We had planned a second stop in Luang Prabang after our trek, mainly to break in two the long distance between Luang Namtha and Vientiane. The almost 9h bus ride between Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang was anything but short and comfortable. The road, or I should better say path (specially between Oudomxai and Luang Prabang), was as bumpy as hell and the suspensions of the so called VIP bus weren’t really doing their job. We even had to stop a couple of times to throw buckets of water to the wheels to cool down the breaks.
I think we saw the poorest side of Lao during the road trip. The skinny and clunky houses made of wood and bamboo that won’t probably survive a heavy monsoon, the broken clothes of the villagers, the dusty faces of the children…. it all made us realize again that we were in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Strange as it may sound, getting to Luang Prabang felt a little bit like arriving home… I think the reason we felt that way was because we knew the place already. We were staying at the same guest house as last time, so after freshing up we rewarded ourselves with a yummy foe at the night market. Our plan for the one day we were staying in Luang Prabang was clear: visiting Kuang Si waterfalls and trying Lao’s traditional massage and steam bath.
Kuang Si waterfalls are located about 30km south of Luang Prabang. There are no public buses to get there, so the best alternatives are either to go by tuk tuk (200.000 Kips return trip per tuk tuk ) or as we did to rent a bike (120.000 Kips per day). The one hour excursion was very nice, we found very little traffic and we were accompanied by rice fields all the way. As we saw almost no car or tuk tuks on our way we thought that we wouldn’t find too many people at the waterfalls, but when we got there we realized that we weren’t the only ones planning to visit them that morning…
Kuang Si waterfalls are meant to be one of the most beautiful falls in Lao and they truly are. The main fall, a 50 m high cascade, flows into the multi tiered limestone formations that create a series of turquoise pools and smaller waterfalls which are all surrounded by colorful vegetation on either side. We climbed to the top trying to find the upper river, but we found little but mud and a slippery path. So we went back to the pools to go for a swim on the chilly waters. Isma even tried to do like Tarzan and jump to the water with a liana while I got my shoulders massaged by the waterfall.
Back in Luang Prabang we headed to our second date that day, the Red Cross for our massage and sauna! The Red Cross offers traditional Lao massage and herbal sauna to raise money for poor villagers. The 1h massage was fantastic! You are asked to lay down almost naked on a mat on the floor and the masseur (female for women and male for men) starts the massage using a Vicks VapoRub like ointment instead of oil. I was so relaxed during the treatment that I even felt sleep for a few seconds a couple of times. The Lao massage is not as tough as the Thai but they really work your muscles! After the massage, we were given sarongs to cover our bodies so we could head to the sauna. To our surprise, it was full of locals who told us they come here one or two times per week. The sauna (in this case I think that steam bath describes it better as it is not a dry sauna) is set in a wooden house and it is divided in two rooms, one for men and one for women, with a common hall where all the steam bathers share the free tea. We don’t really know what are the herbs that are used in the sauna, but we have read that kaffir lime (like Bergamot), eucalyptus, holy basil, lemon grass, lemon, camphor bark… are within the ones they use. We both felt really relaxed and enjoyed socializing with the locals in this traditional sauna.
Who says that second parts are never good?
Phanh tha sone Guest House – Same guest house as previous time. This mid range guest house is quite new and located very near the night market and the morning market. It’s a bit hidden behind a main road where there are another couple of guest houses that normally fill up before this one. The boy and the girl at reception are very nice, but only the boy speaks English. The rooms are big and very clean, the bed is very comfy and there is hot water in the bathroom. It has wifi (though it wasn’t working when we got there and Isma had to fix it), drinking water, free coffee and bananas. They also rent bicycles (10.000 Kips/day) and have laundry service (10.000 Kips/kg). We paid 120.000 Kips per night.
Lao Red Cross Luang Prabang
The Red Cross opened in Luang Prabang in 1993. Since then, they have been working for the improvement of the health situation of the most vulnerable sectors of society. Training villagers in first aid, constructing latrines and gravity fed water systems, recruiting blood donors… are some of the activities they promote. They finance their activities thanks to the Swiss and Austrian Red Cross, the traditional massage and steam bath (1h massage which costs 40.000 Kip and the herbal sauna cost another 10.000 Kip) and donations. Any kind of donations are accepted. If you wish to donate contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.