LAOS – LUANG PRABANG

Amelia had visited Luang Prabang last year on her own.  She raved about how beautiful of a city and country it was, and couldn’t wait for us to experience it ourselves.  I had also read over the years and heard from other travelers just how beautiful it was.

And it is.  For years, Budapest and Istanbul have been my most favorite cities in the world.  Luang Prabang has been added to this list.  The town is small, quaint.  There is a real sense of pride in the people and their town, and it’s reflected by the beauty in the buildings, the clean sidewalks, and the smiles that light up when they see you.  It was super late when we got in but the town nestled in the mountains was calling our name.  We just had to go out and explore.  There was a restaurant on the side of the street near our hotel.  Tony ordered some mango sticky rice (his favorite for the trip) and I ordered a BeerLao (big).  And big it was!  It was a perfect evening and I was falling in love with Laos already.

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We stayed at MyLaoHome, in the Orchid House.  This is another UNESCO World Heritage site and it was a stunning place.  When we arrived, the staff informed us that our triple room was upstairs and that there wasn’t an elevator (not uncommon for Southeast Asia).  We asked if they had anything downstairs but said that we would manage the flight of stairs if we had to.  They spent a few minutes making some calls and found us a room on the ground floor for the first night.  The second night, they gave us two rooms on the ground floor, and also gave us a free massage.  The staff was absolutely incredible and bent over backwards for us.  I have not met anyone quite like them, and they really made our trip.

We had nothing planned for the next day other than exploring the city.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before we stumbled upon a morning market.  The market was not unlike those in most of Asia – lots of fruits, raw meats, raw organs, fish, bread, rice, and bugs.  There really wasn’t much there for us but it’s always interesting to see how others live.  There are so many walks of life.

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We found a tuk tuk driver to drive us to the Kuang Si Falls, about 45 minutes away.  They are supposed to be stunning but I got frustrated with the accessibility about halfway through the walking path to the falls and asked that Tony and Amelia leave me behind.  I enjoyed their pictures and it allowed me some time to reflect on the trip up to that point.

We made a stop at the bomb museum, a one room museum, not much larger than my bedroom, but much more powerful that anything I could deliver.  During the Vietnam War, the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through Laos and Cambodia.  Because of this, both countries were pulled into the violence and were greatly impacted.  The US dropped over two million tons of bombs on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in all of history.  Unfortunately, a third of the bombs did not explode.  Laos has lost 20,000 people (about one a day) because of UXO (unexploded ordnance) since the bombing has ceased, and it still happens today.  Innocent farmers who are trying to make a living stumble upon the bombies or landmines, and just like that, their life is taken or they are mangled, missing arms, legs, or both, and losing the ability to work.  And yes, children have been many of the victims.  If you are interested in helping fund the cleanup of bombies, there are several resources and organizations available.

That evening, we got massages at our hotel and explored the night market.  The market was a great experience.  The vendors were not pesky like many are, and were not pushing us to make purchases.  I think we bought more because of it.  Tony and Amelia fell in the love with the coconut pancakes – little pancakes about the size of an egg, but flatter, and flavored with coconut.  I think they would have been content eating nothing else for the rest of the trip.

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The next morning, we were up at 5 am for the Alms Giving.  There are many monks in Luang Prabang, and each morning as the sun rises, they walk the streets collecting rice.  They only eat before noon, and only what is given to them.  There are women that sell baskets of steamed rice for about $2 per person, and this comes with a small plastic seat to sit on.  The monks walk the street and hold out their pales as each person puts in a very, very small handful of rice.  I did notice that a few of them had Oreos and nuts, and I thought it must be a pleasant treat for them.  This is an absolute must-do if you are ever in Luang Prabang.

We ended our time in Luang Prabang by visiting a local school.  Amelia had stumbled on this during her visit the prior year, and I must say, it was a quite an experience.  We just walked into the school grounds and up to each classroom door.  We would peer in and the students, probably ages four to seven, would come running up.  The teachers weren’t frightened by us and didn’t push us away.  Instead, they opened the gate and let the children out to meet us.  Amelia sat on the ground for a while and interacted with the most adorable kids I’ve ever met.  They were so intrigued by her blond hair and would run up to swat it, giggle, and run away.  Their curiosity and excitement for life was like nothing I’ve experienced before.  Can you imagine what would happen if a strange person from a different ethnic background and language walked into a US school?

I could have spent a few more days in Luang Prabang, just walking and enjoying the people.  It is most definitely one of my favorite cities.

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