Luang Prabang is romantic.
Every evening features a stunning sunset over the river, which you find yourself walking past on the way to anything (since there are basically only two streets in the tourist area).
I was there for three weeks—Aug. 18 to Sept. 6—and never tired of the view.
There were so many butterflies—tiny white and yellow ones, and larger blue-green ones.
However, Luang Prabang also reminded me that nature is horrifying.
One day I went to the Buffalo Dairy Farm (mainly because my friend told me he had the best ice cream of his life there, and I wanted to try it).
As I was walking past this bush (below)…
I noticed a butterfly struggling. It seemed to be caught on something and was flapping violently.
Thinking I could help, I tried to gently detach it from the leaf/branch it was stuck on—only to realize, when I looked closer, that it was caught in a spider web and a large white spider was feeding on it.
Doesn’t that seem like a particularly grisly death—being slowly eaten alive? Sorry I couldn’t help you, butterfly :(.
As if that wasn’t enough for one day, minutes later, our tour of the dairy farm stopped at the rabbit enclosure.
We were feeding the rabbits and exclaiming over their cuteness when one of the girls shrieked “ahh!”
There was a dead baby rabbit lying on the ground in the hot sun. Ew-blech-ugh it was so gross.
Our tour guide apologized for not having noticed before we got there. But as the girl said, “That’s okay. It’s the circle of life.” Hakuna matata.
This only happens twice a year, so I’m really glad I happened to be there for it. It was a huge all-day street party.
The food in Luang Prabang was amazing. I loved the fresh (not fried) spring rolls, barbecued chicken with rice, and chicken laap (chopped chicken-and-herb salad).
It was also easy to find Western-style food. It cost about the same as in Chiang Mai, but was of much higher quality.
Because Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, there are no chain restaurants. Even the convenience stores are all unique. This was refreshing!
One downside to Luang Prabang is that everything closes at 11:30 pm: not just restaurants, but corner stores, street food stalls, and bars too. I’m naturally a night person, but I ended up going to bed earlier because it was so frustrating to have a 4 am cheese-toast craving (a staple food in Thailand, where 7-11 serves them 24-7) and no way to satisfy it.
Another downside was the poor quality control at stores. I bought M&Ms from two different corner stores, and both times they were crushed and rancid.
Another time I bought a bottle of nail polish from the grocery store (D&T Market) and the nail polish had hardened on the inside of the lid, causing the bottle to break when I opened it. (To be fair, it was actually a pretty good grocery store in every respect other than nail polish.)
Men on sidewalks are quite aggressive about getting you to come into their restaurants. However, sellers at the night market weren’t aggressive at all—a nice change from Thailand.
I walked across a bridge to the non-touristy side of town. It was evening rush hour so people were out buying ingredients for their dinners. They looked at me curiously. It was strange to feel noticed and out-of-place as a tourist/white person, because no one gave me a second glance in the rest of the city.
Many women were wearing traditional clothes: buttoned blouses and printed wrap-around skirts. They looked so elegant.
I also saw:
At least five people wearing t-shirts that said “Heroin” on them.
Dudes standing on the sidewalk (on the way to the backpacker guesthouse/hostel area, near the restaurant La Silapa) asking if you want “Weed, opium, heroin?”
Apparently 99% of these are undercover cops and if you ever agree to buy any, you’ll be busted twenty minutes later and fined $500.
Pairs of young men out jogging at dusk.
Women in hair salons having their hair washed while lying down. As in, they were fully stretched out on a raised massage table, which looked like a comfy leather mattress, while the attendant washed their hair in a basin.
There was only one mattress thing per salon, so I only ever saw one person at a time having this done. (Didn’t want to seem like a stalker by taking photos.) It looked relaxing.
So many adorable kids.
A trio of hideously annoying French girls.
We somehow ended up in the same cafe three days in a row, and then they appeared at my 5:30 pm yoga class.
What made them so insufferable: constant giggling, squealing, loud exclamations, and (seemingly) horrible personalities. One of them had to step out of the yoga class to compose herself because she was giggling too hard. I shot them my trademark death stare—to no avail.
As a result of this group, I declared that France is sending all its most stereotypically American (as in obnoxious) tourists to Laos.
(Disclaimer: I know that’s not true.)
The mosquitoes were pretty bad. After a few days, I caved and replaced my corner-store citronella spray with 30% DEET repellent, which helped somewhat.
There were so many dogs and cats…
But almost no rats or cockroaches! Another welcome change from Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Beautiful carved wooden furniture was everywhere.
I was surprised to find so many fish in tanks—on the street, near temples, in restaurants, and at my guesthouse’s lobby area.
Lots of places had me wondering if they were houses or stores. (Well the place below was obviously a store, but the guy seemed pretty at home there.)
It might not be like this for long
It’s lovely to visit Luang Prabang in the low season.
By contrast, I heard that in high season (November to January), every restaurant is packed.
They’re building a railroad from China all the way across Laos, which means in two or three years this place will probably be overrun with tourists year-round. Go now while there’s still room to breathe!