We entered Laos by water, crossing the Mekong River at Chiang Khong in Thailand and coming to the banks of Huay Xai, Laos for passport stamps and paper shuffling. Eyes open, minds curious, we toted our bags aboard a long boat and began our eight days in the country with a two-day drift down the Mekong toward the ancient city of Luang Prabang.
Time unfolded slowly, as it has along these banks for eons past…
Humbling to think these quiet forests and isolated village have watched the water flow for centuries. How out of place the e-readers and iPhones and name brand backpacks felt in comparison to stilted homes and thatched roofs and grazing livestock grazing. How quickly the children would run to greet us on shore in western clothes, offering fried river fish and traditional silk scarves in exchange for currency.
After overnighting in the little riverside village of Pakbeng, we again returned to the waterway, arriving late in the day on the banks of Luang Prabang.
The city sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers totters on its balance as a spinning top, resting in its place as romantic remnant of Laotian dynasties and French rule while wobbling toward a future as a veritable Southeast Asian theme park: Animal-exploiting tour operators. Party-loving backpackers seeking good deals. Market stalls selling sell-out crafts. Monks who must continue routines of morning alms to satisfy camera-wielding tourists, or risk being replaced by government employed actors.
And yet, the optimist in me knows the good and true still exists, and it was a pleasure to search for the best of the hidden gems and quiet moments in Luang Prabang.
During our time in Luang Prabang, we enjoyed the company of friends: Chris, who we’d journeyed alongside all the way from Chiang Mai; Brett, Susan, and Alex, three good natured kiwis happy to share their love of the world and their love of the real; and Robin and Olga, the cutest German/Portuguese couple who introduced us to the greatest spot for a scenic breakfast in Luang Prabang: Utopia.
We walked the streets, admired the silks, enjoyed the flavors and peered into the temples…and then we made our way south by bus to the cities of Vientiane and onward to Pakse for encounters with crops and cultures of the Bolaven Plateau.
I leave you with a stream of notes jotted down during a bus ride through the countryside…
Slow boats, speed boats, tuk-tuks, Toyotas.
Hazy sunsets, hazy dawn.
Rice paddies waving Oregon Duck green and yellow.
Kiddos tending tea plants.
Elephant ears like tattered butterfly wings.
Green onion gardens.
Child monks: cell phones and saffron robes.
Falls of water.
Charcoal blaze, sizzling fat, buffalo strips and vegetable broth.
Roads to somewhere wind through nowhere.
French façades and blue-blooded-balustrades.
Empty bomb casings warning the world.
Stilted homes and woven walls.
Glazed-eyed mothers; opium escapes in bamboo pipes.
Half-naked toddlers and child brides; uglier truths of tradition.
Dust masks, backwards jackets, umbrellas rain or shine.
Silk thread legacy, bartered down from value to the going rate.
I look forward to sharing more stories from Laos in the future… In the meantime, enjoy some of my favorite posts from this region of the world:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this little landlocked country. What are your impressions?