Partying in Luang Prabang – The Bowling Alley

We spent our fourth day in Luang Prabang doing mostly nothing, which was absolutely glorious.

We started off with breakfast at a cafe by the river, then headed to a local bar/restaurant/lounge called Utopia, the same one we had spent an evening drinking, a few days before.  Boasting to be “Zen by Day, Groovy by Night,” Utopia was the perfect place to lay back and relax the day away, lounging on cushions on the deck overlooking the river.

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Sitting by the river on the deck of Utopia

After laying around all day, we decided to watch the sunset at Wat Chom Si.  The Buddhist temple sits atop Mount Phou Si, a 330 foot hill in the center of Luang Prabang, which we climbed up about half an hour before the sun went down.  We hadn’t expected much out of it, but the view of the city and surrounding scenery was surprisingly spectacular!

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The view from the top of Mount Phou Si

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It was a bit cloudy, so the sunset was a little lack luster; but once it had disappeared behind the mountains, the clouds lit up in all kinds of stunning colors.

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Then, we walked around the temple to see the moon on the other side!

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We had worked up an appetite climbing up and down the hill, and decided on another dinner of Lao barbecue.  This time, we tried a place by the river where each person gets a plate for 60,000kip, and can refill it an unlimited number of times with raw meats and veggies to cook.

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We had heard it on the lips of other backpackers many times since arriving in Luang Prabang: “Have you been to the bowling alley?” The bowling alley is one of the few establishments open past the midnight curfew in the city, and where all of the boisterous partiers go when the bars in town shut down.  We were curious, but hadn’t made it there yet, mostly because we usually go to bed long before anyone goes there.

On this night, we were determined to see what it was about.  We headed back to Utopia around 10, where most of the backpackers seem to start their nights.  After a few beers in the garden, things started to shut down around 11:30.  At this point, there was a mass exodus down the path to a hoard of tuk-tuks waiting to shuttle people to the bowling alley.  As we walked toward them, we made fast friends with a pair of Dutch guys that were happy to bargain for us down to only 5,000kip each for the ride.

Once our tuk tuk was full, we set out on a short ride to the lanes.  I think we had expected some kind of swag bowling alley, but it the exact opposite.  The place was all white concrete and bright, BRIGHT fluorescent lights–not at all what you’d expect for a late night party spot, but party we did.  The group of us in the tuk tuk ended up going in on a lane together which cost 20,000kip per person, per game.  Every lane was packed with backpackers drinking, bowling, and being extremely loud, as is expected.  Our lane was no exception and we soon made friends with the group of people in the lane next to us, making our crowd even bigger and louder.  It was really quite fun!

Around 2am, our group decided it was time to head back to town, so we shared a loud, drunken, and hilarious tuk tuk ride back to our guesthouses.  Shamefully, we didn’t have a camera or phone on us so we don’t have any pictures of the night, but we will surely hold the memory forever in our hearts.

Breakfast: 60,000kip

Utopia: 100,000kip

Mount Phou Si Fee: 40,000kip

Street Barbecue: 150,000kip

Utopia: 85,000kip

Tuk Tuk: 10,000kip

Bowling Alley: 110,000kip

Tuk Tuk: 20,000kip

Water: 5,000kip

Accommodation: 80,000kip

Total Spent: 660,000kip ($81.51 USD)

Luang Prabang – Relaxing in the City

We took a sleeper bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang which might have been one of the worst decisions we have made thus far.  Firstly, the sleeper bus cost us more than a day bus would have (which means we didn’t actually save any money by not paying for accommodation), and this sleeper bus made the sleeper buses in Vietnam seem like a luxury.  Instead of getting our own reclining seats, we were both cramped together in a space on the floor, about the size of a child’s bed, with nothing but two blankets and a couple of dirty pillows.  After attempting to sleep in positions that would make a chiropractor’s eyes bleed, we finally made it to Luang Prabang at about 6:30 in the morning.

After negotiating a tuk tuk down to 15,000kip per person into the city center, we wandered the streets exhausted, looking for reasonably priced accommodation.  After going from guesthouse to guesthouse, another traveler approached us and told us that he too had tried to find accommodation in the price range we were hoping for, only to find that everywhere in the area was at least 120,000kip for a double room.  By Western standards, 130,000kip ($16) is not much for a double room, but by comparison it’s quite a lot more than most budget accommodations in Laos and more than most places we stayed in Vietnam.  We relented and booked a room in Central Backpackers Hostel (which is not central at all), assuring ourselves that the nice room and free breakfast made it worth it.

We decided that we deserved a nap after a sleepless night, and woke up around noonish.  We walked to the center of town where several stalls are set up next to each other selling sandwiches, crepes, and fruit shakes.  All of the stalls sell the exact same things and they are there every day.  A couple sandwiches and a banana shake later, we wandered around the city to get an idea of what it had to offer.

Luang Prabang is sleepy and laid back like Vientiane, but the scenery is admittedly much better.  It sits at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan river, so many of the guesthouses and restaurants sit next to the water.  Additionally, the city itself is lush with trees and jungle plants which add to the charming atmosphere.

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Monks across the river

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We headed to a local cafe with the intention of using the internet, (only to find that it didn’t work) but we got some treats anyway.  We decided to hang out in the common area of our hostel to do some internet surfing instead which ended up working out much better…until the city wide blackout!  It happened out of no where and no one seemed to be perturbed by it.  Everything was normal, then all of a sudden we were sitting in complete and utter darkness.  It was actually kind of exciting!  Plus, the power came back on after 20-30 minutes so it wasn’t a real issue.

For dinner we decided to try a place called Lao Lao Garden.  After walking through the main entrance, we found ourselves outside again in their enormous garden patio surrounded by trees and plants.  It literally felt like we were sitting in the middle of the jungle even though we were right in the middle of the city.  This is where we got our first chance to try traditional Lao barbecue.  Our waiter lifted the center tile of our table to reveal a small pit where he put a cement block filled with burning coals.  After setting a hot plate shaped like an upside down bowl on top, he poured soup in the ring around the plate and set a big chunk of animal fat in top. He put baskets of raw meat and vegetables on the table next to us and instructed us to start cooking!

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Surprise hole in the table where the coals go

First you put vermicelli noodles and vegetables in the soup, then set the meat on top to cook.  It was a little time consuming but also quite fun.  We were given buffalo, chicken, and pork along with a large assortment of veggies.  The food was decent but what really got us was the peanut tamarind sauce they serve on the side…yum!

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Big hunk of fat in the middle in to grease the hot plate!

After dinner we walked across the street and down a small path to a well known backpacker hangout called Utopia.  After getting a couple of Beer Laos at the bar, we sat down in the center space where they have a bunch of mats and lounging pillows on the floor to hang out on.  The place was really large; it also had a sand volleyball pit, a deck overlooking the river, and scattered tables all in a jungle like setting.  They also played some half way decent down tempo music (for the most part) which was a welcome change from most bars in Southeast Asia!  We had a lot of fun here, and ended up hanging out with a big group of people from Brazil, Italy, the UK and a dozen other countries.  Unlike in Vang Vieng, we had the sense (and we were just tired) to leave before going over the top, and called it a night around 11:30; a relaxing but good start to our stay in Luang Prabang!

Sandwiches: 45,000kip ($5.54 USD)

Shake: 10,000kip ($1.23 USD)

Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)

2-Beer: 20,000kip ($2.46 USD)

Joma Cafe: 30,000kip ($3.69 USD)

Lao Lao Garden: 123,000kip ($15.14 USD)

Utopia: 50,000kip ($6.15 USD)

Accommodation: 130,000kip ($16 USD)

Total Spent: 413,000kip ($50.83 USD)