Falling in Love with Laos

Falling in Love with Laos

View from Phou Si hill

The way I feel about Laos after having spent nearly three weeks traveling throughout the country is completely the opposite of how I felt when I first arrived.  Obviously, I was so wrapped up in traveling that I did not even make time to blog about it.  Now that I am settling back down in Thailand, I want to document all the incredible adventures I had, the amazing food I ate, and the memories I made.  Yet I am having a hard time putting it all into words.

After exiting the slow boat in Luang Prabang, I went straight for Central Backpackers.  I was still emotionally exhausted from the previous days of travel.  So I was very grateful that Kristy, whom I met in Chiang Mai at Mojito Garden, arrived a day before me and sent me a Facebook message to let me know where she was staying.  Upon getting to the hostel, I quickly put my bag away and made a cup of Earl Grey tea.

IMG_1105As I sat there sipping my tea, I spent some time relaxing and appreciating the journey I took to get to this quaint city.  I met a fellow traveler that had been in Luang Prabang for a week already.  I was googling things to do and asking her what she recommended.  Just as I came across a website about volunteering, she mentioned she would be going to Big Brother Mouse the following evening to help young adults practice English.  I excitedly agreed to go with her around five o’clock.  That night I unfortunately had some trouble withdrawing money from the ATMs.  I just accepted that I would have to sort it out in the morning, even if that meant having my mom Western Union me some money.  Interestingly enough there were many Western Unions around, along with shops that would give cash advances on credit cards. Now it does not seem so odd because I have learned that ATMs have only recently become available throughout Laos.

Friday I woke up and had my free breakfast, then set out to try the ATMs again.  Finally after selecting “current account”, I was able to withdraw some kip.  I quickly went back to the hostel because Kristy had told me about a day trip I could take to see a breathtaking waterfall around 11am.  I asked the owner of the hostel about a trip to the waterfalls, but another backpacker overheard me.  He invited me to go with him and three of his friends as they were leaving at 10am and going to two waterfalls.  I graciously accepted and within thirty minutes we were on a tuk-tuk towards Tad Sae Waterfalls.  After a short ride on a long boat, we arrived at the entrance of what appeared to be a park.


These stepped waterfalls were like none I had ever seen.  It was slightly commercialized with elephants available for rides throughout the surrounding area, a platform zip line that crossed over the water, and a restaurant.  We found a pool of water to swim in, it was cold but refreshing.  We also took a short walk through the surrounding jungle to see more of the scenery.  It was very quiet and butterflies were everywhere.  After an hour or so here, we piled back into the tuk-tuk and drove another 45km to Kuang Si falls.  These waterfalls were filled with other tourists snapping photos, jumping off rope swings, and wadding in the pools.  It was hard to appreciate the beauty of the waterfall and the landscape around it.  Yet, I was still glad to have visited and enjoyed another swim in the cool, turquoise water.DSC_9319The drive back through the streets of Laos into the city of Luang Prabang was eye opening.  Along the way I saw many young children walking down long dirt roads, presumably from school to home.  Some roads were being dug up by large machinery, perhaps in the hopes of having them paved.  Of course there were endless Laotians riding motorbikes, covering their faces from the dust as they drove along behind us.  It was a great day of sightseeing, but I was anxious to return to the hostel so I could go to Big Brother Mouse.

When we returned, I quickly rushed out the door and walked to meet up with Kristy and a few other backpackers that were volunteering that night.  I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a Laotian male who was around the age of 20.  He works as a tour guide and together over the course of two hours we talked about this history of America and Laos.  I helped him by listening to him explain certain important events in Lao history.  I then helped him construct meaningful sentences with simple words.  After he felt we had created a simple explanation of an event, he recorded me saying it on his phone.  He let me know that it was most helpful to listen to the words and my pronunciation so he could practice it on his own.  I was grateful to help him and also impressed by his knowledge of history and the English language.  After leaving that night feeling invigorated, I spent some time researching all he had told me.  I enjoyed learning more about Laos through my conversation with him.

I literally spent the next three days (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) riding a bike around Luang Prabang, relaxing in Utopia, sleeping in, watching Breaking Bad, getting massages, playing cards, and exploring the market.


Relaxing in Utopia with fresh fruit shakes

IMG_1203 All the while, I spent time getting to know Kristy and two other travelers, Rosie and Kris.  As the days went on, I shared my plans to travel south over the next three weeks with Kristy.  We agreed to travel together for as long as it made sense and worked as she was heading to Cambodia after Laos.  Kris had planned on going south to at least the capital, Vientiane, and Rosie was not sure what her plans were in Laos as she was already off her earlier travel itinerary.  So the groundwork was laid for us to spend some more time together as we all moved south along the “backpacker path.”IMG_1171One evening I climbed a hill called Phou Si, where I had beautiful views of the surrounding city and watched the sun set over the Mekong.  I went up early in the evening and secured a nice spot to watch the sun set.  It was beautiful and as the sun sunk behind the clouds, I felt myself beginning to appreciate the slow way of life in Laos.  When I originally mapped out my journey south, I planned to leave Luang Prabang Monday morning.  However Kristy suggested staying one more night and I eagerly agreed.  We both acknowledged that if we wanted to travel to the 4000 islands, we would have to leave the next day.  Yet neither of us really wanted to leave the calmness we had found within ourselves.  I will not lie, as I write about my five days in Luang Prabang, I yearn to wake up and take a leisurely bike ride along the Mekong… to eat the extremely cheap vegetarian buffet dinner in the night market… and to play cards around the table with my newfound friends.

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