The mighty Mekong River. Home to giant catfish , intimidating whirlpools, and surrounded by the natural ethereal beauty of mountains and jungles of vibrant vegetation that make almost every photo National Geographic worthy. This was our path into Laos, a country that I’ll be honest, I’d not really heard of until I planned to go to Southeast Asia. (Funnier still, I’d planned to go to Malaysia, Indo and Singapore, but ended up in 3 completely different countries. Getting sidetracked, Back to Laos).
We rode the river boat for 2 days of 9 hour periods that included extensive photo-taking, reading, taking in the scenery and falling in and out of a trance staring into the murky mysterious depths. We passed small villages situated on the river bank as we powered upstream, and I couldn’t help but wonder about our coordinates on the globe, travelling on a body of water that touches 7 different countries. A very cool mental image.
Luang Prabang was the first destination, where we stayed at a decent hostel close to the ‘city centre’ with a quaint outdoor common area. Dinner most nights looked like a huge colorful buffet stacked with tons of enticing stir-fries and vegetable dishes. Near the night market and down a little alley, there were tables packed with dumplings and spring rolls, and more almost identical buffets, as well as aromatic grilled fish and meats. The night market was welcoming and not too big, with a lot of unique ‘handcrafted’ items and beautiful drawings and paintings that made browsing very enjoyable. It also included the fairly standard market fair of clothing and jewelry, with a heavy emphasis on eye catching silver pieces. Outside the market and food alley, carts of fresh fruit shake vendors lined the road, each competing for our attention as we strolled. They also sold baguettes, a popular breakfast in Laos, stuffed with meats and vegetables and at very few thousand Kip! (Laos currency)
I did expect to find myself at a bar at least one night here, but not at a bowling alley, where locals and foreigners take part in some belligerent bowling after the bars close. It made for a relatively wholesome activity, and a fun night out!
During lazy days, you could find us lounging riverside on the open patio of Utopia (which also had a beach volleyball court), or exploring the city by foot, which included stairclimbing to a hilltop temple with a stunning view of the wild country below.
With misty turquoise waters cascading through the jungle, falling over artfully placed rocks downstream and forming dreamy ethereal pools, Kuang Si waterfall was the cherry on top of our visit to Luang Prabang. A ride through hilly roads in the luscious green countryside took us out to this magical place, where we wandered on a forest trail past a bear conservation centre that was full of the beautiful creatures, to the first mystical pool.
Fish nipped at my feet when I stayed still, so I swam continuously in the crisp water, making my way under a fall to receive a natural shoulder massage. Invigorating. I took a turn on the rope swing and we proceeded up the trail that runs along the water. The colors and surreal vibe of the falls made me feel like I was on a holodeck in Star Trek, every level and pool as striking as the last.
I felt mist on my face as I neared the mother of the baby falls, a towering surge of water from the top of a mountain we couldn’t see. There was a steep trail going up, so of course we took it. The top was a slip and slide of mud with and untrustworthy fence at the edge, and the view was spectacular, stretching over tumbling hills and valleys.
We were the last ones to leave as the sun set, marking the end of out visit in the beautifully sleepy town of Luang Prabang. Next destination, Vang Vieng!