Tag Archives: river

Luang Prabang: not only temples

Since 1995 Luang Prabang, in the north of Lao, has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its high concentration of beautiful Buddhist temples mixed  with European-style colonial buildings.LaoPhotogallery_025

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is a charming town and very easy and pleasant to walk around. When I visited the unbearable heat after 10:30am was not ideal for sightseeing, yet other options were available for the rest of the day.

So here’s my random list of things to do/see in Luang Prabang:

  • If you visit at mid-April, be prepared to get soaked in the New Year celebrations (see my blog post here).
Buddhist temples
Buddhist temples
  • Visit some Buddhist temples: there are many beautiful ones but definitely not to miss are: Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai.
  • Pop into the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre: they have very interesting displays and information about ethnic groups in Lao.
Old Quarter in Luang Prabang
Old Quarter in Luang Prabang
  • Stroll along the streets in the Old Quarter and enjoy the colonial architecture.
  • Wake up at dawn for the Alms giving ceremony (see my blog post here).
  • Visit the Royal Palace/National Museum: probably not the most interesting I have ever seen, but worth an hour of your time.
The National Museum
The Royal Palace, now National Museum
  • Cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river and go for a stroll in the village on the other side. Then stop at the Dyen Sabai restaurant and chill with a drink while enjoying a view over the river and the surroundings.

    The bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river
    The bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river
  • Go to the Library and buy some books for the children in the villages. This is in collaboration with Lao Kids. You may also find students or monks who want to practice their English. (You can do the same at Big Brother Mouse, whose presence is all over the internet. I went there too but I preferred the Library).
  • See a performance of traditional Ramayana dance. During the New Year celebrations there were free performances every day. During the rest of the year, shows are on at the Royal Palace complex.
  • When it’s too hot, go to the swimming pool. La Pistoche is the place to be for both tourists and locals. Nice place for a day of splashing and chilling!
  • When you have exhausted all options above, there are dozens of spa/massage places where you can get pampered for an hour or two at superlow cost. I had a great one-hour foot massage for US$5!

And now you can enjoy more Luang Prabang photos!

The amazing landscape around Ninh Binh

When Tom and Norma, whom I met at the Nguyen Shack homestay in the Ninh Binh area, asked me if I wanted to join them for a half day trip to Trang An I said Yes even if I had no idea what was there to see. After all I had no plans for the day.

We rode our bicycles for about 5Km on very muddy and rough terrain (Tough Mudder, here I come!) and when we arrived at the Trang An pier we paid 150,000 dong entrance fee and got on a small boat, joined by a Vietnamese men.

For the following two and a half hours, our boat woman took us around (rowing sometimes with her hands and sometimes with her feet!) amongst amazing limestone hills. We visited several grottoes, where we often had to duck down, we got off the boat to see pagodas dotted along the river, but mainly we enjoyed the fantastic scenery.
This is Ha Long Bay on land!

Inside one of the grottoes
Inside one of the grottoes
On the river
On the river
More limestone hills
More limestone hills

There were several other boats on the river, but overall it wasn’t busy. The area is mainly visited by Vietnamese tourists, while Westerners seem to go to Tam Coc instead.

After the boat tour, we cycled further to reach Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam (10th-11th century), but we decided not to visit. We had been advised that there was not much to see there. So instead we turned into a side road and through two tunnels to reach the “secret valley”. In front of us another set of limestone hills like a natural theatre. Absolutely stunning!

Your travel blogger in the "secret valley"!
Your travel blogger in the “secret valley”!

After this, I think I will give Ha Long Bay a miss! ;-)

Update 27 June 2014: at the 38th session of the World Heritage committee (15-25 June 2014, Doha) Trang An was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Hoi An and “Earth Hour 2014”

“Hello, you want to buy candle?”.

I had already got used to the question, soundtrack of my evenings along the riverfront in Hoi An. Children and old ladies sell you candles for 20,000 dong (Happy Hour: two-for-one): you buy one, make a wish, then place the candle on the  river and let it float.

Tonight, though, it all became more meaningful.

29 March 2014,  8:30pm: Earth Hour.

This is when millions of people across the world switch off lights for one hour – to celebrate their committment to the planet. 

Given the key role of lights and lanterns in Hoi An by night, the effect of switching them all off was very dramatic. At 8:30pm everything became suddenly very dark, pitch black. I was walking along the riverfront and there must have been thousands of people there, mainly youngsters. The area around the bridge to An Hoi island was completely jam-packed.

Painting for a greener Earth
Painting for a greener Earth

There were groups running around holding hands, groups playing guitar and singing songs, groups creating environmental-related paintings on large sheets of paper. The atmosphere was happy and lots of cheering was going on.

"Hello, you want to buy candle?"
“Hello, you want to buy candle?”

And then there were the kids and the old ladies selling candles.

Most of us bought one: some people just used them to create light as they walked, while others (me included) placed them on the river.

In the complete darkness the effect of hundreds of flickering candles on the Thu Bon river was amazing!

Candles on the Thu Bon river
Floating candles on the Thu Bon river

At 9:30pm the sound of a siren announced the end of Earth Hour and all lights and lanterns were switched on again.

This was such a different way of experiencing Hoi An compared to the previous nights (click here for my blog post) and I am very lucky to have been able to live Earth Hour here :-).