Saturday, 12 September 2015

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the jewel in Laos' crown. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a cultural haven with the copious amounts of temples and religious monuments. It is also a gateway town, being positioned on the mighty Mekong river with many boats making the daily trip into Thailand. 

On our first full day, along with some new friends we hollered a tuk-tuk to take us to the famous Kuang Si waterfalls. When we arrived we were greeted with a bear sanctuary; I didn't know it was here but it was a nice surprise to see the hulking creatures lolling in the midday heat. They are all rescue bears taken from a life of cruelty within the bile extraction industry. The bear's bile is sought after in China as, wrongly, it is believed to have medicinal purposes. From the sanctuary we went to the waterfall which has many swimming pools due to its tiered formation. The cascade itself is actually around 60m high so after we had jumping into the chilly water and climbing the rocks we took the hike to the top. Im not exaggerating by using the word hike; some parts were almost vertical and very slippery from the spray of water. The views from the top were shrouded by the surrounding trees and it was eerily silent to say only 10 metres away the water would cascade hundreds of feet below us! The whole area was exceptionally popular and it seemed that families used this area for a day out, bringing their picnics along and enjoying the natural beauty. 

The next morning I was up at 5.30am to watch some 200 monks on their morning alms giving ceremony, which dates back to the 14th century. This is where they walk the streets collecting food for breakfast, their only meal of the day. This is not charity though - this ceremony is highly revered for locals and only recently have tourists been allowed to become respectfully involved. It was a peaceful start to the day and a wonderful opportunity to experience ancient Laos tradition. Later that day I enjoyed a relaxed afternoon perusing the many stalls in the popular central market. One stall poignantly had jewellery made from old ordnance, sold by amputee war veterans. Luang Prabang is a yoga haven and so at sunset I went to take part in a class by the riverside, giving it a very special feel. I hadn't thought much about the details of the class but it turns out that even at sunset, it's very warm to be doing yoga! 90 minutes later, we were oh so sweaty but incredibly relaxed and satisfactorily stretched out. Im always pleasantly surprised when I enjoy a place more than I thought I would and Luang Prabang ticked all the right boxes for me.