There are many ways to get to Luang Prabang. You can either take the plane, ride the bus, or if you know someone in Laos, drive up there.
We decided to take a different approach. Instead of renting a car, we asked a cab driver (who’s been taking my parents to golf everyday) if he wanted to come with us, be our personal tour guide and drive us there, around and back for three days. He, surprisingly agreed to do so for $250. Not the cheapest option but it definitely saves us the trouble of having to go to the bus station, being uncomfortable and having to carry all our bags around. Also, we got to stop anywhere we wanted to on the way to explore, grab food or just to go to the bathroom. The driver was also very fun, nice and even more excited about going to Luang Prabang than we were so his commentaries in broken English entertained us the whole way there. “Ohh, Beautiful, Beautiful!” “Police, no good, no good. Money! Money! Eat Lun, Eat Lun.”
On the way, we were pulled over by the police, who were actually pulling over EVERY SINGLE car driving by to basically just get money off of them and.. eat lunch and drink beer lao (according to the driver. haha). This definitely wasn’t a new scene for us because the police in Cambodia are just the same. They pull over anyone, and tell them to pay a ‘fine.’ After you refuse for a while, they basically ‘beg’ you by saying, “I drink coca (Coca Cola).” The driver wasn’t too happy about them so everytime something bad was on the road, he just said: “Ohh, Poli no good, no good.”
One of the things he was pointing at ‘tsk’-ing was signs of deforestation. The government seemed to be cutting down trees and clearing some parts of the mountains to plant other things that they can export (like rubber trees, tapioca trees, etc.) or to export wood. It definitely ruined the beauty of the nature. I thought the naked hills looked like female Ostrich bums before mating seasons where all the feathers get plucked but everyone just laughed when I said that. Oh, my imagination.
On the way, we decided to stop at Vang Vieng for lunch. Originally, we wanted to stay a day there but since our trip to Luang Prabang was a spur of the moment thing (we extended our flight back to Phnom Penh by 2 days just to go to Luang Prabang, which wasn’t originally in our plans), we couldn’t stay in Vang Vieng as well.
Vang Vieng was full of tourists. Actually, more tourists than locals. The backpackers were sitting and watching Family Guy or Friends on TV while eating lunch. After our lunch, we kept driving. The scenery on the way was beautiful, almost mesmerizing. The greenery, trees and the villages were all kept untouched. I tried taking photos but pictures really don’t do it justice.
The best part about the trip was this village we drove through located on the top of a mountain. The whole village was covered in clouds and we were literally driving through clouds. We, of course, couldn’t see too much but it was eery and beautiful at the same time, I can’t describe it in words.
The drive really opened up all of my five senses. The smell, however, was the best part. The whole way there, I kept saying, “It smells like grapes and mangoes.” I couldn’t understand why until we stopped to buy bananas and THAT was what the smell was. The bananas didn’t taste like any other ones I’ve tried before. It tasted like apples and mangoes but smelt like grapes – amazingly flavorful and chewy. I guess there were banana plants all along the way and that’s why the road smelt like grapes ( I know, it’s confusing. I’m still confused too).