LUANG PRABANGAfter our two long days on the Mekong River, we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos in the early evening.  As we sailed in, everyone hesitantly stood up, necks craned, unsure if this dusty hilltop was in fact the backpacker haven we had all read about and hoped for.  It turns out that we all had to take tuk tuks to get into town as using this particular dock allowed us to arrive quicker.

Along the way to town we hopped off to check out a nice place but decided to move into a guesthouse closer to everything, but our ride had left.  Hot, sweaty, and tired we began the long walk to what we hoped was the center, unaware of exactly which direction to go.  We flagged down another tuk tuk to take us the rest of the way and upon arriving, we quickly settled on one of the first guesthouses we found.  It was alright…after Rob got rid of all the mosquitoes for me.  We let the gecko hang out for a couple days though in case any more bugs decided to take up residence in our room.

That night we dined on the best Pad Thai I’ve ever eaten…and it was in Laos.  We ate there three more times throughout our stay.  The Garden Restaurant – GO THERE!  We then checked out the night market that lines the main street in the evenings and picked up more treasures for our future household, wherever that may be.  The vendors sold all kinds of goods from textiles to tea, and food to paintings.  My favorite purchase from this market is a small dove-shaped necklace charm, cut from the remnants of a local landmine.  It’s a very clever method to raise money and awareness for the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) problem  that still exists in Laos and many other countries affected by war.  They sell lots of things made from that material – spoons, key chains, earrings, and bottle-openers to name a few.

The next day we ‘hiked’ 100 meters up the steps to Mount Phou Si  under the bright rays of the hot morning sun to see the amazing view that encompasses both the Mekong River, and the Nam Khan River.  Before starting the stair master, we purchased two small birds from some locals at the bottom.  At first I was afraid they wanted us to eat them or something, but through broken English it was made clear that we were to release them once at the top of the hill for good luck.  I felt so bad for them in their tiny cage, freaking out.  Birds don’t just hold still, do they?  Once we got to the top we wasted no time in releasing the poor things.  It was actually a truly beautiful experience.  Perhaps a bit touristy, but I enjoyed it.  Helps the caged birds, helps the local economy, and we got to have a unique experience.  Everyone wins.  I hope…

UP TO MOUNT PHOU SI WAT CHOM SI BIRD CAGE AT PHOU SI SLEEPING BUDDHA GOLDEN GATHERING WAT PA HOUK INSIDE SHADED MONKS

Anyway, along the hike down we had a gander at the different Buddha shrines, took a wander into a cave, and saw Buddha’s footprint.  He was HUGE!  It’s very hard to capture in a photo as it’s housed in a dark shelter, but take my word for it – I could have fit inside.

We decided to explore town by bike that afternoon so after our Pad Thai lunch (again) we headed out to see what we could find.  It’s a great place!   I really loved it.  We rode along the river, through local neighborhoods, and around the bar area stopping at a local tea house for an afternoon brew and break, catching a bit of the Hunger Games movie with some fellow travelers.  On the way back we thought a traditional Lao massage would be a perfect afternoon treat.  It ended up being a not so perfect afternoon beating.  She punched, pounded, and smacked my muscles for an hour.  I left with tears in my eyes.  To help me feel better we had another Pad Thai for dinner…yes, at the same restaurant.

The next morning, with some friends we had met on the slow boat, we boarded a van bound for the Kuang Si Falls , a gorgeous set of pools and waterfalls located in the jungle.  As you enter the park, there is actually a reserve for Sun Bears who had been rescued from poaching.  We arrived at feeding time so we got to see them all sleepily saunter out of their shelter in search of some nibbles.

The bears were beautiful and sweet but these waterfalls left me speechless.  They shone in the sun, pools of matte turquoise water spilling into the next.  The temptation to jump in right away was hard to resist but we were eager to see the main falls and I am so thankful we did.  200 feet of cool, cascading water dumping into the calm below.  We were in a movie scene.  We got as close as we could without soaking our cameras in the mist and then decided it was time for a dip.  We returned to the busy swimming area and joined in to cool off but unfortunately it was teeming with tiny nibbling fish.  They wouldn’t lay off my poor toes and it was freaking me out!

KUANG SI WATERFALL CASCADING KUANG SI KUANG SI POOLS

It was a great two days but as the second one came to an end, so did our stay in this small town.  That night we packed up and boarded our first sleeper bus bound for the capital of Vientiane.

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