As I walked down the streets of Luang Prabang in the evening light, I instantly knew I would love it. I had only just arrived and was reuniting with a friend I made in Thailand. I walked in quiet past a few shops and restaurants with colorful lanterns illuminating the trees outside. Laos has a beautiful mixture of nature and city. I had the river on one side with green overflowing onto the sidewalk and the small town on my other. Everything had a holiday glow as Christmas just ended and the new year was just around the corner. I saw Mira ahead standing in the lamplight of a restaurant and after a few squeals and laughs we were on our way to choose a place for dinner that evening.
The food in Lauang Prabang is wide in variety from traditional Laotian food balancing on sticky rice to fine French cuisine. There is no shortage of restaurants, decorated beautifully and beckoning to empty stomachs. While my belly was still recovering from a stomach bug that plagued me for almost two weeks, I eased back into real food. My previous diet of bananas and rice was starting to get old. The illness I had made me change my route on this side of the world entirely. I would only have only three days in Laos instead of 3 weeks before jumping over to New Zealand. While southeast Asia seemed like an adventure at first, I was tired of the small struggles that wore me out each day. Yet, here was Luang Prabang, a pleasant surprise that made me want to linger.
Mira and I spent our days coasting around on bicycles, shopping for handmade goods, exploring the countryside and gazing at jaw dropping turquoise waterfalls. She bargained with the locals for the best prices at the market and I smiled at her success at it. The town comes to life every night when the red tents fill the streets and all the locals come out to sell their goods. Everything from umbrellas to coffee beans to boar’s tusks were on display.
Though everything is within walking distance, cycling was my favorite way to see the town. The mix of traditional Lao architecture and European colonial style buildings gave it an interesting flair. The area is very well kept, and on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. We parked our bikes and made our way across the rickety bamboo bridge to the weaving village on the other side. Beautiful colors and patterns flooded my senses and I wished I could buy everything. Women sat patiently, creating one scarf per day. We each purchased our treasures of color and made our way back to town.
The next day, we visited Kuang Si Falls and it was a highlight during my time in Loas. We rushed through the countryside in the back of a speeding tuk tuk with scarves covering our face to protect against the dust. The green rolling hills sped past us and children waved at us from the roadside. On the way to the falls, we walked through a bear sanctuary and saw types I had never encountered before. I was really taken back by the beauty of the falls. The light teal water made everything look surreal and serene. I let Mira go ahead and trek to the top of the falls, while I stayed behind to take some long exposure photos of the lower cascades.
Another thing I loved about Luang Prabang was the monk culture and religious buildings. There are many shrines that are well maintained with young monks walking around the grounds. They are very friendly, eager to practice their English with you and always add a splash of color to the landscape with their bright orange robes.
One morning, we woke up at 5am to observe a sacred Lao tradition, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. The two hundred-some monks leave their temples and walk through the main street in Luang Prabang to receive food and treats from locals and some tourists at sunrise. Mira and I waited eagerly to see the procession. A Thai family that occupied a whole corner, pulled me over to sit in the middle of them and offered me a pile of food to give when the monks arrived. It was quite comical, as suddenly I seemed to be some celebrity with photos being taken and peace signs being held in the air for each flash of the camera. I knelt next to the woman in the party and she stocked up my food pile smiling and signaling that I should give it away. I offered my pieces to each monk and set the treats in their metal bowls as they passed by. After my pile of food ran out, I stood to leave, thanking the Thai woman. She bowed and smiled saying, “I love you.” This sent me into peals of laughter as I turned away. The L word had been used several times already by other Thais when I was in Thailand. It’s always an awkward moment where I don’t know what to say in return and usually end up smiling with wide eyes.
Luang Prabang was a great way to end my time in southeast Asia. Prior to coming, I was struggling with my stays in Thailand and Cambodia. Except for Pai and Angkor Wat, I had been really lacking for inspiration. Luang Prabang was the diamond in the ruff for me. This hidden jewel of southeast Asia brought back my creative flow and sense of peace. If you’re looking for a good way to introduce yourself to southeast Asia, this lovely town would be a great place to start. In my case, the town found its way into the conclusion of my journey in that part of the world. While it was last, it certainly was not least, leaving me with a pleasant impression of Laos and great memories shared with my friend.