We had heard several reports from fellow travelers that the ancient Laotian city of Luang Phabang was an amazing place that should not be missed and that we should definitely visit. We also were told that the landscapes and scenery on the route to Luang Phabang were some of the most beautiful anywhere in Southeast Asia. After quickly studying the relevant information on Google we both agreed and decided to make the trip. Since we were so close it would be a shame not to take this Laotian side trip on our Vietnam adventure. We arranged for a safe place to store our bikes since traveling there included the necessity of going in part by small river boats. We also reserved two seats on the next day’s bus to Muang Khua, Laos.
We left early at 6:30 am for the two hour ride to the border crossing. Luckily we had remembered the two required passport photos and by 10 am we had completed the immigration process, were $60 poorer and back on the bus headed for the Nam Ou River. After three hours of traveling through some amazing scenery we arrived at the river town of Muang Khua where a skinny river boat took us on a beautiful three hour cruise to the very small town of Muang Ngoi Neua. This tiny but quaint village had only begun using electricity since 2013. However they have had an excellent reputation with the backpacking crowd for years as a special kind of place. Because of it’s riverside location we stayed in the town’s most upscale hotel, the Ning Ning guest house.
The Ning Ning has seven rooms all raised on stilts at the river’s edge, each providing a fantastic river view. The prices were the town’s highest with a range of $20-30 per night but in my opinion being right on the river made it well worth the extra cost. On the floor below the rooms is a large restaurant with a great river view. They served a good complimentary breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Having drinks at sunset was an enchanting experience.
The next morning at 9:30am we were back on the river in a small boat on our way to Nong Khiaw, another small town located two hours down river to where we shared a taxi on our way to the local bus station in order to catch the bus for the final four hours to Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang Laos
The ancient Laotian town of Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful and appealing towns in Southeast Asia. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, this enchantingly beautiful town is one of the most popular destinations in Laos, especially for international travelers. Considered by many sophisticated tourists to represent the heart of Laotian culture. This small town is encircled by mountains and is built on a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Kahn and Mekong Rivers. The international airport was modernized and had the runway extended in 2011 making the town more accessible to the wealthier and less adventurous travelers.
The popularity of this favorite destination has come at a price. It has created an inflamed economic bubble that, in Laos, only applies to Luang Prabang. Because the city is so alluring, tourists are willing to pay more for the pleasures of travel here than they are willing to pay when visiting in other Laotian cities such as the country’s capital, Vientiane. So the cost of travel related expenses such as hotels, restaurants and bars is higher here in Luang Prabang than anywhere else in Laos.
Luang Prabang was the ancient Royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until 1545 when it was moved by King Phothisarat to Vientiane. It has become the destination of choice, exuding historical ambiance while featuring an assortment of quaint crumbling French architecture, glimmering temples and spectacular natural wonders. The entire historical section of the city is dedicated solely to tourism—including the ancient Royal palaces and the over 30 Wat Buddhist Temples. Even so this former ancient capital still remains the center for Buddhist learning and spiritual contemplation as evidenced by the common sight of many orange clad monks on the streets of Luang Prabang.
The opportunities for enjoying natural beauty abound. Everything from hiking, caving, scaling local mountain peaks and frolicking in cool cascading waterfalls. Swimming, boating and sailing in the Nam Kahn and Mekong Rivers are widely enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
Tad Sae Waterfall, is, along with the Kuang Si Waterfall, a very popular natural attraction especially during the rainy season. It can only be reached by a short boat ride on the Nam Khan River making it an excellent way to spend the day. We choose to visit Tad Sae as it was closer and more popular with the locals. The cascading water flowing into the many pools is a favorite for photographers wanting a picturesque sight for photographing waterfalls and the surrounding natural landscape. Swimming is made easy by the access to the pools which can be reached by the man made steps and wooden paths leading to the largest pools for the visitors to enjoy. There are also zip lines and elephant rides available for additional entertainment. Restrooms and changing rooms as well as lounges are available for a reasonable fee.
The Pak Ou Buddha Caves are a must see when visiting Luang Phrabang. Located 25 km downriver on the Mekong you can get to this one of a kind cave experience by either taking the Mekong River on a small river boat or by land in a tuk tuk.
In order to reach the caves entrance you must pass through a small village which is in its self an interesting experience. There are two caves, both containing thousands of mostly wooden Buddha images. The lower caves are well lit and shallow with every shelf and crevice containing a Buddha. The wooden Buddhas are showing their age but this somehow adds to their mysterious appeal.
The upper caves are pitch dark requiring you to grab one of the torches offered at the caves entrance. The combination of the caves natural beauty and the man made Buddhas make this a most unique and fascinating place to visit. Between the riverboat ride, the small village and the unique caves it was a day well spent, plus we had the opportunity to see a sunset on the river on our way home.
Back to our hotel.