Leaving the madness of Vang Vieng behind, I headed north to Luang Prabang. A long bus journey took me through the mountains on very winding roads- enough to rival the 'Snake Pass' at least. The scenery was amazing and I spent the 6 hours in awe at the splendor of the sight. Even when the mist closed in and visibility greatly reduced it was still worth the long journey. We went through villages, where all houses are made from planted straw and palm leaves. We drove past women washing themselves and clothes in streams coming directly off the mountain. I even saw kids on the back of water-buffalos, driving them along the street to the next pasture. It was magical.
Luang Prabang, a long time ago used to be the country's capital before Vientiane took over. Compared to the new, this old capital has the style, glamour and sophistication you would expect from a capital. It was just what I needed. As it is a UNESCO sight, traffic is limited and especially a night when a night market takes over the main high street it is mainly a pedestrian haven. I wandered down through the colourful night market and found beautiful restaurants in crumbling French provincial architecture, lit by candles. All the restaurants had taken care over their style and presentation- a thing I have not seen since Hong Kong or even the UK. Chilled music filled the air and the overall atmosphere was one of calm and serenity. I loved being able to sit in the restaurants, watch the world go by and take in the stunning mountain ranges.
I booked to go on an elephant trek the next day. They were supposed to pick me up at 8am from my hotel. By 8.45 they had not turned up. Even with elastic time I thought I had better ring the office and see what had happened. It turned out they did not know where my hotel was so didn't pick me up. The van had already left. A motorbike was hurriedly sent out to me and whizzed me off to catch up with the group. When I got there the people were already on the elephants and setting off on the trek. They made one elephant turn round and head back though so I could join in. To get on the elephant they had built a stand which you climbed up and then could literally cross off on the wooden seating they had placed across the back of the elephant. I shared this with two French guys. One of them had to actually sit on the elephant though, and gave his seat up for me!
The elephant was beautiful and so calm. He did not like getting his feet muddy though and so would refuse to walk down certain paths! His guide definitely had to encourage him! It was scary when he walked down little hills, you would be flung to the front of the seat where lucky there was a bar to hold onto. Even though he was not going fast, because you were so high up gravity took hold. Going up hill was slightly easier. Not for the French man sat on the elephant though- we had to hold him to help him stay on!
The trek took us through the jungle and we had to cross some river to get to the next bit of the path. Well to say our elephant did not like mud- he hated water more. You could see the disgust in his face that he had to go through! He then decided to race the other elephants and went off finding his own path through to the front of the group. It was great fun.
At the end of the trek we were able to feed the elephants, including a baby one. So cute! A couple had also paid to bath the elephants and they were kind enough to let the rest of us watch. They sat on the elephants backs and were guided into the water. As they washed the elephants down, the elephants would splash them with water from their trunks!
After the excitement of the morning, I did not think it could get any better until I booked to go see a nearby waterfall, Tat Kuang Si. Again in the beautiful wooded areas is the amazing waterfall. Clear water spilled into bright blue lagoons. It was possible to climb to the top of the waterfall, which was a clear challenge to accept. The path was not easy. It was vertical path which started out with steps before degenerating into roots used to pull yourself up. Hard work but worth the climb. Just below from the top was a pool where you could swim. I followed an American to find the path- who went wrong. We ended up climbing a small waterfall in order to get there. Digging toes into crevices as water rushed along side you was not my idea of fun. I managed it though and was able to enjoy the clear, cool water. t was amazing to be able to go to the edge of the pool and look out as it poured over into the next level. Stunning. I have a fear of sliding and falling over, especially going down slippy slopes. I had to overcome this to get down and so with heart in mouth I started the long and slow journey down. Very proud of myself I reached the bottom in time to look at the bear sanctuary before the bus left back to town. Several brown bears have been rescued and looked after in the park. They were having a snooze though. Typical!
To cap the day off, I went to see the Phu Si Temple. Up a hill (350 odd steps up!) the temple sits in the middle of the town and gives an excellent view of the area. I arrived there to watch the sunset and thoroughly take in the beautiful landscape. I must admit this is the only temple I went to. Luang Prabang has many fine examples but I chose to spend the day with nature.