New Year in Luang Prabang - Laos

Trish Griffiths on 31 December 2013
We spent a few days in Luang Prabang over the New Year period as part of a multi-centre trip around South East Asia. The first thing to say is that the weather is quite changeable at this time of year and temperatures can vary from up to 30c during the day to 10c in the evenings!

The good news is that the enormous night market that starts about 5pm each evening in the town centre sells all manner of scarves, jumpers and jackets for the chilly evenings. Like all markets it is expected to negotiate and we normally started at about one third of the asking price and end up paying around half. The market itself actually closes the main route through town, so getting to the restaurants can be quite a challenge, especially later on as it gets busy. You can go down onto the riverside though if you want to avoid it, and tuk tuks are cheap and easily available if you don’t fancy the extra walk.

The town itself is especially picturesque at the Nam Khan river end, near to the religious buildings that house the monks’ seminary. It is from here that the monks set out at 5am to collect alms for their daily meal. It is quite a sight to see over 200 orange clad monks walking in single file past crowds of people waiting to give donations. Well worth the early start.

Another good trip is along the Mekong River for either a lunch or sunset dinner cruise. Not only do you get to see the daily activity of the river but you also have a couple of interesting stops along the way. We went for lunch and our trip included a stop at a village that makes Lao Lao, the local fire water, complete with ubiquitous dead snake or insect in the bottle! The trip then moved onto the Pak Ou caves to see the 1000+ Buddha statues in the cave temples, and then lunch was served as we cruised back to town with a cool Beer Lao!

The highlight of our trip though was the Kwang Si waterfalls. You must do this, they are simply gorgeous. Everything you could wish for in a waterfall: jungle setting, blue water, swimming lagoons and an impressively tall cascade at the head of the falls. We got there about lunchtime which was before the afternoon crowds, but also in time for the temperature to warm up. (We passed on swimming though - maybe in the summer months!)

To add to this trip there is an Asiatic bear sanctuary at the entrance to the falls. Here, bears that have been rescued from the appalling bile farms are nursed back to health and cared for. If you want to see some activity go around 12.30, which is feeding time at “Free the Bears”, but do check this beforehand. It is definitely worth spending a little time here to support this worthwhile cause.

Overall we spent four days in Luang Prabang and generally felt that was enough for us to experience the highlights of the area. If you're more into outdoor pursuits then there are a host of trekking and rafting tours available to justify longer here. And in case you need any further incentive to visit this area, the French legacy of delicious pastries will not disappoint you!

To save you looking it up, thank you (very much) in Laos is khop jai (lai lai) - [pronounced kop jeye lie lie].