I can officially say that my favorite country in Southeast Asia besides Malaysia is Laos! This completely surprised me as I knew very little about the country and had no idea that it would blow me away as much as it did. We also had another awesome in country guide, Chermoua, to accompany our other guide Ray which added infinitely to the experience. Chermoua from the beginning, picking us up at the airport in Luang Prabang, was nothing but phenomenal.
Luang Prabang is an amazing city and after being bused in part of the way, we all took a tuk tuk into the city. Because Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site, no large vehicles are allowed into the heart of the city which I found to very refreshing. Plus how much fun is driving in a tuk tuk? SO MUCH FUN.
After settling into our hotel, we took a tuk tuk into a more central part of the city and had a great historical tour of a temple. We had been told before by our guide, but it is important and mandatory to dress in a proper manner when entering a temple site which means no short shorts, for females and males. If you happen to be wearing something deemed inappropriate, you will be given or need to purchase a sarong. Chermoua really knew his stuff and gave us an in-depth history of Luang Prabang and explained the stories that are carved into mosaic expression.
We also went down by the river, a delta off of the Mekong where I reflected on life and spotted a bridge, grabbed my friend Paul and we paid about $1 USD to cross. It was surprisingly stable, yet I feared that I was going to fall in at any moment, especially the way that Paul was running across it!
This is just one of those fun, spontaneous things that do happen on planned tour trips that I will always remember not because it was the coolest thing I have ever done, but because of how perfect the moment was. We walked back into the town, climbed a hill and released baby birds called Nok Pi from the top (that we purchased). I don’t know how I feel about paying for birds to release them as it kind of perpetuates the cycle, but it felt like there right thing to do in the moment.
The next day, we took a bus outside of Luang Prabang into a more rural area where our first stop was a paper factory where they handmade paper and turned into a variety of beautiful items including notebooks, lanterns and cards. I just want to say that these beautiful notebooks were only sold for $2-3 USD, while if you went to Barnes and Nobles, it would be sold for $20-25.
After purchasing some one-of-a-kind items, we boarded a river boat and cruised down the Mekong. Our first stop was at the whiskey village where they sell homemade whiskey with a variety of creatures in the bottles. We sampled some of the product, and let me just say that it is strong!
We also at around with some of people from the village and they laughed as we played Taylor Swift and danced around like fools.
After cruising down more of the river, we stopped at a cave where we climbed up some narrow stairs to see all the statues and explore around. The captain of the boat, his wife and children all live on the boat and we had the best time cruising down the Mekong in their boat and having a simple lunch. Life really doesn’t get much better than being on a boat with good company and good food.
The coolest thing we did in Laos and on our trip was waking up before 5 am to sit on the side of the road and give sticky rice to the monks that walk the streets, collecting alms and offerings for the poor. It is such a peaceful and beautiful ritual to be part of and something that I will never forget.
Most people give the traditional stick rice, but you can give whatever including money or packaged food items. Luang Prabang is so rich in culture and history and one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to. After passing out our sticky rice, we went to the morning market where we each purchased an item for lunch. We were only given the name of the item in Lao, which made for an entertaining experience.
We then bused outside of Luang Prabang to visit a local school that the tour company supports and the surrounding village.
The school and children blew me away with how smart, kind and curious they were. The school was simple, a two room building for about twenty-five children, but clearly was having massive impact on the village. We did give some donations to the school that they had requested as well as some other fun times. The sunglasses were a big hit!
After reading and playing with the kids, we walked into the village and were invited into the home of one of the leaders whose wife had just given birth to her fourth child just a few days ago. Their ethnic background is Hmong and we had a fascinating time discussing their culture and heritage with the help of our guides who translated.
After speaking with one of the leaders in his home, we went outside where his twin brother gave a phenomenal performance on his wind instrument that involved dancing while hopping up and around.
A few of us tried to do it after and were wildly amusing.
We also tried our hand at archery, where I surprisingly got a bullseye. Our guides joked that I could get a large dowry if I were to marry into the village. After an evening of shopping at the night market, we bid farewell to Luang Prabang and took a short flight to Vientiane.
My mother was astonished by the wiring systems and made me take multiple photos. Vientiane is absolutely a bustling a city and was an interesting contrast compared to the last few days in Luang Prabang. We visited the grand gold stupa; one could only dream to have a stupa that grand and gold to commemorate our own lives.
We got a great view of the city after climbing up and avoiding all the shopping stalls inside. Asia is always shopping. Always. Everywhere. At some point you just have to say, I don’t need any of this and walk away or decide to support the local economy. Your hocie.
We had a fabulous lunch with my favorite drink, a mango smoothie and some delightful soup. I also really enjoyed the fried fish that has some crunch basil on top. Love food. Love it.
After lunch, a few of us decided to go to the museum about land mines and the effects it has had on Laos. It was a hard afternoon, learning about the horror that is still happening and how the center is helping those effected cope. It’s crazy how in one second, a life of an individual and their entire family can change. There is also a lot of positive that is being done, but the organization needs more funding to clear more land and help those in need.
We had a great farewell dinner to Laos at a restaurant called That Dam Wine Bar followed by a very painful Laos massage that I did not enjoy at the time, but appreciated a few days later when my body felt the more long term effects. The massage in Thailand was the most painful, with the Laos method being more stretching rather than deep tissue. I can’t wait to go back to Luang Prabang one day, visit my friend Chermoua and hopefully do a lot of good.