Coming into Laos we had almost no idea what to expect. We hadn’t heard a ton about the country and we didn’t know much about the culture or history. What was their food like? What were their cities like? What was the landscape like? No freakin’ clue. What we did know was that backpackers were flocking to this country and we wanted to find out for ourselves.
It was during our descent into Luang Prabang on the plane from Chiang Mai when we both knew that we’d absolutely love it in Laos. Kile and I both could not believe what we were looking at outside the plane window – lush mountains, jagged peaks, the Mekong river – it was incredible. We couldn’t wait to get on the ground and explore.
The City of Luang Prabang
The tiny little city of Luang Prabang is situated right off the Mekong River in Northern Laos. To me – it’s the absolute perfect size. It’s more of a big town. There are no buildings taller than 2 or 3 stories, it’s completely walk-able and it’s surrounded by nature. The entire town basically shuts down around 11:30pm which for me…is quite heavenly. Kile and I tend to be early risers and are in bed by around 11pm. We’re getting old, what can we say?
Walking around Luang Prabang, another UNESCO World Heritage site, you can’t help but just feel relaxed. There’s nothing chaotic about this place at all. It’s clearly a tourist destination but hasn’t yet been spoiled by the influx of visitors (…yet). The only major signs of up and coming tourism are super nice and modern cafes and coffee shops – extremely reminiscent (and of the same quality) that you’d find back home. Saffron Coffee was by far our favorite – the coffee was Portland quality and the food was delicious.
There are a few gorgeous temples throughout Luang Prabang – as is the same within most Asian countries. Some old, some new – all beautiful. One particular temple is at the peak of the hill in the middle of town called Wat Chom Si on top of Phousi Hill. Tourists flock every evening to the top of the hill to visit the temple and watch the sunset.
Although the town is a bit sleepy – at sunset – Phousi Hill is anything but quiet. It was absolutely packed with people. So much so that we ended up leaving about 15 minutes before the sun went fully down because we couldn’t stand the crowd. It felt like literally every tourist was there at that moment. There’s no doubt it was a beautiful vantage point though. You could see the entire city from the top of this hill.
Aside from that one and only moment of feeling slightly claustrophobic – there really isn’t any other time to feel anxiety or stress in this city. It’s just not possible. It’s honestly that relaxed.
Speaking of relaxed…
Our Favorite Chill Spot – UTOPIA!
When we first checked into our guesthouse – the guy at the front desk gave us a map of the city and pointed out things we should see and do. He was very “matter of fact” about everything which was funny. He’d say things like “tomorrow morning…you go here…tonight…you’re going here…then later you here…” We left the desk with the map and thought…why not? Let’s go to this place he suggested for dinner because we’re a bit tired and it sounds pretty cool. It’s called Utopia after all. Little did we know – it was, in fact…total Utopia.
Walking off one of the main roads we took a little trail/sidewalk down about 5 minutes towards the river. Then – we arrived at Utopia. Lounge cushions with low tables, reggae playing on the stereo, beautiful dimly lit lights strewn about – it was soooo “backpacker chill.”
We kicked off our flip flops – spread out on the cushions – ordered some beer and knew we’d be at this place a few times during our visit. And we definitely were. We came back 2 more times during our week’s stay and every time? It was just as relaxing and a perfect spot to kill a few hours.
Kile and I definitely had a few beers at this place as well as some local food like fried river weed and spring rolls. Every time we visited I wished I had brought my book – it was that relaxing – we could easily stay there for an entire afternoon and evening.
But we couldn’t just sit on our asses the entire week we were here – of course, we had to do some exploring. The number one exploration on our list? Kuang Si Waterfall.
Kuang Si Waterfall
Considering how relaxed and laid back Luang Prabang is – there isn’t that much to do. But the things that people must do? They’re well worth doing them. The number one absolute must is the Kuang Si Waterfall – which honestly should be named the Magical Kuang Si Waterfalls That Will Change Your Life Forever.
We bought a ticket up to the falls from our guesthouse and boarded a minivan that would take us to the waterfall which was about 30km outside of the city. Going into this adventure, we had talked to a few people that had visited (NOMADasaurus and Our Big Fat Travel Adventure) – everyone raved how beautiful it was. But we really had no idea.
It was a long minivan ride up to the entrance of the falls – beautiful landscapes, being witness to a slightly serious scooter accident and listening in to conversations of people who speak English as their second-language. Finally, we arrived – and holy shit.
After our van dropped us off we were surrounded by crowds (I’m sure they were the same ones from Phousi Hill the other day…) but that was to be expected. The waterfall that was just a short walk from the van was incredible. Literally one of the most breath taking waterfalls we’d ever seen – and we come from the Pacific Northwest where waterfalls are just flowing out of nowhere! So after seeing the main falls of Kuang Si – we were both thinking “wow…” but little did we know it just kept going…and going…and going…
Walking down the trail along the river that Kuang Si flowed into – we were met with pool after pool and cascading waterfall after cascading waterfall. It was insane! I could not believe what we were seeing. At that moment we both knew we were witnessing something that we’d never experienced before. Beauty in nature that we had never seen in this scale so far in our travels. I thought, coming from the Pacific Northwest, that nothing could ever be more beautiful than home. In some ways? That’s true – but this place? Oh my goodness…nothing could ever compete. Despite the crowd of tourists – it didn’t matter. It was perfection. And the best part? You could swim in some of the pools!
Kuang Si will go down in history as one of our favorite places on this planet. Truly incredible and worth the trek.
Laos Has Officially Stolen A Piece Of Our Hearts…
Just one week into our (almost) 3 weeks in Laos and we knew we were in love. Luang Prabang was so peaceful, so beautiful and extremely unique as far as the places we’d been to so far. Kile and I were excited to explore our next destination…Vang Vieng…stay tuned!