We soaked in Luang Prabang’s culture, natural beauty, temples and famous cuisine by visiting the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre (TAEC) museum, Kuang Si Waterfalls, Mount Phousi’s two wats and sampling (vegetarian) Laotian food at Tamarind restaurant.
We started the day off with breakfast at our guesthouse. It was provided on their pleasant deck overlooking the Nam Khan River.
We booked an 11:30 AM tour to Kuang Si Waterfalls which would pick us up at our guesthouse. After breakfast, we decided to stroll around Luang Prabang’s town center. We stumbled across the TAEC museum nestled into the base of Mount Phousi.
It’s a small museum with exhibits highlighting the major ethnicities of Laos. The first room highlighted their costumes and handicrafts.
Traditional Hmong costumes were on display in this corner.
This corner represented a traditional basketweaving workshop with baskets on display.
The next room had a special exhibit on women in Laos’ tribal societies called Caregivers to Culture Keepers: Stories from Women in a Changing Laos. An old TV played short documentary films on loop highlighting different womanhood topics. The exhibit highlighted the importance of and the multiple roles played by women in these tribes. Here I tried on a traditional baby backpack that a tribewoman would wear while working in the fields or attending to other daily tasks. That fuzzy thing on my shoulder is the simulated baby made of tribal textiles.
Then we quickly rushed through main street, picking up croissant sandwiches and fruit shakes from a bakery as our takeaway lunch, on our way back to the guesthouse. We rode in a van packed full of tourists to Kuang Si Waterfalls about an hour away; we both sat in the front next to the driver.
Once there we had only two hours to explore. Within the park, the first thing you see if the bear sanctuary.
These rescued moon bears now frolic, sleep and eat in their enclosures
I have never seen a bear with such long and thick fur as this one! He should be in an 80s heavy metal band.
The small bear sanctuary had some exhibits that appealed to children (and us) including a row of life-size statues of different kinds of bears. Here I am with a panda.
The exhibit on the opposite side explained the plight of bears who are illegally poached and used for their bile, a coveted ingredient in Chinese medicine. The poor bears stay in cages too small for them their entire lives with tubes running out of their bellies constantly pumping out more bile. Once they stop producing bile, they are killed. Maurice demonstrates the awful situation.
Next we get to the cool blue-green river and follow it upstream to see more and more waterfalls and swimming holes. In the first, lowest swimming hole, young Westerners get ready to jump off of the makeshift tree trunk diving board.
Water cascades off of the smooth layers of limestone.
We then approached the largest waterfall.
At one point, we saw two guys who hiked up to the top tier of the waterfall and stood right at the edge. I don’t know how they got there and it seemed extremely dangerous standing on those slippery rocks.
We swam in a relatively secluded swimming hole closest upstream to the large waterfall.
Only a small waterfall here. See Maurice up on the tree?
The water was very cold even on this hot day.
We then go back to the vendor street outside of the park entrance to eat some roasted corn on a cob. We wait for the rest of our van and head back. Hilly Luang Prabang province offers scenic views on the way back.
We were back at the guesthouse by 4 PM and decided to climb up to the temple atop Mount Phousi, the entrance of which is across the street, to watch the sunset.
The long trail up the mountain led to a few different stops with various Buddha and related statues built against the rocks and even inside a cave.
Including an unusual fat Buddha.
We joined at least one hundred people on the summit of Mount Phousi all here to watch the sunset.
We walked down the hill in the other direction, towards the main street of town. We faced the gilded National Museum amidst the blue and red tents covering the night market stalls.
Outside of wats (temples) we often saw little sparrows kept in bamboo cages. We learned that you release these birds into the wild for good luck. We wondered how quickly these birds were recaptured and then resold to tourists.
We walked through the pretty main street on our way to dinner, the lights were just beginning to turn on.
We had dinner at Tamarind, a gourmet Laotian restaurant along the banks of the Nam Khan River, where many of the more upscale restaurants in Luang Prabang were located.
The restaurant was very popular, we were lucky to arrive a little after 6 PM and be seated immediately. Many groups of four or more were turned away soon after us. We were very hungry since we only ate croissant sandwiches for lunch, so we ordered a feast of various vegetarian Laotian dishes.
The sticky rice, which you form into balls with your hands, dipped into the jeow (various Laotian dips similar in style to salsa, babaganoush and pesto) were especially fun to eat. All this food plus drinks and the bill came out to less than $15 per person. Luang Prabang is really a foodie haven.
We were so stuffed we could hardy breathe after dinner. On our way back to the guesthouse, Maurice decided to exclaim his new found love for this country on the window of a dusty car. In a sentence, that summed up our first day in Luang Prabang!