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…….The World Without Boundaries

That Beautiful Lao Town Called Luang Prabang

Written By: jipp - Feb• 27•17

After the very long hours of traveling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang on a bus, I finally got a good rest at a decent hotel that I pre-booked prior to my trip to Laos. Strategically located in Kingkitsarath Road, I liked Villa Merry Lao-Swiss almost instantly.

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Luang Prabang that I found out is quite a small town. Everything is within a walking distance. In fact, the whole town – or at least the UNSECO site area – can be covered in half a day. Dominating the landscape is Mount Phousi, although it is more like a hill than a mountain to me. I joined dozens of other visitors to go up there to see the sunset. There wasn’t really a sunset because the clouds refused to let up but then even if there was, I don’t think it was something to be wowed about. It really is funny when people do something just for the sake of doing something that many other people do. I had a good view of Luang Prabang from up there though so the climb was not really a futile effort.

Located at the merging point of Mekong River and Nan Khan River, Luang Prabang is probably one of the very last towns in South East Asia that still preserve the original settings that they inherited from the pre/colonial time. I began my walking tour by visiting some of the temples. Most of the temples in Luang Prabang are quite small by comparison, but they have their own charms. I actually saved the one at Royal Palace for my last day in Luang Prabang and I was totally mesmerized. It was so beautiful I don’t even remember when was the last time I was so wowed by a single building. I really think it was on par with the likes of Taj Mahal and Lotus Temple in India – no kidding.

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Food in Luang Prabang is aplenty. Based on my observation of Loas, the country and its people are so clean it is probably one of only a few countries in South East Asia that I did not encounter any hygiene issue at all.  I gotta say though that the prices of food are averagely higher than in most other SEA countries that I’ve been to. I like to believe that what they gave me were tourist prices but I had observed how the locals paid for the same prices. May be the people of Laos – which is a communist country – are doing quite well. After all we don’t really see them coming to other countries to seek for job.

One of the highlights in Luang Prabang is probably the night market. It really is vibrant and full of energy. It’s like the whole population of Luang Prabang go to this market comes evening. There seem to be plenty of traditional hand crafts being sold there although I didn’t really buy anything because I still had a long way to go before I ended my journey in Laos. My favorite part of the whole market was actually the food stalls. They seemed to be a lot of grilled stuff being sold there even though I almost threw up when I ate something that I bought from there. The amount of fat within that small piece of meat was just unbelievable I could almost feel it jamming up my system due to high content of cholesterol.

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One thing I gotta tell you about Luang Prabang is the currency exchange rate at its money changers. They seem to offer better rates compared to those in Vientiane and Vang Vieng. It is probably wiser to change your money to the local currency in Luang Prabang than in any other place in Laos.

I actually went to Luang Prabang for the Luang Prabang International Half-Marathon 2016. It was probably the very first time that I went to join an international marathon in another country – ALONE. The registration fee was quite expensive at USD95 (worsened by depreciation of MYR) but most of it would go to the Lao Hospital for Children so I did not really mind.

It was an almost all-flat running track. It was a two-loop route so I had to run through the same points twice before finishing the run just outside of the Royal Palace. It felt quite strange (and probably sad ha ha) to run without anybody waiting for me at the finish line but I guess it takes a little bit of getting used to and I should be fine after doing it at least a few times. Still, it was probably one of the most memorable runs that I’ve ever done. There were mothers and children cheering the runners on from the side of the road. There were also cheering volunteers, most of whom are young (and pretty) girls so I didn’t really feel tired despite the lack of training. Heh.

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The run also gave me the opportunity of watching the famous alms giving ceremony while running – something that I had put high on my list of things to do in Luang Prabang. It really was a beautiful ceremony.

The day before the run, after collecting my running BIB, I went to a rental shop just outside of the hotel and rented a motor-bike. It was an easy deal, although I did not feel quite comfortable having to let them keep my passport. But then, that was how it was. Sometimes, putting your trust wholly in the hands of a stranger is quite inevitable when traveling.

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With a little map in my hands, I rode the bike off to Kuang Si Waterfalls which is located some 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang. The road was quite of a zig zag but I had full trust in my riding skills. The ride took me across villages and farms which reminded me very much of my homeland Sabah back in the 80’s. I managed to reach the entrance in less than an hour. After paying for the ticket, I walked towards what would become one of the most beautiful waterfalls that I had ever seen in my entire life (check out a short video I recorded at Kuang Si Waterfalls).

It was late in the afternoon but people were still flocking in in hordes. The fall itself consists of several tiers and each tier has its own pools of turquoise water. I excitedly walked from one tier to another until I reached the top tier where I almost cried in amazement. It was totally a magical sight that looks like something that comes straight out of a fairy tale. I spent an hour or so marveling at the beauty of Kuang Si Falls before riding back to my dinner in Luang Prabang.

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I made my time to do the ‘cruise’ along Mekong River on the morning of my last day in Luang Prabang, except that it was not really a cruise but more like a long boat. I stupidly booked through the hotel, which I found out was at least 50% higher than the amount of money that I would have paid if I went directly to the jetty. At least they picked me up from the hotel though. The cruise would have been a wow but my current research project took me to so many boat rides in the interior parts of Borneo so this one felt like just another one of them. The only consolation was probably the fact that I was cruising on the longest river in South East Asia.

We were made to do a stopover at a riverside village – which is quite a typical business strategy in most places of tourist attractions all over South East Asia (and beyond. They do it in India too, particularly in New Delhi) – in the hope that we’d buy something from the villagers. I wish I could buy something but the way I see it, visitors only buy something out of a good will. Too bad I ended up buying nothing because – well – I just did not feel like buying anything.

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The boat ride took us to Pak Ou Cave which is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. I had to use my hand phone to light the way for me while traversing through one of the caves because it was too dark in there. It is estimated that there are at least 5000 statues and statuettes of Buddha in all the caves. Some of them are ancient so Pak Ou Cave is not only a pilgrimage site but also a place of significant historical values. For me the boat ride was not really about Pak Ou Cave but more of the journey and the beautiful scenery that I had the privilege of seeing along the way.  Otherwise, it would be quite a disappointment.

I returned to Luang Prabang before catching a bus to Vang Vieng. Luang Prabang was great but I had higher expectations for Vang Vieng.

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