The road to Luang Prabang used to be considered unsafe, due to rebel activities, however, it has been over three years since the last bus was hijacked and a few tourists killed. Plus, the road is now heavily patrolled by machine gun-touting Laos Army men. Now, the only risk one can expect on this stretch of highway is loosing their lunch, as the road is ridiculously curvy, but luckily for us (kind of), our driver averaged a snail’s pace of 30 km/hr (~20 mph), so we just ended up with sore butts and a two hour longer than expected bus ride. However, who can really complain when the scenery is this beautiful!
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site selected for it's outstanding traditional architecture, still intact, which is rare in SE Asia with all the wars and bombs that have been dropped over the decades.
The town is exceptionally charming with brick-lined footpaths that criss-cross small alleyways. It is located on the banks of the Mekong River and we got to see some nice sunsets over the waters of the mighty Mekong (although it's pretty low now during the dry season).
There are over 30 temples in the small town and everywhere you turn novice monks are crossing the street or inviting you into their temple in order to practice their English. Luang Prabang strongly upholds the tradition of giving daily alms to the monks and every morning at 6:30 am, people line the streets to hand rice, fruit, etc to passing by monks. Amber managed to get out of bed for this, not only to take some photos, but also to participate.
While in Laos, we have accepted the slow-paced attitude and decided to go with the "less is more" mentality, so we ended up spending 5 nights in Luang Prabang. Some people we met said, "What are you going to do in Luang Prabang for 5 days?", well, we ended up filling the time easily with walks around the town, many stops in cafés and temples, and a couple of really good massages. There are also some great markets where you can pass your time (and money).
A great vegetarian buffet, you could fill your plate for 50 cents! We enjoyed this place several nights!
We hooked up with a few other travelers one day and headed to a beautiful waterfalls, Kwang Sy, about an hour outside of town, where we killed a day hiking to the different falls and swimming in several pools (well Amber didn't venture in the crisp water, but I couldn't resist).
The waterfall even had a tiger onsite. We had heard of sites in Asia where they use animals as mere tourist attractions, and have seen a few, but we were very pleasantly surprised to find "Phet" in a huge "natural" caged area, complete with a small creek and many large trees. Apparently she had been rescued from poachers when she was a baby and has been taken care of ever since. We were there for feeding time, where Amber got to pet Phet, while she chowed on some buffalo meat.