Laos · 7 Days · 29 Moments · December 2016

Catherine Dearden Boyce

Christmas 2016: Luang Prabang & Vientiane


29 December 2016

Thursday 29th December: After a leisurely breakfast, time to catch some rays on our terrace and a mooch round our local wat timed with the morning drumming, we set off for Vientiane's Wattay International Airport. We boarded a Laos Airlines flight from Vientiane to Hanoi, saying our farewell khop chois. Laos has been a great SE Asian experience, completing our country ticks and also opening a new perception on tourism in the region. Now to Vietnam! Bring on our 2nd visit to the Vietnamese capital - super excited to be returning to Hanoi!

28 December 2016

We thoroughly enjoyed staying at Lani's by the Ponds whilst we were in Vientiane. It is very centrally located and is next door to a gorgeous wat, where every morning the monks beat the ceremonial drum at 11am. Our upstairs room had a small but lovely terrace which overlooked the garden and the wat. We both found Vientiane a bit underwhelming: this was probably both because we had hit 2 weeks of travelling and that we had just been to Luang Prabang, which is small and atmospheric and interesting. As a result, we spent quite a lot of time in the mornings and evenings relaxing in the comfy chairs on the terrace, watching the multitude of stunning butterflies flitting back and forth past the terrace.
After lunch we hired a couple of bikes and went on one final Laos bike ride round Vientiane. After riding down Vientiane's main street, our first stop was the gorgeous Wat Si Saket. This is the oldest wat in Vientiane, being the only building to survive the Thai razing of the city in the mid-19th century. Its construction was ordered by King Anouvong in 1818, and its cloisters house more than 2,000 ceramic and silver Buddhas. Unfortunately, there was a Chinese guy playing a Chinese version of Barbie Girl at top volume from his phone. After walking past and both debating whether I should say something and hoping that someone else would, I couldn't take any more and said in my pigeon Chinese that he shouldn't be doing that and to turn it off. He actually did it straight away, however I was pretty unimpressed that I had to ask on the first place, in an atmospheric wat in a highly religious country that he even thought that was appropriate in the first place! Numpty.
Wednesday 28th December: Mmm, an authentic French lunch! Vientiane has retained a lot of excellent French eateries harking back to the colonial era. La Banneton is one of the best, with a bakery in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Vientiane's restaurant location isn't as enjoyable as LP's, but then most things in Vientiane aren't as enjoyable comparatively as LP, so I still savoured a delicious spinach and cheese quiche and an apricot pastry on their street front. Also, a dodgy electric pylon πŸ˜‰

27 December 2016

After our sundowners, we set out to find Lao Kitchen, an eatery we'd read about on TripAdvisor and in Lonely Planet that is highly recommended. After diversions into a bookshop and some random intriguing little shops passed enroute, we found our destination and settled down with a Beerlao to share and tucked into the delicious regional dish of pork Laab (minced pork with regional flavours including coriander, lime, chilli), fish cakes (pretty much the same as Thai ones) and some Laos-style noodles, also very tasty. We were hungry: we forgot to take photos. I took one of the empty plates when I remembered πŸ˜‰ Over dinner we had done a bit of research and discovered that there was supposedly another Laodi 'bar' right next to our guesthouse. On our way back from dinner we strolled in that direction and found this little shack erected next to a street food stall. In true Dearden-Boyce style, we stopped for another cocktail, and may or may not have purchased a miniature-to-go...
We continued west along the Mekong and were heading towards a place we'd read about for sundowners, but stopped in our tracks when we came across a bar in a shipping container stuck out from a very dodgy-looking block of flats (think London East End council flats but covered in graffiti and dirt, SE Asian-style), facing the sun setting over the Mekong. What caught our eye were the 'Laodi' signs outside: a new Laos rum company that was doing tasters at the Luang Prabang night market and that we subsequently bought a bottle of back in LP. We couldn't resist either the exceptionally scruffy (shabby-chic?!?) location, the cocktails made out of what we knew to be really good rum, or the sunset location, so we climbed the stairs round the back to the top of the container, took a perch and ordered a standard and a passionfruit mojito. These turned out to be the best mojitos of the trip 🍹 Divine drinks, gorgeous sunset, intriguing location!
As evening approached and the sun started to set we strolled down the banks of the Mekong, past wats, through market stalls setting up and street food vendors starting to sell their snacks to the ever increasing number of people (mostly local) appearing for a sunset river walk. The local monastery school must have just finished, as suddenly an abomination (honestly the collective noun for monks!) of young monks swathed towards us down the pavement, which made for some good furtive photos with the Mekong as a backdrop!
Tuesday 27th December: We started our first day in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, with a hugely relaxing morning. We had chosen to stay in a family-run guesthouse located in an older colonial house as opposed to one of the newer, bigger hotels easily available in Vientiane. Lani's by the Ponds is right in the heart of the city but tucked away from the main road behind a wat it doesn't suffer from much city noise. Cockerels, however, are a different story! We may have been in the heart of Laos' capital city, but there is nowhere in Laos that don't have a rooster or two! After breakfast, we went back up to our room's terrace and sat back, enjoying the view over the neighbouring wat and the birds, butterflies and dragonflies that were constantly flitting past us. We eventually left when we felt hungry and wandered down the main road to the great Cafe Benoni for a spot of lunch and some great iced tea and coffee. We then pottered down towards the Mekong riverside for another wander.

26 December 2016

Monday 26th December: We spent our last few gained hours in Luang Prabang cycling around on the hotel bikes, dropping into the Royal Palace Museum, walking up the Phu Si hill to soak in the views across the town from That Chomsi and hunting out more tasty food at the l'Etranger Book and Tea shop. We finished off with a return to our favourite cafe, le Banneton, for amazing fruit tarts before heading back to the hotel to shower and freshen up for our flight down to Vientiane. We were sad to depart from My Dream hotel which had been the perfect relaxing base for the Christmas week, and even sadder to leave the laid-back, atmospheric romance of Luang Prabang. I would highly recommend both the town and the hotel!

25 December 2016

Merry Christmas from Luang Prabang! After a leisurely breakfast at My Dream, Phil persuaded me to go out with him on a 'short' bike ride along the southern bank of the Mekong. We stopped off at a quaint random wat, folllowed by a weaving 'shack' that had scarves and wall hangings for sale. After a lengthy perusal we realised we had no money on us, so we continued down the road and found ourselves in a little village where we found a gorgeous shop full of soft furnishings we couldn't resist. After chatting to the owner about her business and her puppy (!) we decided that we would spend our Christmas money from our parents on a rug and a wall hanging. A bit of half-hearted bartering down and we had a wooden naga wall hanging hanger, 2 mini rugs and free delivery to our hotel thrown in for the price πŸ˜‰ We cycled back extremely satisfied with our Christmas Day purchases! An obligatory dip in the pool followed our return, before getting ready for our Christmas lunch out at Apsara.
After we finished our meal we moved out to the terrace with another Armagnac to watch the world go by before FaceTiming the Boyce residence to share in the Christmas present opening ceremony! This was followed by another wander round the LP night market, which stretches down the main street of Sisavangvong Road with the gorgeous backdrop of the royal palace. Purchases included Phil's pride and joy elephant slippers, more soft furnishings in the shape of a bed runner, Laos passionfruit rum, an obligatory Beerlaos tshirt and some scarves. At this point we decided that it really was time to stop spending money! We finished Christmas Day with a tasty pizza at La Rosa Italian restaurant and wandered back with empty wallets but full arms, feeling sleepy but happy 😊 Christmas is never the same on the other side of the world and without family, but this was definitely our best away from home yet.
After a refreshing dip in the pool and time to smarten ourselves up, we set out across the Bamboo Bridge over the Nam Khan river for our Christmas Day lunch at the Apsara restaurant. After considering lots of different options, ranging from doing nothing special at all to rather expensive lunches in posh hotels, we decided to book a late lunch at the mid-range Apsara hotel, as the menu sounded just as good as the $80pp options but also included more Christmas alcohol πŸ˜‰ Service wasn't particularly polished, but the fact that we were in Laos and had what was an excellent western meal with gorgeous views and plenty of alcohol thrown in for the hefty price of Β£50 for both of us, we overlooked the small details and had ourselves a very merry little Christmas β˜ΊοΈπŸŽ„

24 December 2016

Christmas Eve we had a gorgeous taster meal for 2 at Tamarind, a renowned cooking school and restaurant on the Luang Prabang food scene. This was following a random celebratory drink at an unknown bar on the main street after our good deed for the day! We met Margrethe and Steve on the Gibbon Experience, who were biking through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, and we'd met up with them in both Pak Beng and Luang Prabang for dinner and drinks. They set off from Luang Prabang on Christmas Eve and I got a panicked message in the evening saying they'd left a bag with their passports, money, bike docs, bank cards and literally everything important in their guesthouse room! We went over there to see if we could locate it and after a bit of digging in their room (this guesthouse clearly didn't change sheets between guests as they had only straightened the bed covers rather than changing them, so hadn't discovered the goody bag of valuables!!) So we treated ourselves to a pre-meal cocktail πŸ˜‰
Family of vey timid cats: spot the black kitten on the 3rd photo!
Some more wats around LP.
More Wat Xieng Thong...
The gorgeous Wat Xieng Thong in the afternoon winter sunlight 🌞
We stopped off for lunch at the fabulous Indigo Cafe for brilliant baguettes and indulgent iced coffees.
More Wat Mahathat.
Wat Mahathat in Luang Prabang. Deserted and atmospheric, monks listening to club music over lunch, orange robes drying and cats desperate for cuddles 😊
Saturday 24th December: Out and about on bikes in Luang Prabang and views across the Mekong.

23 December 2016

Luang Prabang night market!
Out and about in Luang Prabang no.2
Out and about around Luang Prabang, no.1
An afternoon wander and coffee stop in sleepy Luang Prabang. There are actually photos of me! During the dry season every year, a bamboo bridge is erected to create a shortcut over the Nan Khan river to the central strip of Luang Prabang, so we made the most of this efficient but interesting crossing! We have 100% faith in the strength of bamboo - as mentioned earlier it is used as scaffolding in Shanghai - but this didn't stop it swaying a bit if you walked over too energetically...! We stopped at the perfectly located Le Banneton cafe for a late lunch of baguettes and pastries whilst doing a spot of monk-watching from the terrace πŸ˜‰ LP's bakeries are, I would claim, the best in SE Asia!
Friday 23rd December: We woke up to these surroundings 😊 we booked My Dream months ago in our effort to be able to bag the best place for best possible value, knowing that if we left it late to book for the Christmas period we'd end up either paying a lot for somewhere not so nice or an extortionate amount for somewhere decent. My Dream came up on our radar, just outside town but still accessible and we got a good deal for 5 nights. Jackpot!!! This place is stunning and having had a wander round Luang Prabang, we really are in the best place to kick back for Christmas. The gardens we overlook from our balcony go all the way to the banks of the (very dry in December) Nam Khan River and are full to bursting with butterflies of types you never even knew existed. I am in heaven. Laos, I ❀️ you.

22 December 2016

Thursday 22nd December: Sabaidee Luang Prabang! We arrived at the quay for Luang Prabang at around 4.30, scrambled up the steep steps and packed our bags into a minibus for our hotel transfer, provided by Mekong Smile Cruise. We arrived to a warm welcome at My Dream, a ready-sliced mango and refreshing lemongrass tea as the sun was setting over the garden. First impressions were very good! We headed out fairly quickly to find an ATM and dinner and ended up at Dyen Sabai, highly rated by our guide from the boat trip and by TripAdvisor. We had a BBQ table with cushions on one of the wooden platforms heading down the riverbank and tucked into a buffalo 'Lao Fondue', mango daiquiris, Nutella crepes and a divine Baileys ice cup. We were ravenous so no photos taken on this occasion! Then we headed back full to bursting for an early night 😴