Lazy day in Luang Prabang, Laos

While much of our trip so far has been active, today we awoke to the drenching monsoon rains that make this time low season for travelers to Luang Prabang and Laos more generally. So, we decided we’d stroll around to see some of the famous Wats and generally enjoy this sleepy city and its beautiful architecture and people. Today was much less about sights and more about feeling – just spending time enjoying a place and taking time to reflect.

We started with a short tuk tuk ride to Wat Xiengthong, one of the most famous Wats on the peninsula of that makes up Luang Prabang. It was absolutely beautiful, although we ended up getting pretty wet.


What’s very interesting about the Wats here is that they have extremely vibrant colors, many of which are greens and blues we didn’t see much of in Thailand. Also, there are many monks here, especially young ones, who also are visiting and taking photos of the Wats as well. One of the things we unfortunately haven’t experienced in Luang Prabang is the morning alms ceremony, where the monks walk through the streets to this temple, and lay folk sit and give them alms as they pass along.


After we finished, we headed to the noodle shop next door for some cheap but delicious noodles. We have agreed that Lao food isn’t quite as punchy as Thai food – it has a depth of flavor, but doesn’t quite have the same hit of spice or sour or sweet, but rather is more mellow. The curries have all been fairly pleasant but not especially memorable, whereas Thai food was either spot on or not to our tastes. The noodle soup was similarly good, but not something I’d run to recreate at home. Essentially it is strips of salty pork in a garlicky chicken broth with veggies, with an egg soft boiled/poached in it. We spiced it up a bit with the lime and some chili powder.


After lunch, we wandered past a couple other Wats and windowshopped in town, before getting some coffee at a local coffee house that supports local coffee farming communities. Interestingly, the coffee growing is becoming a better livelihood for many people in Laos than rice farming, as the land is better suited to it and it is more sustainable. Microfinancing and the government have started helping many families get into the coffee business, according to the local newspaper that I read the other day (if anyone is considering moving to Laos, they are looking for a local English-speaking editor!).


Walking around town was also nice, as it was just a relaxed day. We cut through some back streets and saw some of the locals, whose homes are still located between the many guest houses and tourist shops. These people are incredibly kind, and even though most don’t speak English, we’ve still managed to communicate in funny body language and smiles. Also helping with the smiles are the things that are lost in translation, including some of the names of the local guesthouses which have been phonetically transliterated into English. Some of the funnier ones include “Thatsaphone” guesthouse and “Inthesack” guesthouse, both of which I suspect were proofread for sound but not for meaning before being branded. As with Cambodian and traditional Thai homes, Lao homes are raised on stilts, and we saw several people playing cards while sitting in hammocks suspended from the bottom of their homes’ floors.


This area is quickly gaining tourist traction, although some of the local cultural norms are still quite different than what we have experienced in other parts of Asia. According to the folks we’ve spoken to and our hotel guidelines, here are some interesting tidbits:

  • Never give money to beggars, even for photos (you should also be sensitive about taking photos of locals – which is probably common sense). Interestingly, when we traveled up the Mekong yesterday our guide compared Laos to other neighboring countries and said that while Thai people experience homelessness and hunger, Lao people are able to provide for themselves off the land and are “poor, but happy.” I’m not sure how much of that was white-washed, but we have only seen a couple folks who really looked like they were down on their luck in town
  •  It is illegal for a Lao person and a foreigner to be in a relationship, and the Lao can be put in jail for it, especially if there is PDA – again, not sure if this is true (we have heard of a couple people who are in mixed race couples in town), but it seems an interesting warning against possible trafficking
  • Losing your temper and yelling is extremely rude and usually will result in the Lao person leaving to let you cool off – I can’t tell you how many times in American airports I’ve seen foolishness that Lao people would clearly not tolerate
  • Only use chopsticks for noodles, otherwise, you’re trying too hard

For dinner, we went to a great French/Lao/Vegan restaurant called L’Elephant Vert (they offer about five menus), where I tried a couple local specialties (Perry opted for the French tasting menu). I got the water buffalo steak, which was actually very tender and juicy. It was rubbed in some kind of seasoning including cinnamon and nutmeg, and served with a nice herb butter. We had both forgotten how delicious cheese is as well, as we haven’t had gooey cheese in about a week. We also tried a local speciality, which is Mekong seaweed, baked with sesame seeds and eaten with a delicious paste of chilis and tamarind thickened with buffalo skin.


Tomorrow we head for the airport around 3pm and have fast-tracked Visas for Vietnam, so hopefully we will be into Ho Chi Minh City and on our way around 9:30pm!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s