Luang Prabang, our three favourite spots
Post Thailand we ended up spending a week re-charging and cost-cutting in Luang Prabang. This gave us plenty of time to really discover the best of the city, and settle briefly into the comfort of an almost routine. Below are three of our favourite spots in the city...
We began our love affair with LaosLaos garden on our very first night in the city, its gorgeous 3 tiered garden setting filled with warm glowing lanterns and floating candles is something quite special. You can enjoy cheap (but not cheap tasting) cocktails, free pool all day and night and our favourite part, your very own private BBQ. Considering an open fire is their staple kitchen appliance, Laos people pretty much live off BBQ food and this tradition has been cleverly re-invented and adapted into an oh-so-brilliant and slightly addictive tourist attraction. Every table has a secret compartment hidden inside the clay stand that is revealed by lifting the middle tile out from the surface, a clay bucket of coals slots into the compartment to form the base of the BBQ. Finally a metal dome shaped dish rimmed with a deep lip is placed over the coals, dome side up. You are served baskets brimming with fresh rice noodles, salad, eggs, garlic, spices and either a plate full of meat and fish or a selection of exotic vegetables and tofu (we went veggie) as well as a few different sauces and a 'clear soup'. The waiter gave us a brief demonstration of how to cook Lao style. Firstly a lump of fat is placed at the top of the dome to grease the dish, whilst the clear soup is ladled into the lip. The rice noodles, salad and raw eggs are all placed into the soup whilst the either the meat or tofu and veg is arranged around the dome. The idea is that all the juices then drip down into the eggy noodle soup at the bottom for flavour. Lastly, you can add the garlic, spices and peanut sauce in wherever you fancy. The result it a gorgeous bowl of fragrant, smoky noodle soup topped with sticky, spicy barbecued tofu and vegetables; delicious doesn't cover it. The whole thing cost all of 80,000 kip, which is just under a whopping £10!
Utopia is one of the best venues, if not the best that we have come across along our travels so far. Highly recommended by bloggers as a great nightlife spot we were pleasantly surprised to find it our favourite place by day. Set high up on a river bank over-looking the Nam Khan river, its first weapon is the view. The lowest level of the bar is a shaded wooden veranda that juts off the edge of the bank, filled with cushions and low tables it provides an atmosphere perfect for spending any length of time in. The middle level is just above the veranda and has more of a restaurant feel to it, we ate here once and the food was delicious although not the cheapest in comparison to the rest of the city. Above this is an oversized hut-like area which is home to the bar, and also where you'll enter Utopia. The bar area is mostly kitted out with floor cushions and low tables, however there are a couple of high tables and stools that over-look the volleyball court. Finally, a decked platform in the far corner, opposite the bar and next to the veranda, acts as an open air yoga studio operating between 7-8am & 5-6pm. It's a place for all kinds of people and all kinds of day. For myself and Dod it became a place to write, read or listen to music for hours on end. Whether you fancy a day to yourself or are looking to meet any number of interesting new people, Utopia creates an environment that can cater for all.
Locals' Picnic Spot
We came across this spot completely by accident whilst exploring the rural outskirts of the city. Originally we had stopped to look at a tomb that was highlighted on our map, however the tomb itself turned out not to be as exciting as it sounded. Although it belongs to Henri Mouhot, who we later found out was the first westerner to discover Angkor Wat, it is fairly recently erected and also more of a tombstone so doesn't yet have the ancient charm you would expect from the word 'tomb'. Passing the grave we walked out of the forest and onto a river pathway, where we came across a man catching fish with his bare hands! He slit the fish 3 times on each side and put it straight onto a fire behind him. A little way up from this small bamboo huts began to pop up with signs outside reading '40,000'. We worked out they were for rent at 40,000 kip (£4.50) however, they had no walls. They were more like large balconies overlooking the river, beautiful spots no doubt but not a place to sleep for the night. We moved further up the river and our questions were answered as we came across one of the huts in use; they were picnic spots for hire. Over the next hour or so family after family came and set up camp for the day in these little huts. Each group of 15 or more, started a fire just outside their hut and pulled buckets of fresh meat, fish and veg out ready to barbecue. It was wonderful to watch these families away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and discover what seemed to be a common Sunday lunch family tradition. We were hoping if we lingered around we might get an invite to enjoy some of the food, but no such luck for us!
Other places we visited and loved...
- Nisha - Indian restaurant, for when the Laos food gets too greasy!
- Icon Klub - Artsy cocktail bar supplying endless amounts of board games
- Evening food markets - A side street off of the main night market street, fill a bowl for 15,000 kip (£1.60)
- L'etranger - French inspired cafe serving delicious food, upstairs room opens as a miniature cinema every night
- La Pistoche - Urban swimming retreat, gorgeous pool with swim up bar, day ticket costs only 30,000 kip (you also pay a 50,000, deposit per ticket)
- Bamboo Bridge - The bridge itself is an interesting piece of construction, and also leads you to the 'Garden of Eden', a jewellery shop running free drop-in jewellery making workshops every day
- Kuang Si Waterfall - Either take a tuk tuk for around 50,000 each, or hire a scooter for 120,000, the drive is about 1 hour but the scooter gives you freedom to stop off at local villages on the way as well as catch a better glimpse of the incredible scenery!
- Lao UXO visitors centre - Museum just outside of the city centre, dedicated to spreading awareness of UXO (unexploded bombs) in Lao