Friday, 13 January 2017

Christmas in Laos


Deciding which Asian country to spend Christmas in is a bit like choosing between a basket of kittens and a bed of puppies – I was very unlikely to be disappointed. Hong Kong’s fantastic location means that previously far-flung destinations like Thailand, the Philippines and Japan are just a couple of hours away. After a while, I settled on Laos, the final frontier of South East Asia as far as I was concerned. Despite numerous jaunts around Asia, Laos had always eluded me and I decided Christmas 2016 would be my opportunity to scratch that itch.
With a 10 day break, I focused my attention on one part of Laos: the northern city of Luang Prabang, regularly voted the best city in South East Asia for its laid back charm and natural wonders. The most logical way to get to Luang Prabang was to fly there direct from Hong Kong… so naturally I didn’t do that. It was far cheaper, physically exhausting and much more thrilling to cross the Laos border overland and all those things just scream Christmas. As such, I jumped on a flight to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and immediately embarked on a 19 hour slog to get to Luang Prabang.


It was a scenic journey of three buses and two tuk tuks on roads which had more bends than the Hokey Cokey. Just to top it off, my fellow passengers were a job lot of roosters who had a lot to say for themselves. I had to feel for them, seeing them cramped in tiny boxes and knowing they were probably going to end up as someone’s Christmas dinner but I’d have had more sympathy for them if they’d accepted their fate without making such a racket. Headphones maintained my sanity… just about. I finally arrived in Luang Prabang in the early hours of Christmas morning. It had been a long, uncomfortable journey and the sound of a rooster will haunt me to my dying day, but my sense of adventure had been well and truly satisfied. Thankfully, there was room at the inn.
After such a bonkers journey, Luang Prabang was the perfect tonic. A small city sandwiched between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers as well as a plethora of mountains, I quickly realised why Luang Prabang had garnered such an amazing reputation. The city itself is a collection of chilled out cafes, an after-hours bowling alley, mini beaches and cheap eats (an all-you-can eat vegetarian buffet for US$2 was a particular favourite). It also hosts probably the best night market I’ve found in South East Asia, with traders who don’t just churn out the usual mass-produced souvenirs. The elephant slippers I purchased may well be the best thing I’ve ever bought.
Where Luang Prabang really comes into its own is the incredible nature that surrounds it and various day trips let me experience this beauty up close and personally. Christmas Day opened my eyes to Luang Prabang’s most spectacular wonder – the Kuang Si Waterfalls, a half an hour tuk tuk ride from the city. The waterfalls seemingly never end with layer after layer toppling onto the next, creating the most breathtaking waterfall I’ve ever seen. The freezing cold water also made for a bracing Christmas dip, accompanied by a string of expletives.



Overall, Luang Prabang was completely worth the effort. Of course it would have been easier to fly straight to a Thai beach but Luang Prabang combined beautiful nature with a relaxed vibe and a sense of adventure. It was just what I needed.

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