Concerned about our dwindling time, we hightailed it to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. The relatively small city could be seen in a day, which we did, on foot.
Our hotel, situated near various eateries, was conveniently located around the corner from Lao Kitchen and Fruit Heaven, but the block of Samsenthai lacked character and charm. Overall, we found Vientiane meh.
Conclusion: a day or two TOPS is all that is needed in Vientiane
On the other hand, it was ok because Dan and I had to let our stomachs recover from having a bad coconut. We rested and as soon as we felt better, we bounced up and over to Luang Probang.
En route, the areas of deforestation could be seen. But, unlike Cambodia, there had been a sincere attempt to replant.
LP had a lovely and lazy charm about it. Registered as a Unesco World Heritage town, it has been wonderfully preserved. Nestled between the junction of the Mekong River and Nam Khan River, it is a unique fusion of two cultures: Lao and European.
Here’s what we enjoyed about Luang Prabang.
The House – Belgium beer and good food. Had a fun, social vibe. They have movie nights and a Travelers’ Table where people can gather for dinner at 6:30pm to meet new people.
Bamboo Tree – They offer romantic, river side seating along Nam Khan. We didn’t have reservations so they created a table for us. Their food and service was delicious!
Joma Cafe – became our daily chill zone for wifi, coffee and reading by the river.
Le Banneton French Cafe and Bakery – lovely meals, delicious pastries and they’re located directly across from the temples.
Opera House – located near the night market offered a good selection of wine and people watching. The atmosphere was savvy, the food was so-so.
We were so tired of sight seeing by this point we didn’t visit the museum or hill top temple. We did however make a point to visit Kuang Si waterfalls, per the the following blog: http://somanymiles.com/2013/05/how-to-get-to-kuang-si-waterfall-luang-prabang/
The Kuang Si waterfalls were simply stunning. They’re what one dreams of. Freezing, clear water, cascaded into turquoise pools of bliss. Dan braved the chilly temperature and jumped in.
Tip: since we opted to not do a tour, we hired a ride to the waterfalls for a fraction of what a tour would cost. We arrived around 11:00 and left at 13:00. Which was perfect because that’s when the tour buses rolled in.
LP’s night market was fun and interesting to walk through. The selection was diverse, colorful, and of good quality.
Note: We refrained from
observing the Offering of Alms to the Buddhists monks. Many reviews stated how little respected the tradition was by many tourists. According to what we read, buses of tourists arrived each morning with loud, disrespectful people.
BIG BROTHER MOUSE
Thankfully my former self wrote this name on a yellow post-it that was tacked in our Lonely Planet book. Our second stay happened to be right next door. It was fate.
BBM’s intention is to bring reading and English to children. Seven days a week, twice a day, they host English chat sessions. There, their students get to practice their English with English speaking tourists. We in turn were able to gain insight into today’s generation of students.
We connected with Tou and Tsim, both in 12th grade. They were Hmong children, the first of their families to learn English, and thus represented a transitional generation. Typically, Hmong have many children so there is sustainable help to run the farm. But as they send their children off to school, the result is less money is generated due to the loss of farm hands. Which is ironic since it takes money to receive an education.
Tsim, a middle child, has inspired his younger siblings. He tries to send books home whenever he can and wants to earn more money to afford supporting their future schooling. He lives with his teacher and several other classmates so he can attend school. Once or twice a month he returns home to his village, two hours away, to visit and teach what he can to his siblings.
Tou is the oldest among 12 children. His younger brother is studying to become a monk. Tou wants to continue onto university to perhaps study business and has quite the sense of humor and the knack of English slang and humor. When we parted ways, he said “See you later alligator.”
While the old quarter of LP is a charming bubble of sophisticated eateries and bars, historical significance, spas and quaint guest houses, once out of the city, it was apparent how the people do struggle. The smooth, paved roads gave out to hard packed, dusty dirt roads. Homes along the road were in disrepair and trash litter resumed. Laos may be doing better than Cambodia, but one has to wonder just how much better?
As mentioned, by the time we reached Laos, we had grown tired of being tourists. The bonds and calling in Cambodia made us realize, that though our journey has been a wonderful educational experience, it was no longer sustaining to just pass through and see things. We wanted to ground in, get and be connected with people.
Thankfully our exchange with Tou and Tsim gave us a bit if that. Ever since meeting them, my head has been trying to come up with a way to sponsor them.
At the night market, while passing through stalls, I crossed paths with a little girl who ran back and forth. When I interrupted her path, she grabbed my lag and gave my thigh a big bear hug.
I said, “Hi.”
Her squeeze tighten, I think, to show how strong she was.
I smiled and patted her shoulder.
She squeezed tighter.
Not sure if she understood English, I gently patted her head.
She squeezed again. She didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Dan,”Do we have to keep her?”
The little girl eventually got called away by her grandfather. I had to admire her fiesty-ness. I especially appreciated her broad smile when she looked up at me, because in no way was I unfamiliar or different or a tourist. For that one moment we were all the same in her eyes.