Festive season in Luang Prabang

Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
Trip End Jan 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Phounsab Guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, January 2, 2011

On our arrival in Luang Prabang we checked into a fancy resort, as a Christmas treat to ourselves. A brand new hotel, Le Palais Juliana had a bit of an empty feel (hence the discount prices) but our room was very nice and the pool refreshing. We went into town for Christmas dinner the next day and had a stunning meal. The highlights included pork stuffed lemongrass, river weed chips and laap. The chips are made of dried weed, flavoured with tamarind and sesame, then deep fried. They taste a little like nori, but much milder and have a nice saltiness. Laap, also eaten in Thailand but known as larb, is minced chicken or pork mixed with chili, lime, lemongrass, sugar, fish sauce and green herbs. We were so pleased to have found an excellent restaurant on our first try and ended up eating at The Coconut Garden several times over our stay in Luang Prabang. After lunch Nathan called his parents and I tried to contact mine too, sadly to no avail.

On boxing day it was time to leave the luxury and face the reality of our budget. Actually we found a very nice guesthouse right on the main road. Luang Prabang is a sweet little town with beautiful French colonial buildings and a large number of stunning temples. Despite suffering from temple fatigue by this point in the trip we had to admit they are amongst the nicest we've seen. Luang Prabang is very quiet spot and I found the change of pace, coming from Vietnam, a little difficult to adjust to. In contrast, Nathan's relaxed temperament complemented this environment perfectly, so he slotted into it with ease. 

After about five days in town we started looking at exploring further afield. However, as we sourced information on various destinations we found the idea of long, arduous bus journeys to get there too tiring to contemplate. Knowing that we were almost at the end of our trip we just didn't have the energy for it. Instead we decided to hang out in Luang Prabang for a bit longer. In the end we made it our home for a full ten days, the longest we've stayed in any one place.

By the 29th of December we were starting to feel fat and unhealthy from lazing around eating filled croissants and various Laos specialties. This inspired us to go for a good two and a half hour walk around town that took us out of the tourist district through the local suburbs, which made for a nice change of scene. The following day we were booked on a full day kayaking trip. The route went down a river that meandered through beautiful Laos jungle. Every now and then we passed a hut on the banks, local fishermen or children, or women panning for gold. There were also a few sets of fun little rapids to navigate. They were pretty gentle, but we didn't let this stop us from capsizing - not once, but twice! It should also be noted that only one of the other four couples fell in and that this incident may well also have been our fault (we were upside down at the time and they had been trying to follow us). This was one water sport Team New Zealand did not come out on top in. But we didn't let this spoil an excellent day and as we kept saying, we enjoy a refreshing, fully clothed dip every now and then!

That night, I admit, I had the worst diarrhea I've had on the trip yet. I was still feeling a little unwell the following morning. Later that day we ran into the couple from Melbourne we had befriended while kayaking and found out that they had fared no better, so realised the culprit must have been the yummy lunch we had been provided with the day before. Nathan started feeling queasy in the afternoon, but luckily it had passed by evening. We had a late dinner and then headed out to join in the New Years festivities. We made for a traveler's bar, called Utopia, that had been advertising a party. It was a nice spot, set in a tropical garden, with a beach volleyball court and fire pits in old bomb shells (they also advertise BBQ on a bomb!) It was busy but not overcrowded, and we were soon invited to join an Australian couple at the table next to us (by the way, Laos is absolutely infested with Australians and this time of year, more than any other country we've been to). We toasted in 2011 and just as we were starting to think about heading home we spotted our above mentioned Melbourne friends. Needless to say, more rubbish was talked and drinks consumed. We finally found our way back at about 2.30am, making this one of the biggest nights out we've had in Asia. Maybe that's a bit lame, but we've generally stayed away from the party scene. 

The following morning was a bit dire and we did as little as possible on New Years Day. We had no such luxury on the 2nd of January, however, as we had a big day of cooking planned. We had booked into a class with one of the best known restaurants in town, Tamarind. It started in the usual way with a trip to the markets, then we were taken a little way out of town to the teaching venue. We made a couple of nice dishes, including the stuffed lemongrass we both love, but were disappointed with others, such as the Luang Prabang stew, whose flavours did not sit well with us at all. However, we always enjoy doing a group activity every now and then and getting to know some nice people, this time yet another couple from Melbourne.

Our last night in Luang Prabang consisted of a final visit to the excellent night markets, which has the best souvenir shopping we've come across on our travels. We found the town a great place to relax for a while, and soon slipped into 'Laos time', perhaps too well. Despite spending ten days in the little town we failed to make it to some of the region's prime attractions, such as the famous waterfalls, handicraft villages and even the daily monk procession right in the centre of town (voluntarily get up before 6am? You've got to be joking!) On the other hand we spent our time doing exactly what we wanted to - chilling out and settling down for a little while.
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