To Laos or not to Laos…
I asked this question on Facebook, to random travelers, to my friends….the reason was more logistical than whether I was interested or not: I would be heading in the opposite direction than I had until this point.
Many of my fellow travelers do the circuit starting in Bangkok, heading north to Chiang Mai, then Laos, go to Vietnam, and then down to Cambodia, and heading back to Thailand to the islands and fly back home. Since my plan has been to keep heading east until I get back to the US, I realized that after going from Cambodia to Vietnam I had skipped Laos.
Was the sleepy country worth heading back to? The answer is yes. After crazily hectic Vietnam, Laos has been the break from traveling that I need. (for those of you shaking your heads, traveling does become exhausting, specially when you are moving every day or so, booking places to stay, finding transportation, waking up early, going to sleep late.) The truth is I finally began to get tired. A good tired: meaning I’m not homesick nor do I feel like I need to go back. I just needed to take it easy for a while, and easy, my friend, is what Laos is.
I arrived to Luang Prabang to purchase my visa at the airport. It cost me $35 USD but my fellow Canadians, that’s $42 USD for you. This city is absolutely breathtaking: a Chiang Mai with more charm, a Hoi An with real people… I keep trying to compare it to something yet there is nothing.. The houses are low and heavily French, there are bakeries and delicious restaurants everywhere, and the well-known Mekong bordering the town. The weather is warm but not overwhelmingly hot like in dear Siem Reap or Bangkok, and it feels like one of those places where you could live.
A guy from California that I had met in the airport ran into me on the street, and he told me he was looking for accommodation for Lao New Year. I knew it was coming up but hadn’t done much research on it, but he said that he had already visited a few guest houses and they were all booked. So I jumped to it and began searching as well, finding a good place to return to on the 12th for the beginning of the festivities.
That day we went to the National Museum and hiked up to the Mount Phau Si, where you get a spectacular view of the city. Filled with Buddhas, this mount feels as holly as a place can be. The night market extended from the center of town down to where my hotel was. I was a little too far for my taste, but again I was too lazy to move, and the room was all i need it to be: clean, with hot water, and relatively cheap. The city is well-known for the Monk processions that take place at dawn, but I could not get myself to get out of bed and walk so early. I wasn’t feeling too guilty since I already knew I would be coming back to the city, so I shall see it then.
I also visited the Kuang Si waterfall, which was fantastic. I took a dip in one of the lower pools, and realized I could easily climb up to the next level up. When I got there I was so happy, sitting by myself in freezing water. Quickly enough though I saw a group of Laotians staring at me, and I got a little self conscious. I got out of the waterfall at that level, and as they offered me a BeerLao they showed me that there were about 4 signs that said that you could not swim there. I laughed since those signs were def not on the way I had gone up in, but hey, all was good. I sat with the Laotians for a while and talked to them about local food.
The problem is, with my exhaustion has come a little bit of food exhaustion. I never eat so much of the same, not in the US and not in Colombia. So in Luang Prabang I had… Indian food! I was so happy. I missed it dearly… Hopefully I’ll recover from this soon so I can try some Laotian food, which looks amazingly good.
Flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang: $150 USD.
Unless you are going during the new year, wait until you get there to choose a place to stay. There are plenty of options (only one hostel) and not too many get listed on Lonely Planet (or “the bible” as I heard a girl call it yesterday.)
Indian food: Nazim restaurant, on the main street right at the beginning of the night market.
Laotian food : Tamarind is the place of choice when I walked around.