Luang Prabang (Laos)

Laos is a really overlooked country and many travelers do not include it on their SE Asian itineraries.  Although there are no beaches in Laos, (it’s the only landlocked country in SE Asia), I was drawn by its real laid-back lifestyle.  Despite being only a 1 hour flight from the absolute madhouse of Bangkok, Laos miraculously still retains a quiet charm.

Upon arrival into Luang Prabang we visited the night market.  Night markets in Asia are usually an action seekers delight – loud, sweaty and crowded with vendors barking at you to buy their stuff.  Well, the night market in Luang Prabang was the polar opposite.  Not only was it quiet and uncrowded, the female Lao vendors were so mellow that you would have thought they all ate quaaludes prior to setting up shop.  No aggressive sales pitches from these refined Lao ladies.  So refreshing to wander thru an outdoor market without your head spinning in all directions.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage city known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, vibrant night market and the mighty Mekong River running thru the town.  Luang Prabang also boasts a collection of amazing restaurants that rival many cities in Asia…..many being French influenced as it was part of French Indochina for about 60 years.  The food is so clean and fresh with lots of farm to table cuisine and containing no additives.  It omits the unneeded sugar and oil used in so many restaurants nowadays.  A true feast at every single meal.  Besides eating our asses off, we also threw in some visits to the area Wats and burned off all the calories riding our bikes thru this real cool bike friendly town.

We had planned to see a lot more cities & towns throughout Laos but instead chose to only visit Luang Prabang and hang with the monks.  Luang Prabang is one of the most popular areas in all of Laos.  Two weeks prior to our departure, the US State Department issued a low level travel warning for parts of northern Laos where some random shootings had taken place targeting tourist buses.  Since the only method of shuffling between the main cities of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and the capital Vientiane is by ground transportation, we took a pass on the other destinations this time around and will maybe return at a later date when tensions cool off.

Why the current turmoil in a normally incredible peaceful country with peaceful people?  Apparently, the Lao locals are pissed off at their government for some greedy shit they did.  China is acquiring significant land areas in Laos, probably via bribes of some sort to the Lao government.  This is occurring under the guise of building ‘infrastructure projects’ but in reality China’s real motive for acquiring this land is to build small Chinese enclaves for their own citizens.  In very isolated cases, the disgruntled locals are shooting at vehicles on the main road between cities and particularly targeting the Chinese travelers in transit.

Being Gandhi-like peace loving Flashpackers, ain’t nobody got time for being caught in the middle of some internal squabbles.  Therefore, after visiting Luang Prabang we opted to purchase air tickets to hit up the chain of the ‘Big 3’ Thai islands along the gulf coast of Thailand – Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Samui.  It turns out to be a great time to visit these extremely popular, touristy Thai islands as its shoulder season and we can get much better rates and avoid the hordes of tourists that flood there during high season.

In my opinion, Luang Prabang is probably one of the best Asian cities to visit for amateur travelers who would like an introduction to Asia in the least intimidating way.  It’s an upscale, tourist friendly city with great lodging options and superb restaurants.  Its quiet streets were ideal to ride a bike around to see local life in slow motion.  The streets are so tranquil, we even rode our bikes to dinner every night.   Most importantly, in Laos, you will get a taste of the most relaxed Asian culture filled with kind, smiling people.


Restaurants –
L’Elephant Restaurant, Le Banneton, Tamarind, Joma Bakery Cafe, Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene, Tamnak Lao, Rosetta Fusion, Khaiphaen

The super relaxed town of Luang Prabang has proven to be a fantastic natural laxative.  The big ancillary benefit of a visit here was it also relaxed my bowels.  Maybe that is really why it received its UNESCO World Heritage designation?  The new Luang Prabang tourism slogan….. “It’s a slam dunk…book your flight to Luang Prabang and you too can experience solid and consistent bowel movements.”

We have traveled thru many Southeast Asian countries and the religion practiced in many of these countries is Buddhism.  Both Barbie and I have observed that the people in Laos (the country we are currently visiting), Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia where Buddhism is predominantly practiced, seem to be so much more relaxed.  I have learned that Buddhism teaches you that we always know right from wrong (just like our parents taught us) and when we misstep, our body, mind, and spirit are no longer in alignment.  Makes sense to me, so I am down with the Buddhist philosophy.

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