After our longest bus ride yet (28 hours!), we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos. Luang Prabang is a small city tucked away in a mountainous region in northern Laos. The city is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers.
We spent most of our time in Luang Prabang strolling the old town center through the French colonial buildings and numerous wats and monasteries. The fusion of French and Lao architecture led the old town center to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
At the center of the city lies the temple-topped hill of Mount Phou Si. A short hike to the top takes you past several Buddhist shrines and ends with a near-panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Kuang Si Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall that cascades over travertine terraces into crystalline turquoise-colored pools. Surrounded by dense, lush forrest, the falls are approximately 30 kilometers south of Luang Prabang. We had heard that the falls get pretty crowded in the late morning and afternoon, so we rented a motorbike hoping to be some of the first people to enter at 8 am.
Our reward for being early was to swim in the cool, pristine swimming holes all by ourselves. The pools even included small fish that nibbled at our feet and legs. No need to pay for the expensive fish pedicures in town!
At the entrance of the falls is a Moon bear rescue centre. When we arrived we briskly walked past the bears eager to get to the falls. After swimming, we spent time at the rescue center and were lucky enough to catch feeding time. It appeared volunteers had hidden tasty treats for the bears all over their enclosures. These bears here were rescued by the Lao government from those who had illegally taken them from the wild for use in bear bile farms – a despicable aspect of traditional medicine in many parts of Asia.
Our next destination after Luang Prabang was Chiang Mai, Thailand. A bit sick of long bus rides, we chose to take a scenic two day river boat ride to Huay Xai, Laos and then a five hour shuttle bus to Chiang Mai. The slow boat ride down the Mekong is popular amongst tourists with the majority of people taking the boat from Thailand to Laos. We, however, chose the less common and less busy way: Laos to Thailand.
While passengers endured overcrowded boats on the passage from Thailand to Laos, we had a 60 passenger boat practically to ourselves. The journey was scenic and relaxing as we passed small villages, locals fishing, and herds of water buffalo cooling themselves in the Mekong.
We spent the night in the small town of Pakbeng before setting off on the river again the next morning. As twilight approached, we landed in Huay Xai, Laos. The border was closed for the day, so we enjoyed sunset from the balcony of our guesthouse overlooking the Mekong with Thailand in the distance. A five hour journey the next day brought us to Chiang Mai, Thailand and the subject of our next post 🙂