Never judge a book by its cover.
I’d chosen to take the notorious slow boat from the town of Huang Xai in northern Loas, which would meander down the Mekong river for 2 days, stopping for one night in the tiny, purpose built pier town of Pak Beng before arriving in Luang Prabang the next day.
The scenery on the boat was stunning really, with mountainous jungle and farm land rising from each side of the river as far as the eye could see. It was a peaceful journey, passing a handful of small riverside communities where our boat would sometimes stop to drop the locals off or snake past their fishing boats. It was scenery I didn’t think I’d get bored of, but after 16 hours sat on a wooden bench over the 2 days we were all crying out for something different, especially after the boat had been drunken dry of beers.
(This photo is actually near Chiang Rai, Thailand, but was part of my trip to Laos and had to feature in the blog somewhere!)
When the boat finally stopped for the last time, we seemed to be docked at another of these small riverside communities, not at the port of Laos’ 2nd biggest city. It turned out we were 10km out of town. The short bus ride into the city took us along quiet, run down roads typical of a movie ghost town, and when we were dropped off at our hostel things hadn’t really changed. But this is where my first impressions were misleading.
On the first night I took a walk to the town centre and was met by the vibrant night market at the heart of the old town. These had a lot more of a laid back feel to what I had seen in Chiang Mai, but I was still only distracted by the scent of the local cuisine drifting out of the side alleys from street food vendors.
A little further on I found the river, the go-to place for restaurants and bars. Weirdly, Luang Prabang has a curfew at 11:30pm, but the night doesn’t quite end there. At this time tuk-tuks line the streets to take everyone straight down to the local bowling alley – the only place left open late at night where you can get a beer!
The next day we rented some push bikes to explore the town a little further. Not an awful lot of sites to see but there are still plenty of scenic stop offs along the riverside. Come sunset, we headed up the Phou Si Mount – a small hill in the centre of town home to a temple at the peak and an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city and surrounding area.
I’d heard I had to go to the nearby Kuang Si waterfalls, so the next day I swapped the push bike for a scooter and started the 30km journey. I’d seen a lot of waterfalls recently and was worried that the novelty might be wearing off, much like I’d found of the views on the boat. When I arrived I realised this was totally different to any waterfall I’d seen before.
There were numerous lagoons of miniature waterfalls, each with striking turquoise water and enclosed by a tropical tree line from all angles. The main waterfall itself was even more impressive, and a small path led the way up to the top. Up here was another lagoon to swim in and absorb the views over the mountain range in front.
My first impression of Luang Prabang couldn’t have been more wrong and I found myself sad to leave. But I’m starting to get used to this feeling now, and am always looking forward to the next adventure!