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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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28 December 2014

Luang Prabang: The cultural capital of Laos

1st - 4th December 2014

Everything has positives and negatives and backpacking is no exception and the main curse of travel is making friends, wandering as a group and then just as abruptly waving goodbye and wishing them a safe journey. It's been a regular feature since leaving the UK and sadly Vang Vieng was where we said farewell to Will "the beard" Dadson (if you ever take up professional darts you can keep the name). We'll see ya in OZ mate and Jono will get a few beers in.

As Will turned back south towards Cambodia we pressed on North to rejoin the Mekong at Luang Prabang. The ride was a little cramped but the scenery was spectacular. The winding mountain roads act like artificial arteries through the rough terrain and increasingly thicker vegetation. Every so often we would pass an isolated village or glimpse an awesome valley view.

Luang Prabangs Royal Palace

We arrived in Luang Prabang around mid afternoon and were immediately met by the hustle and bustle of a popular tourist destination. Our first priority as always was to find a place to stay. There are an overwhelming number of guesthouses in Luang Prabang for the size of the place and thankfully for us one of our fellow passengers Garbie helped narrow down our search. Our friendly Australian guide had visited the town before and kindly led us to "Sisombath House". A short walk from the centre Sisombath housed cozy dorm rooms with warm showers and breakfast included for 40,000 kip (£3.50) per night. The guesthouse also had a cool chill out area although the wifi is naff.

Luang Prabang is a lovely town with history, culture and wonderful natural sights and vibrant markets all rolled into a small area. Despite being very touristic the place still retains a chilled atmosphere synonymous with Laos. All the sights in town are located in the centre. Visit the royal palace during the day, climb mount Phousi for the sunset and grab a cheap meal in the night market in the evening (all you can eat buffet for 15,000 kip that's £1.20).
The drinking scene is laid back with he bars closing at 11:30pm leaving the bowling alley as the only late night venue with alcohol available late into the night. Check out "Utopia Bar" on the banks of a tributary to the Mekong. It's a little pricey but with a volleyball court, table football and early evening yoga classes it's a great place to kick back and relax with a beer whilst  having a laugh watching attractive women fart as they stretch into a "half moon" or "dead parrot" stance.......or something like that.

A great day for photography at Kuang Si Falls
On our second day we caught a minibus to "Kuang Si Falls". These stunning waterfalls tumble and fall down a series of pools formed from mineral deposits over many years. It's a great place to cool off with a nice swim. The place was very reminiscent of Plitvice National Park in Croatia although the size and scale of Plitvice is more impressive. Kuang Si is also home to a bear sanctuary and butterfly garden (although the latter was closed). The bears have all been rescued from illegal poachers or people that force them to dance for mostly Chinese tourists. They have a reasonable amount of space to play about in and it seems the location was chosen to aid in local public awareness. The degree of psychological and physical violence committed to these animals means that it's unlikely that these animals will ever be re-introduced into the wild, but at least they've been saved from a life of suffering.

After a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable stay Jono and I parted ways with Ed and Dora as they went trekking further North and arranged to catch the two day slow boat to the Thai-Laos border town of Huay Xai.