Luang Prabang, Laos

After a horrible bus ride, we got a tuk tuk to the Apple Guest House and arrived around 8am. Our host is a lovely Australian couple named Robyn and John, and their son who they adopted from Laos when he was 21 years old. She had great suggestions and we listened to all of her ideas. 

We left our things and went out to get an amazing breakfast at a true Parisian Patisserie called Banneton. We ate some of the best croissants we have ever had and drank delicious coffee. Then, because we couldn't help ourselves, we ordered a ham and cheese crepe and fruit pastries too.

Lots of little laneways in Luang Prabang
beautiful temples everywhere
We walked around town visiting some small temples, and then went back to the guest house to check in and head out for our elephant ride. The elephant ride was great. They introduced us to the baby elephants first and to then to the other elephants. They told us how there used to be thousands of elephants in Laos, and that the original name of Laos meant Land of a thousand elephants. The elephants in this reserve were protected. Elephants were used for farming and had a very difficult life. They were used harshly and beaten often. People would also kill elephants to steal their ivory tusks, and there are now very few elephants left. This sanctuary is working towards saving these majestic animals. They are still quite a ways off from a First World concept for a sanctuary, but giving rides to tourists is a way to raise money, so they do. The elephants are still not treated very well, seeing as they still feel they need to beat the elephant for two weeks when it is young to make it afraid of the mahout, but it is definitely better than the alternative. The mahouts do not have a much better life than the elephants, so you can’t really blame them if they want the elephant to work as hard as them, be beaten as much as they were as children and have less to eat than they want like their skinny mahouts. If anyone wants a good cause, getting funding to save elephants in Laos would be remarkably good.

The little baby elephant
The elephant chair was wooden and cushioned and quite comfortable, and the ride was nice - just about half an hour or so and then back. Most of the mahouts walked and led their elephants, and then spent the rest of the day chopping sugar cane for the tourists to feed their elephant.

Riding the elephant

After the elephants, they took us to the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen. As a bonus, it is at a nature reserve with sun bears and beautiful trails through the woods. 

You can go swimming in the pools that form under each little waterfall
The colour is amazing - no photoshop help in these photos ....
We took so many pictures of every little waterfall 
The final waterfall
That night we went to Robyn’s recommended restaurant, Kaiphain. It is a training restaurant for street kids, so that they can learn a skill. They are so successful that the kids are snapped up immediately by high end Thai restaurants. The food was superb, and the entire meal cost us $25. If you are ever in Luang Prabanb, you must try this restaurant.

Our amazing dinner at Kaiphain
In the morning, we slept in and then went back to Banneton for breakfast. We walked around to markets and temples and museums and up the back steps on Mount Phousi. We came down the front steps. We went to the storytelling theatre. I thought it was one of the best things I have seen on this trip. It was a really good storyteller, telling local myths and legends, accompanied by an old man playing a traditional stringed instrument. 

Statues of Ogre on Mount Phousi
Later we went back to the hotel to change for supper. Robyn suggested that Blue Lagoon was really nice. It was, and the food was good, but it cost more than Kaiphain and the food wasn't nearly as delicious. We went to the night market and picked out the mask we wanted, and a few other trinkets and headed off to bed.

The storytellers
We got up at about 5am and headed to the market to buy alms for the monks. Every morning they walk in procession through the streets with their alms buckets collecting food for the day. I bought little oranges. We saw the monks coming and in my haste to get the oranges out of the little plastic bag, I dropped them all and they went bouncing and rolling around just as the monks came. I managed to gathered them up in a pile before the monks slipped and fell on the little field of round oranges under their feet, and was able to put the few that hadn't bounce around in their buckets. The others oranges were ok and I picked them up and wiped them off and put them more neatly in an easily accessible cloth bag and we went to the main site. I was able to hand out the rest of the oranges without creating an obstacle course. We followed the rules. I stayed lower than the monks by kneeling on the ground, and reaching up to put an orange in their buckets, and Greg stood a respectful distance away (across the street) and took photos. It was sad to see that not all tourists respect this ceremony, and there were some people pushing in front and shoving cameras in monk’s faces to get close up shots. Many tourists seem to just buy little packaged cookies and snacks that look remarkably like Halloween treats to put in their little alms boxes. I think that some people miss the point that this is their daily food, and not snacks to enjoy at recess.

The monks on their early morning alms walk
The temple inside the Palace grounds
This temple is covered with mosaic
close up of the mosaic
We packed up all of our bags and then I chatted with Robyn and two women from Alaska, while Greg went out exploring a few more temples. At noon Greg came back and took me to a lovely little restaurant out across one of the long bamboo bridges, and then we headed off to the airport.

These bamboo bridges have to be built every year by the monks after they wash away in the wet season.
This is the bridge across to the restaurant
In the restaurant across the bridge waiting for my two margaritas!
The airport security tried to take away the fork that I had in my luggage (it was a gift from the Cambodian wedding). He said it was dangerous and I couldn't have it on the plane. I finally convinced him to let me take it... Then on the same plane, they gave me a metal knife and fork to eat with!!! Yikes! a knife too!