*Disclaimer* Found out in fairly embarrassing way that Laos PDR doesn’t actually stand for ‘Please Don’t Rush’ but rather ‘People’s Democratic Republic’ … but seriously don’t try to rush there, they take their good ol’ time. I think the exact conversion between a New York minute to a Laos minute is roughly similar to the USD to the KIP – 1 to 8,000.
I arrived in Luang Prabang, just in time to drop my stuff at my hostel, head down to the nightly street market. There was a parade going on, huge lit up dragon floats and people carrying lanterns processing through the streets. I wasn’t sure what I had stumbled upon and thought to myself, ‘wow they sure go all out for their nightly markets’ — later found out it was their festival celebrating the end of wet season…
Luang Prabang is a very charming city – colorful and lively yet fairly quaint. While I was there I climbed Mount Phou Si, a hill in the center of the town with an epic view of the city and surrounding the countryside. I climbed it once for sunset and another time for sunrise. While the sunrise was less stunning than the sunset, due to the overcast morning I chose, I enjoyed that visit up there way more. The sunset was filled with so many tourists trying to capture that perfect picture. The sunrise was just me and the serene silence, watching a sleepy town come to life. I did a beautiful meditation entitled, “Discover the Power Within”. It was a very charged moment. I also got to witness the daily almsgiving ceremony of the monks.
Another great place we frequented in Luang Prabang was Utopia “Zen by Day, Groovy by Night” – pretty spot on branding there. This garden cafe/bar is situated right on the Mekong River and has lounge chairs scattered throughout. They offer yoga every morning right on the river, which was amazing. Then they serve as the perfect place to just chill out during the day – reading, writing and relaxing. Then at night they become thee place to just hang out and throw a few ones back with some new friends. I’ll miss that spot.
The most memorable thing about Luang Prabang, is just about an hour tuk-tuk ride outside the city – Kuang Si waterfall. This waterfall is beyond stunning. Waterfalls are mesmerizing enough, but this one had a unique charm. There were tree tiers and as I walked along the trail to the main fall, I couldn’t help but stop every 2 feet to take one more picture, I was not alone in this. When I got up to the main fall, I was overcome with awe. I just stood there breathing it all in as the mist and sunshine showered down on my face.
One of the kids in my group decided to climb out along the rocks to stand in front of the main fall to achieve that oh-so-perfect shot. We all immediately lined up to take our turn to venture out there. I was shaking uncontrollably as I was climbing out over the rocks and logs, not because I was scared but because it was truly an exhilarating feeling. When I got up and stood on a rock in the midst of it all, I looked up at all the cascading water rushing down towards me and took a moment to breathe in the feeling that I was overcome with -I felt alive. I was on a high for the rest of the day.
I ended up going there a second time with a new crew a few days later. I was still overwhelmed by the beauty of it. This time I didn’t take nearly as many pictures, just a few and it was a very different experience. I focused on really taking it all in, with all my senses. I felt more alert this time around.
We decided to climb to the top so we could look out over the fall. So there’s a fairly difficult route up and then there is a straight up just difficult route up, unfortunately we took the latter by mistake. I swear sometimes the point of this trip is to point out on a daily basis, just how painfully out of shape I am in. I got to the top huffing and puffing and trying my hardest not to pass out, only to see half the people that just did that same climb light up a cigarette at the top… the absolute last thing I could imagine wanting in that moment… To each his own.
Being at the top was beautiful, it was an incredible rush looking out over the edge. We explored up there for a while and then opted to take the less difficult route back down. That day was topped off with a somewhat terrifying but insanely beautiful tuk-tuk ride back to town. Whipping through the country side as the sun began to set, showering the landscape in a golden glow that was pure magic. I could’t help but have the biggest smile on my face as the wind whipped through my hair.
After Luang Prabang, we moved on to Vang Vieng. I didn’t stay long there. It was cool little town. I appreciated all the cafes that had lounge beds and played Friends 24/7. There was a nearby cave, Tham Chang, I visited one afternoon that was really cool, and the hike up to it provided an epic view of the country side.
I did the infamous tubing down the Nam Song river. Known to be a day of total debauchery for the backpacker community, I was a little hesitant if I wanted to partake in this day. I’m glad I did though. The scenery was breathtaking, towering mountains, lush greenery and a beautiful river flowing through it. Floating along was very peaceful. And I may have stopped at one of the bars along the way for a little good old fashion daydrinking. While for the most part those days are behind me, I thought it would appropriate to be mildly inappropriate before I turn 25 in a few days.
Vietnam is the next stop. I have been hearing amazing things about this country so far, and am excited to see for myself.