In my intensive research the night before flying from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos, I stumbled upon this article: http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/travel/18hours-1.html
36 Hours in Luang Prabang, Laos. Since we didn't have any set plans for our time in this cute colonial town we decided to follow the article- almost exactly- then compare and critique.
On Friday March 12 around 5pm we somewhat begrudgingly trudged up the 300+ stairs to the top of Mt. Phousi. We were a bit skeptical at first, knowing we wouldn't see much of a sunset, considering the sun wasn't very visible layers of haze and smog. Instead of setting the orange orb slowly faded in the haze, quite undramatically. The mountain is clearly a tourist "trap"- costing 20,000 kip, but I'd say it's still worth it, just to get a sense of the city's layout and a glimpse of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
By the time we returned to the main street the night market was in full swing. Locals lay out their handicrafts and Beerlao t-shirts for the tourists to peruse, but we were hungry and headed straight to the baguette sandwiches- a delicious and cheap Parisian dinner, just one of the many great things left behind by the French colonizers.
We were not so excited about Saturday morning's activity which required getting up early. But we did it, although not quite early enough. We caught a glimpse of a line of monks, walking single-file to find their next hand out, but not the spectacle mentioned in the article. So we went back to bed. This morning however (Tuesday), I decided to try again- this time what I found were a bunch of obnoxious tourists acting like papparrazzi as the monks tried to collect their morning meal. We've read and seen many warnings around the city to be respectful of this tradition, but most people don't seem to care.
At 10am we opted for nap time over arts& crafts time, but made up for in in the following days. There are many great shops along the streets here, a few of which also have galleries displaying the artwork process. Today we visited the Ock Pop Tok weaving village 2km outside of town to see where their silk is made, dyed and woven into beautiful scarves, ties and more.
At noon we ate lunch at the recommended Tamarind, which is part of the Stay Another Day foundation, giving tourists meaningful ways to spend time and money in the city. We ordered the vegetable dipping platter which came with 4 dips and a basket of sticky rice to dip with. Mason quite enjoyed it. I had the warm noodle salad which was also really good. If nothing else, we came away with a desire to eat more sticky rice.
At 2pm we boarded a 6-person long boat headed for the Pak Ou Caves. The journey took 2 hours upstream! While monotonous at times, we appreciated being on the water and were in awe of just how low the Mekong really is. Our "captain" expertly weaved through rocks and banks until we pulled up in front of an impressive limestone cliff with a large hole carved out. The lower cave, which is as far as we got, is really just a big Buddha shire, but the geology is awesome. The highlight of the trip came as we headed back, when we stopped at a river-side whiskey village and were given 3 taste-test shots of the potent stuff. We each came away with a bottle of the unfiltered version- a little less hard on the system.
While we knew it might be our most expensive meal, we decided to go for it and even made a reservation at 3 Nagas (which was quite unnecessary, I think we were one of 3 sets of diners at time). Our pizza appetizer was great- although more than we expected. The meal itself was less than stellar. We had difficulties communicating our orders- involving 3 waiters- and clearly something was lost in translation. When they brought a whole fish to the table we went into momentary shock. We have no idea where they got that idea from. We were left with unexciting steamed veggies for Mason and mashed potatoes oozing with butter (in a bad way), and my pasta was missing the protein.
The NY Times redeemed itself through it's Sunday breakfast recommendation. JoMa cafe quickly became our new fav place when we saw they had chocolate chip muffins- and when we tasted them they were delish! Lots of choc chips! We've been back twice since then. And the best news is that thereis a JoMa in Vientiane, which we will surely seek out once there in a few days.
After breakfast we toured the Royal Palace/National Museum which is shrouded in mystery since the royal family was abducted by the communists in 1977. To this day no one knows the story, or where they are now.
The one thing we did not complete was the Wat-lingering. We chose to rent Hello Kitty bicycles and explore instead!
On Monday we visited the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls- definitely recommend fitting that into the 36 hours (or just spending more time in the adorable town.) Today, Tuesday, is our last day here so we are trying to hit up some of the cafes we've missed, and tonight we are going to a fashion show at the local bar!
Off to backpacker mecca, Vang Vieng, tomorrow.