small colonial houses, the city center impressed us with its beautiful location with the Nam Khan and Mekong River flowing basically around the old town on three sides. Every night, there was also a night market along the main street, however, the displayed goods were basically the same all over the place. Many things that looked like hand-made turned out to be industrially produced on a closer look, my guess is in neighboring China.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
It took some convincing from Ilinca’s side to travel 1h by Minibus out of town to see Kuang Si waterfalls. Reasons are that I did not expect them to contain lots of water due to the dry seasons, and because I have already seen many nice waterfalls during my travels. But I am really glad we decided to go, as it is a cascade of several waterfalls embedded in dense forest, with numerous natural pools to go for a swim. In addition, there was even a small animal rescue park where they take care of rescued bears.
The only catch with Kuang Si waterfalls is, that other tourists also know about it. I have read on blogs before that the noise of the tourist groups that get transported there every day ruins the wonderful atmosphere. To avoid the crowds we tried to be there as early as possible. We arrived there at 8 in the morning and there was literally nobody there. Wonderful! Not only is it nicer to take pictures of the waterfalls without dozens of people on the picture, but also is the morning light perfect. We spent in total three hours at the waterfalls and the adjacent bear rescue center. When we left at 11, the place was completely overrun by tourists. I am so glad we managed to get out there so early.
The Cluster Bomb Museum
During the second Indochina War, American Forces heavily bombed Laos in an attempt to cut off the supply routes of the Vietcong. Many of these routes led through Laos. Apart from using Napalm to burn down and Agent Orange to defoliate the trees, the Americans also used Cluster Bombs to destroy large areas of land. Cluster Bombs are bomb shells that contain hundreds of so-called bombies, each of which causes damage in a radius of 30m when hitting the ground. In mid-air, the Cluster bomb opens up, spreading the bombies over an area of two to three football fields. The long term problem with these cluster bombs was that about one third of the bombies did not explode on impact, and hence just like landmines are a big threat to everybody working in agriculture, because these bombies may explode anytime when being hit.
The UXO museum (UXO = unexploded ordnance) in Luang Prabang gives a lot of information about this huge problem of Laos, that I have to admit, I was completely unaware of. And it also shows movies of people who got killed or seriously injured while trying to make a living on the countryside. There is international help with the removal of these UXOs, but so far only half a million UXOs have been disarmed and destroyed. Around 78 million are still out there, and locating and destroying them is an enormous effort. Until then they pose a big threat to the Lao population and it is one of the reasons why Laos is developing so slowly.
Going South to Vang Vieng
Due to my illness, we spent in total 5 nights in Luang Prabang, which is more than enough. Now we are heading south to Vang Vieng, which is a 7 hour bus ride away. Most of the roads will be in the mountains, so I expect some nice views and a most likely uncomfortable bus ride.