Before moving to Vientiane, Luang Prabang was the capital city of Laos. It’s more of a town than a city that is situated on the Mekong river. Walking around the streets, you can still see structures from the establishment of the French Protectorate in the late 1800’s as well as the traditional Laos architecture. For a small town, there’s lots of history.
The first night there, we were looking for somewhere to eat and found a vegetarian buffet. Side note: if you love baguettes and smoothies, this is the place for you. There’s vendors going down a whole street ONLY selling baguettes and smoothies. Back to the vegetarian buffet: You can fill your plate up with as much food as you want for just 10,000 kip (1.25 USD) and a big Lao Beer for another 10,000 kip! After dinner, we walked through the night market that’s on the main street every night. I loved everything they were selling and wish I had more space in my bag to have bought more items. Everything was so cheap too, especially if you haggle it down a few thousand kips (1 USD is about 8,000 kips).
^^^ Imagine these3 stands down a whole street. I’m not kidding that they are not different at all
If you’re an early riser, you can spectate the monks in their sunrise ceremony walking down the streets of Luang Prabang collecting alms. I didn’t, though. I stole this photo from one of our Austrian friends that woke up for it
My favorite part of the city was the Kuang Si waterfall. You could probably rent a scooter and go to the waterfall but we got a tuk tuk taxi and headed up to the waterfall and bear conservation. I have an affinity for waterfalls - the sheer power of the water, the beauty as it flows over rocks and into the river, the lushness surrounding the waterfall, everything about it is captivating. The Kuang Si may be my favorite waterfalls I’ve seen. Walking up the river, there’s swimming areas, smaller waterfalls, and then finally you get to the top and it’s multiple waterfalls combining to make one mesmerizing scene.
^^^ A bear in the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. These bears were saved from poachers who were capturing these bears for their bile for medicinal purposes. The center is right next to the waterfall
Who needs a cruise when you can slow boat down the Mekong river for 2 days for a fraction of the price?
After Pai, Alyssa, our Austrian Andi friends, and I headed onwards on our journey into Laos. We booked tickets through Aya tours. This included a shuttle to Chieng Khong, which is on the Thailand side of the border, a hotel over night, breakfast in the morning, a shuttle to the border to get our visas, and then a 2 day boat trip to Luang Prabang with a stop off in Pak Beng, Laos for the night.
^^^All the boats lined up
It sounds pretty miserable and I wasn’t exactly a fan of the thought of it, but, we read many comments about it and heard from some friends who’ve done it that it was a good experience. We decided we had to see for ourselves why this slow boat was a “must do.”
As previously mentioned, this boat was split into 2 days - 7 hours on the first day and then 8 on the second. The first day, the group was split into 2 smaller boats. The wooden boats had 15 rows of unbolted minivan seats that you can choose to situate yourself on for the next 7 hours. We were on the second boat, which was the left over people they couldn’t fit into the first boat do there weren’t as many people and some people for a full row to themselves. Alyssa and I shared a 3 person seat up on the front. It was a perfect height to the upper deck that I could put my legs up on the deck and lay flat.
^^^ Everybody getting comfy in the front of the boat
We left Pai at 6:30 pm, got to the hotel at Chieng Khong at 2 am and was woken up for breakfast at 6:45 am so we, along with most of the travelers who did something similar just from different cities, all slept and relaxed for the first couple hours. Waking up on the Mekong River surrounded by many shades of green is not a bad way to wake up. The rest of the ride is filled with reading, snacking, and chatting until there’s that one guy (there’s always that guy) who breaks out his guitar and starts jamming.
^^^Some photos of the scenery. I really enjoyed the little purple trees surrounded by the luxuriant foliage
We got to Pak Beng around 5 pm, crammed 13 people and their bags into the back of a pick up truck (SE Asia isn’t exactly known for their safety) and drove to the guesthouse we were staying at.
Pak Beng is an incredibly small town that is basically only known for the overnight stay for the slow boat. Because of this, the locals can increase the prices if everything, which is expensive for Laos but still reasonable for the American dollar. The town is filled with guest houses and restaurants and that’s it. When we left the border, a Laotian gave us a speech about the country and…I really couldn’t understand him but he did make it really clear that when at Pak Beng, we’d be charged 600+ baht a night and if we book a room at his guesthouse, we’d get a deal for 400. So we did that and later found out guest houses were selling their rooms for 300!
The next morning, the boat left a little after 10 am (only 45 minutes late) and we were off for another 8 hours of Mekong fun. This boat was a lot bigger so everyone fit onto one boat. The seating made it difficult to mingle and the windows were so high, to see anything, you had to stand. We were making random (or what many of the foreigners thought was random) stops at every village on the way picking up and dropping locals at different villages. Soon, the whole front of the boat was filled with locals. Needless to say, the second day wasn’t awesome; not to mention the hours of PDA from the couple next to me and on my seat, but I won’t get into details. We got into Luang Prabang around 4:30 pm.
^^^ You can see a bunch of locals crammed in the front of the boat. This was also taken after a quarter of them had just gotten off onto a different boat.
^^^The outside of our boat on the second day
^^^ The inside of our boat
Was it worth it? It would have been perfect if it were just the first day. It was definitely an experience. I wouldn’t go as far as a must do experience, but if you have time, why not? It’s very relaxing, although I have heard of people making it a party boat and you’ll be running into people on the boat for the next week or so at various cities of Laos, which is a lot of fun. You also get to see non stop beautiful nature such as below.
Now providing a banana walk-through for elephants #theresalwaysmoneyinthebananastand
We had lots of recommendations to go to Pai so we decided we would make it part of our itinerary. One night in Chiang Mai, a few of us who we’re planning on heading there finally decided we wanted to go to Pai together the next morning. Since this decision took place around 10 pm, it was too late to book a bus so we woke up early the next morning to book the 10:30 am bus. The bus ride is supposed to take 3 hours. I’ve found that nothing runs on time and is never the expected amount of time so at 11:00, we were finally on our way…to another shuttle bus. 11:30 and we were on our way up a windy road, coughs of throw up coming from seats behind me, and getting stuck behind trucks of pigs. 4 hours later, and we were in Pai.
Thankful thought: I’m thankful for not getting carsick. The poor lady who was sick the whole time.
In short, Pai was definitely worth the 4 hour bus ride. The town is filled with many hippie Thai locals and backpackers. Every store and restaurant has it’s own unique character making it an absorbing walk around town. It’s small enough that even without planning a days itinerary together, you keep encountering the same people - at waterfalls, view points, walking down the street, at various bars.
We rented scooters and took them outside the town. This is definitely the way to travel around Pai since many of the cool things are doable in a day or two with a bike. With failed past attempts, neither Alyssa nor I had driven a scooter. Pai is a perfect place to learn - it’s small, and the roads aren’t very busy so you never feel rushed or anxious with the surrounding traffic. Riding down a few streets to get comfortable and we were off! We rode and saw so many things within those 2 short days including a canyon, a tourist trap Strawberry Pai site*, a memorial bridge, ran into some cows (not literally), waterfalls, a hot spring (twice on the first day), and a Chinese village, which took us up a very long and steep road that actually did cause a bit of anxiety going down to a view point overlooking Pai and surrounding mountains.
Thankful thought: I’m so incredibly thankful for good brakes that didn’t burn out while going down the road.
At first, I didn’t understand why everyone said to stay there 5 days minimum because we had seen so much within the short time we were there. Upon leaving, I did understand when people said it would be difficult to leave because of the community within the whole town between both locals and visitors.
Meeting and instantly befriending people is one of the reasons I love backpacking and traveling; everyone is open to meet new people, you create friendships in a day and travel around as best friends. Most of the time it’s with people in your hostel, but in Pai, you easily befriend people all over the town.
There’s been a tourism boom in the past couple years so it’s a bit more touristy than expected, but it’s still a beautiful, vibrant town filled with many friendly faces. As long as you can endure the ride up, I’d highly recommend this place to anyone.
*Love Strawberry Pai is a tourist attraction that is really nothing at all but somehow so much fun. It’s a strawberry themed piece of land that we (& many other visitors) killed quite some time there taking loads of pictures at various strawberry objects.
The Purple Monkey
A Pai recaps coming but until then, check out these photos from our hostel. We didn’t have a flushing toilet (you had to put water in the toilet bowl to “flush” it), but it did have lots of character and the staff and guests were all so friendly. Also, it was only 10 USD total so can’t be too mad about it. When in Thailand…
We originally had beds in the dormitory but splurged a whole 1 USD each for an upgrade to our own bungalow.