• Lydia Chu

Our third stop in Luang Prabang, Laos

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

We'll be visiting an elephant sanctuary, Mandalao, for a non-riding, educational experience. We'll be staying here for 5 days.

Our amazing experience with the elephants in Laos

"Sleeping Bus"

Our trip to Luang Prabang with our backpacker family

When we first decided to travel to Luang Prabang, we had the options of taking a Slow Boat (takes 2 days), Sleeper Bus (1 full day), or to fly (less than an hour). Since we decided to make this a backpack trip, we wanted to do something that was a little bit more adventurous, so through Tripadvisor, we booked the sleeper bus ($50/person each way), and we definitely got what we've asked for.

When we got picked up in Chiang Mai, I thought we were going to a local bus terminal to get on the sleeper bus and go nonstop to Luang Prabang, Laos. Well, I was wrong. Our driver picked us up including nine others in a minivan and drove for 6 hours to the Laos border. From there we got our visa ($36 plus $1.50 for visa photos) and got on the sleeper bus for 11 hours of a bumpy ride.

The bus literally had flat beds instead of the seats. Unfortunately, my husband and I ended up getting stuck way in the back of the bus with 3 other backpackers. My poor husband who is 6'5" couldn't stretch his legs the whole 11 hours of the bus ride. As for me, I have a tendency to get motion sickness and sure enough, as soon as I got on the bus, I started feeling sick.

Luckily, one of the young backpackers from Belgium offered me some Dramamine and saved me for the rest of the ride. There must have been about 40 people on that bus ride, mostly backpackers. Even though we were all strangers, everybody looked out for one another, and we were like one big family.

Even though the 11 hour bus ride ended up being quite an adventure with unexpected rain, bumpy roads and uncomfortable sleeping positions, it was quite an interesting experience. We met a lot of backpackers from all over the world. Most of them were young backpackers traveling from 3 - 6 months. One of the young man we met on the bus was from Santa Barbara, California. Most places in Thailand charge 250 baht/day ($8) to rent motorbikes, but he had rented one for only 100 baht/day ($3.20). He got what he paid for when the back break on his motorbike gave out during one of his rides and crashed. Fortunately for him, he escaped with only minor cuts and bruises and walked away with a valuable lesson.

We arrived at the bus terminal around 6 am the next day. The morning weather is a lot cooler here, mostly in the low 60's and high in the 90's by the afternoon. Luang Prabang is a small town in Northern Laos with a population of about 55,000 people. Laos is considered one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, and it really showed. Most of the roads here are dirt roads with the exception of the main roads. People still live in shacks and rundown buildings, and like Thailand, there are Buddhist temples everywhere.

Day 1 - The City of Luang Prabang

We checked into our Airbnb, Jumbo Guesthouse ($33/night), about 5 miles outside the city. After settling in, we walked over to the city crossing the famous "Bamboo Bridge". The city is very small with only four main streets located on a peninsula by Mekong River. The streets are mostly lined with restaurants, street vendors, massage places and guesthouses for tourists.

Unlike Chiang Mai, it's pretty quiet here and very mellow even with tourists. It's not very busy during the day when it's the hottest and gets busier in the evenings. The food is very simliar to Thailand and the cost is about the same. People here don't smile as much and are a little more reserved.

Day 2 - Into the Wild

Mandalao restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

We booked this trip in advance through a company called Mandalao, an elephant conservation tour group in Luang Prabang. It's a non-riding elephant experience that focuses on education and animal welfare. It's about a 4 hour tour that costs $100/person that includes an amazing lunch at Mandalao restaurant on the banks of the beautiful Nam Khan River.

It took us about half an hour to get to the sanctuary. To my surprise, the place was beautiful situated right next to the Nam Khan River. Before we got started on our tour, one of the directors of Thailand elephant conservation center gave us some insight into the history of the elephants. There were total of 40 elephants at this sanctuary and most of them were rescued from the logging camps. It was very sad to hear about the abuses these elephants had to endure before being rescued.

Feeding the elephants (top) & baby "Kit" playing in the mud with mom (bottom right)

After the short lecture on the elephants, we headed off to meet the elephants. We were guided by an amazing local guide who was a former monk. He was very knowledgeable and did a terrific job of leading us through the jungle to meet some amazing elephants including a baby boy elephant name "Kit" who was only 2 years and 8 months old.

After meeting and walking with these incredible gentle creatures, we got to feed them some amazing amount of bananas. After saying goodbye to the elephants, we finished our tour with a nice lunch at the beautiful restaurant overlooking the river.

It was the most unforgettable trip I had ever taken. It really opened my eyes to the welfare of these amazing animals we share our planet with. This is definitely a must-do if you're ever in Laos or Thailand. If not, I highly recommend checking out the Mandalao website and reading about their work.

Day 3 - Kuang Si Waterfalls

Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laos

Today, we decided to visit the famous Kuang Si waterfalls which is located about 18 miles south of Luang Prabang. It's a very popular place for tourists where you can view spectacular waterfalls and go swimming in the pools. The cost for the trip is $7/person including the entrance fee. It was definitely one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.

Day 4 - Sunset Cruise

Today, we decided to take it easy since this is our last full day here. We got up around 7 am and got on our rental bikes to head over to the city to get some breakfast at our favorite cafe.

We found this place on our first day here and we've been coming here every morning for the last 3 days for some great vegan almond croissants ($2.25) and an amazing fruit plate ($3.15). The place is called Novelty Cafe located on the main street in the city. Their fruit plate has 8 different kinds of fruit that includes dragon fruit, mangos, pineapple, apples, banana, passion fruit, mandarin oranges and watermelon. I'm totally in love with this fruit plate. Sooooo good!

After breakfast, we headed back to our guesthouse before it got too hot. We'll be chilling here for few hours before heading back to town for some lunch and a Sunset Cruise later in the afternoon.

Sunset Cruise down Mekong River in Luang Prabang

The cruise was $15/person (dinner not included) . We got on the cruise around 4:45 and went down the Mekong River. It was a beautiful boat with only about 20 people. It was managed by a young French guy, and the service was excellent. The boat was very nice with comfortable sittings. We saw the most beautiful sunset around 6pm. It was definitely a nice way to wrap up the trip.

My overview

When we first got here, I was pretty disappointed with the city being so small. Honestly, I wasn't sure if we were going to last 5 days here without getting too bored. Well, we got acclimated pretty fast. By day two, we knew our way around the city and had our favorite places to eat picked out. Even though people are pretty reserved here and speak very little English, most warm up pretty fast once you start talking to them and are generally very helpful.

The taffic is not too bad here, and most locals travel by motorbikes. It's very common to see locals riding their motorbikes with babies and young children without helmets. Like Thailand, there are a lot of Tuk Tuk drivers, and it's always a good idea to negotiate on the price before you get on. It's easy to get ripped off as a tourist. If you want to save money and travel fast, renting a bicycle is the best option.

The food is good here and pretty inexpensive if you eat at a smaller, local restaurants. If you're on a budget, I recommend staying off the touristy areas on the main street. If you want to eat really cheap, then go for the street food. As for me, I have trouble eating street food due to the way the food is prepared and handled. I rather pay extra for a little more cleanliness. We ended up spending about $50/day for three meals for the two of us but you can expect to spend a lot more if you stick to touristy restaurants and drink a lot of alcohol.

People eat a lot of meat here, particulary chicken and pork. Most dishes served at restaurants are meat-based but if you're a vegetarian or vegan like me, you can always order most dishes without meat. Most restaurants are very accommodating if you ask. Just like Thailand, they got some great sweets and desserts here. Some of my favorites are mango sticky rice and coconut mini pancakes (Kanom Krok). Coconut pancakes are to die for. I already found a recipe so I'm definitely making these when I get home.

Luang Prabang is a nice town and definitely worth visiting, but after being here for 5 days, I think we're ready for our next adventure. Our next stop and our final destination is Chiang Rai, Thailand.

My favorite breakfast place Coconut mini pancakes Mango sticky rice



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