Hey, everyone (I know there are at least four of you out there, no matter what my travel companion says...) We are back in Thailand, in Chiang Mai, where we arrived yesterday afternoon after a quick flight from Luang Prabang.
Our time in Luang Prabang was great. It is an amazing and gorgeous little town and if any of you ever have a chance to go, I'd definitely recommend taking the opportunity! Yesterday we met some fellow travelers here in Chiang Mai and were chatting with them about where we'd been and Ian said that Luang Prabang was "the most charming place you've ever seen," and I think I'd have to agree.
After our bike excursion on our first day, we figured it was time to check out some of the many temples on our second day. We started at Wat Pa Huak, an old temple that we went into on a whim while on our way to another. On the inside it had a really beautiful mural and it was very peaceful, as there were no other tourists (or anyone, except the attendant) around. Then we continued on and climbed Mount Phu Si to get up to That Chomsi, which overlooks the town and the rivers. The temple itself isn't all that grand, but the view was amazing. I think I took more pictures from there than at any other site on our trip!
The following day, we sprung for an organized tour to some places outside of town. First, we got on a boat and headed up the Mekong toward Pak Ou caves. On our way, we stopped at a small Lao village where they make Lao "whiskey," which is really more like moonshine, as we found out when they gave us a tiny taste. We eventually got to the caves and climbed off the boat over a few balance beam-type logs (glad I didn't have more than a sip of that whiskey!) and into the caves. There are two caves, and both are packed with Buddha statues in all sizes, materials, and positions, and many have been there for 600 years. After the caves, we took the boat back to town and then a van out to Kuang Si waterfalls. On our way into the park to see the waterfalls, we came across a bear rescue center and watched a dozen or so bears for a while. And then, we took the short hike to see the falls, which were amazing. Ian continued on and hiked a steep trail to the top of the falls, but I'd worn my flip flops, so I planted myself on a bench in the sun (and the spray) and waited for him, which, in my opinion, was probably more enjoyable anyway. :)
On Saturday, we took the day off from running around town and went to a local pool to relax. It was pretty hot the whole time we were in Laos, so it felt great to swim!
On Sunday, we decided we hadn't had enough waterfalls, so we rented bikes again and rode out to another park with waterfalls about 10 km outside of town. The ride there was pretty difficult (a lot of it uphill and about 3 km on a gravel road), but the park and the waterfalls were pretty and much less crowded than at Kuang Si, as these falls aren't really a tourist attraction. When we got to the park, the map showed a small trail leading to a village that we could hike to, so between our hike to the two waterfalls, we took that trail and hiked about 15 minutes up to a village. Walking into the village, we passed a house full of people sitting around together laughing and talking, and they all waved and said very friendly Lao hellos. We continued into the village a little ways and walked around, and on our way out, the group of people in the house invited us in. We sat down with them and, although they spoke no English and we spoke no Lao, managed to communicate some (they thought Ian was very tall with very hairy legs--at least that much came across!) They were incredibly kind and hospitable and even invited us to join in with them at their meal, but it was looking like a storm was rolling in and we wanted to get down out of the park before the rain, so we thanked them and went on our way.
On Monday, our last full day in Luang Prabang, we saw the town's most famous temple, Wat Xieng Thong, and the city museum, which used to be the royal palace. Then we had a fabulous dinner at a restaurant called Tamarind that was in the NYT (and paid $15 each for a five-course meal!) They specialize in Lao food, which is sometimes, it seemed from the menus of the other restaurants in town, difficult to tease apart from Thai food, but this meal was not anything we'd seen in Thailand: bamboo and mushroom soup, young pumpkin salad, sticky rice with dipping sauces, roasted chicken and fish, and more.
And, sadly, on Tuesday it was time to leave. We haven't been in Chiang Mai long, and I'm hoping it'll grow on me, but right now I'm still missing Luang Prabang! It's definitely a place I'd like to try to get back to someday. Now that we're back in Thailand and the internet's a bit faster, I'll try to get some more pics up from Luang Prabang (we took a lot)! More than anywhere else we've been, I'm finding it difficult to find the words to do the place justice... so maybe the pictures will help. :)