We entered Laos through Chiang Khong/Houayxay and jumped on the slow boat there. Entering Laos from the North is not the most opted route but we had no problems at all, if you prefer you can also go for an arranged package deal. But these are mostly more expensive. Read about where to eat in Luang Prabang in this post!
Going with the slow boat and cruising down the Mekong river is definitely a trip worth doing if you love riding a boat on a pace that is giving you all the time to enjoy the jungly scenery. Villages will be scattered along the river, water buffaloes, pigs and lots of waving kids will watch you passing by, carved out rocks will break the brown water and the sides will be filled with high and dense jungle. A sight that definitely triggered my imagination!
Try to gather enough snacks before entering the boat. The boat mostly sells potato-chips and noodles but especially with the latter, vegan options are a hard find or non-existent. And if you’re able to, try to get the most comfortable chair on the boat since it’s a long ride.
If you are in a hurry and find your life less important than your schedule, you can also jump in a smaller but faster speedboat. You’ll be joined by an extremely loud engine and can’t move while driving, nor go to the toilet. Like some other websites out there, I wouldn’t recommend this option, it didn’t look so safe at all.
After days of finding our way in this new city, we started seeing the beauty in Luang Prabang (LP). There is enough to see in the surroundings, it has a laid back vibe and there are enough (tribe)hikes to join. I felt relaxed around the temple and school of Wat Phu Si (or Phou Si), so I sometimes went there, only after buying a shake (or two) and some fresh veggies, to read, meditate or have lunch. The young novices were fun to connect with and they even helped opening a fallen coconut I found!
If you want to see a proper alms gathering ritual early in the morning, LP is the place to be. Just be polite, give the monks enough space and don’t use your flash ;)
FREEING CAGED BIRDS AS RITUAL
Near the temple grounds around Mount Phu Si and the old palace/museum, I was for the first time confronted with little birds in cages which people could buy to set them free. Although I am afraid you could find them across some other Buddhist countries as well. While it may seem that buying these birds and setting them free from their overcrowded tiny cage is something noble (this is actually what most contemporary-Buddhists believe), I think it is the opposite. Wether these birds are stressfully caught in the wild or possibly inhumanely raised, by supporting their business you will only sustain this type of industry. I had the urge to just take them but I don’t think this is a long term solution. Maybe try campaigning against these rituals and create awareness among tourist and locals or give the sellers a disapproving expression if they ask you to buy these wonderful little creatures. I don’t believe Buddha ever wished for a ritual like this to exist, that’s why I am calling it ‘contemporary-Buddhism’.
BIG BROTHER MOUSE
But there are also good things happening in LP, like the initiative called Big Brother Mouse. They are a publisher focusing on children books and are hiring Lao youngsters to illustrate and/or write them. A noble platform bringing fun to read books to kids who usually only have boring text-only school books. As a tourist you can help by joining their free-to-join English classes, donate money for books or buy a book and bring it to children yourself. If you care about their next generation, definitely check this one out.
HIKES AND OTHER ADVENTURES
From LP you can join a lot of hikes, from a full-day to a multiple days activity. We wanted to join a two days hike (the more people the cheaper) but these weren’t available. So we joined a varied one day program. The day started by driving up to a village in the area which housed three hill tribes; Hmong, Khmu and Lao Lu, which were all living together peacefully and still maintained their own lifestyle. It was a nice introduction, although still from an visitor’s perspective. There was no staged authenticity but because of this we didn’t see many things going on.
After this we gently kayaked to the Tad Si waterfall, had a basic (although vegan!) lunch and kayaked around the area for another two hours. A nice day but not really a highlight. You could opt for a multiple day hike with homestay although the hikes were pretty costly.
Kuang Si waterfall is one thing I may not forget to mention. Walk all the way up to the final area and enjoy your lunch at this high and beautiful waterfall. Jump in the turquoise water if you need some refreshment.
BEAR RESCUE CENTER
Just before the Kuang Si waterfall is the Bear Rescue Center. The area that the bears have is pretty small but it is nice to see that rescued bears have a place to go to. And hopefully through this place, awareness on issues related to bears grow.
Check out their website or the TripAdvisor-page with good info.
VISIT LUANG PRABANG?
It is a nice, laid back and French-influenced city where you could rent a bicycle, do some activities, enjoy nature, relax, and buy your souvenirs at the lively night market. Not a vegan heaven (yet) but it has a good vibe. Check out where to eat vegan food in this post.