After hearing so many horror stories about the 30 hour bus journey from Hanoi to Laos, we decided to be "flash packers" and booked ourselves onto the 45 minute flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and hopefully save ourselves some time and trouble!
Our taxi arrived right on time at 5.30am and bleary eyed we got in and headed for the airport. Check in was smooth and easy and we were soon through to departures ready for our flight to take off.... departures was where we ended up staying until about 11am when our flight eventually took off. Apparently it was due to bad weather meaning the incoming flight hadn't been able to leave Luang Prabang on time.... on arrival in Luang Prabang 45 minutes later, the sky was blue and the sun was scorching and we were a little dubious about the bad weather!!! When we got into the airport, we didn't have any US Dollars on us to pay for our visas, no problem in Laos, just walk on through, past customs, past immigration and get yourself some cash from the ATM in the arrivals hall. The head back through customs and immigration to pay your fee- all without showing your passport!!! Amazing, imagine that happening at Heathrow!!!
So, we were now in Luang Prabang, Laos. We'd heard great things about this place and how it and the surrounding areas were beautiful and on arrival we weren't disappointed. Our hostel was right on the Nam Khan River and the surroundings were picture perfect. After checking in and figuring out where we were, we headed up the hill to Main Street where all the bars, restaurants and shops etc are. We found a lovely little restaurant called Coconut Garden and had lunch (including buffalo meat which was very tasty and much like steak) and a drink while we decided what to do for the next couple of days. As is now becoming the usual, after a couple of hours in the sun and our very early start, we headed back to the guest house and had a quick siesta before heading back out to the Main Street for the Night Market. Local people sell their hand made products, from t-shirts to jewellery to furniture to food and we managed to make a fair few purchases after a bit of bartering. Mickey and Ricky who we had met in Halong Bay had told us about an alleyway off of the Night Market that sells amazing home cooked food by the locals so we decided to take a look. We weren't disappointed!! On the left hand side of the alleyway, there are rows of picnice tables and on the right hand side of the alleyway is taken up with row upon row of local people cooking all manner of produce, including fresh fish, chicken and sausages. They also all have masses of rice, noodles, veg, spring rolls, salad, pasta in bowls on the table and you pay 10,000 Kip (about 80p) and are given a plate, which you can then fill up with as much food as you like from the "buffet". You can then choose a piece of meat/ fish for another 10,000 and a MASSIVE bottle of beer for another 10,000. So for about 2.40 each, we had a massive meal and beer each. Bargain!! We rolled ourselves back down the hill from the night market with our very full bellies to our hostel and were soon languishing in a food induced coma for the night!
The following day, we decided to explore Luang Prabang a bit more and also decide how we were going to get to Chiang Mai. We had intended on getting the slow boat to Chiang Mai which takes 2 days and involves 2 nights staying in hostels along the way and then a 6 hour bus journey to Chiang Mai. The other option was a 12 hour overnight bus journey, a boat across the border and then a 6 hour mini van journey to Chiang Mai which was a lot less time and considerably cheaper. We decided to spend the day weighing up our options.
We hired some bikes for the day and set off exploring the town. As well as a the Nam Khan river that our guest house was on, the Mekong also runs through Luang Prabang and the 2 rivers meet and join. We cycled a big loop of the town and had a good look around, along both rivers and after a few hairy moments around roundabouts and crossing big roads, we made it back to the centre of town. Luang Prabang, like a lot of SE Asian countries, is full of absolutely stunning temples. They glisten in the sunlight and are kept so beautifully. From anywhere in Luang Prabang, you can see That Comsi, which sits high on a hill top in the centre of town. We parked up our bikes and decided to take the 380 steps to the top to have a look.... Thankfully, once up there, the view was AMAZING! You could see Luang Prabang and all of the surrounding areas and mountains and it really put perspective on the whole area and its beauty. We had a look around the temple up there and took some photos and then headed back down the 350 steps (considerably easier than going up!!!). We continued on our cycle tour and on the way stopped at a travel agent and decided to book the bus journey to Chiang Mai... despite our reservations about doing yet ANOTHER long overnight bus journey, we decided it was the most sensible option as it was cheaper and would give us an extra day in Luang Prabang as well as an extra couple of days in Chiang Mai. Once booked, we did another cycle along the river, took the bikes back and then headed back for some more bartering at the night market and some more cheap food!!!
With getting the bus instead of the boat, we had gained an extra day in Laos. We had breakfast at a local cafe and then did some more walking and looking at the temples. Lou had been suffering from a stiff neck so we decided to take a look at a massage place that a guy we had met the previous day had recommended to us. Lou settled in for a half hour shoulder massage and I went off in search of an internet cafe to find us some accommodation in Chiang Mai. After we had found each other again (easier said than done in a town where all of the shop fronts are the same!!) we decided that we would pay the museum a visit but realised that we weren't appropriately dressed, so headed back to the guest house to get some more clothing. We then realised the museum shuts at lunchtime so we had a break in the sun and headed to the museum at 1.30... where we found out that it's shut on a Tuesday!! Typical!! Or bad planning by us having not read the signs properly! doh! SO, with our whole afternoon now free and it being a beautiful day, we decided to make the most of it and sit by the river and have a couple of drinks and dinner to prepare ourselves for another overnight bus journey to Chiang Mai!
Luang Prabang was such a lovely little town, the people were amazingly friendly and the only people touting for business were Tuk Tuk drivers. After the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, which we loved, it was a welcome break for a few days in relative peace and quiet and just the thing that we needed to recharge our batteries. Luang Prabang is very French influenced, both in food and style and we made sure we sampled some of the crepes (and very good they were too!!!) as well as more typical Laos food. Somewhere I would definitely visit a second time and perhaps explore a bit more but now it's time to head to Chiang Mai, Thailand for some more adventures!!!