Arriving into Luang Prabang was such a great surprise. After a propeller flight into the region with no turbulence, despite being told to expect it, the mountainscapes were green with life and jagged with design. The region was absolutely beautiful. We arrived at the airport and upon arrival processed our application for visas, and became friendly with others. Damien, a French guy living in Chiang Mai sat next to me during the flight as he was resetting his Thai Visa by coming here, only to spend one night. I found it odd, if you are a traveler or even visiting long term that you would reset your visa by flying all the way to Laos, to pay for another visa, only to leave the next day without even bothering to stay for at least a few days.
We then talked to Brian, a guy with his arm in a sling. After being in Southeast asia a while, you start seeing similar injuries. Arms in slings, bandages on elbows, gashes on knees. They are all from scooter accidents, tubing incidents, or some other ‘extreme/unusual activity’ that seems to thrive off of inexperience. In Brian’s case, it was a motorcycle accident caused by a drunk woman on a new year’s evening in Cambodia. Too bad all countries do no enforce a zero tolerance for DUI.
We then went to get a ride to the city, and they offered groups of 3, so we decided to wait for Brian. While waiting for Brian we looked back to see that not only had he gained his luggage, he was also taking selfies with some girl, so we figured he would be too busy to join our ride. So instead, we picked up Felix, a guy from Spain, to fill our van out to the city.
When we arrived at the backpacker’s hostel in town, we asked for availability, to which they had none. I was fine with this, as I was wanting to be closer to the night market anyhow. As we were preparing to leave to walk around, Brian showed up in his van, and explained the selfies. A girl on our flight and he randomly saw each other and had gone to college together several years back. What a chance meeting!
That night, we all met up at Café Utopia, and there began our group formation for my time in Luang Prabang.
The next day we decided to meet up to go to the waterfall early in the morning. We met up and started getting a tuk tuk together where we became a group of 8. A girl, Julie, from France and a girl, Selma from Morocco, both studying in Singapore were waiting to fill a tuk tuk, so we joined forces. Brian, Felix, Ariel (the college friend), a guy from Swizerland, and a girl from Austria created our UN trip out to the waterfalls that morning.
When we arrived, the hike was not long before you reach the first of many light turquoise pools for swimming. They were terraced where one pool falls into another. After several pools up, you see a beautiful pouring waterfall, putting the Kbal Spean waterfall in Cambodia to absolute shame.
We did our full hike up, and I was glad I had brought my tennis shoes for the journey up the mountain. After a good hike, we reached the top and had a beautiful vista to look out which reminded me of Kauai, the lush jungles below, with sweeping mountains in front. The top had a few pools as well, but nothing really deep to swim in. A man was hanging around there with his bamboo raft (which we thought was just a pile of sticks until he stepped onto, picked one of the sticks up and offered a ride for a price). Ariel and Ellie were the only takers, and despite the shadiness of this waterfall man with a bamboo raft, we let the girls explore their trip into the jungle. We told them that if we didn’t see them in an hour, we would come looking.
We then headed back down to enjoy the crystal waters of the Kwangsi Waterfalls. It was perfect. I wanted to stay the whole day, but others felt we should get back to the tuk tuk because we’d said we’d only be a few hours, and those few turned into about five after we had lunch and another swim. After a few show off moves off the tree into the water, we dried off and headed back to the lot where our tuk tuk was. We then met Mary and Adrienne, two girls that joined us in the evening as well.
We stopped for some ice cream MAGNUMS! And I literally dropped everything to try the Magnum Gold. We then got back in our tuk tuk and headed back. As I was finishing my icecream bar, I realized that when I dropped everything for dessert (a consistent weakness/habit), I too dropped my tennis shoes, and simply left them as a donation for providing me this delicious dessert.
That night, we enjoyed an amazing sunset at the Phousi Temple which provided one of the most magnificent 360 views of a town or city I’ve seen. Seeing the mountains encapsulate and hug his own with the Mekong creating a beautiful wind around is truly a geographic masterpiece. The colors as the sun went down were stunning, and we all enjoyed taking photos with each other. We then spent the evening together at Café Utopia.
The next day, our group decided to get bikes and explore the town. We went around everywhere, and found one of the bamboo crossings where we crossed over this bridge built every year to cross over to the other side. The day was hot, and after a while of biking, we stopped for a delicious lunch of buffalo cheeks as sought after quite hard by Ariel. Thank goodness for that, it was a delicious meal. That evening, we got a boat organized to take us for an hour up and down the Mekong to watch the sunset. It was incredible as well, and the views, just as sweeping as from above. The colors of the boats on the river, the backdrop of the setting sun, the greens of the mountains, and the colors of bathing shorts of men casting nets to catch fish, or children playing and bathing in the river, all dotted the canvas of this beautiful picturesque memory of Laos.
That evening, we lost some of our troops by simple MIA. Walking in a big group can sometimes be tedious when everyone’s a single traveler, as people will stop to look at something or talk or what not. We were searching for a specific restaurant, but happened upon another, one that offered a dance during dinner. When the man explaining to us about the show spoke, he sounded Japanese, so I asked if he was Laotian, and he said no, Japanese. So obviously, I continued in Japanese, wowing all my new friends of my level of fluency, including the restaurant owner, Shingo. We spoke for a few minutes about why he was in Laos, and how long, etc, and then agreed to have dinner there. I did the Japanese version of the menu, and had a great Tonkatsu meal.
After dinner however, I got the weirdest sick feeling and immediately had to go to the restroom, followed by making my way home and getting to bed. A fever feeling quickly came over me, and I couldn’t get cool or warm enough. As the hours went on, I felt like a burning bomb ready to explode with pressure, and finally got sick which gave my body the weirdest sense of relief. It’s like the fever and everything broke immediately after.
The next day, I took it easy and relaxed and focused on getting better. I also figured I should book my plans for leaving, as our group was heading elsewhere over the next day. I also booked my day at the Elephant Village, an elephant rescue park. Here they take in elephants that would otherwise be worked to death and use the funds to help heal, feed, and maintain the elephants. I booked a half day at first with the option to extend if I felt ok.
Luckily, the day of, I felt 100% better. I was happy whatever sickness I’d encountered, was short lived, and I was picked up at my hotel to be brought to the Elephant Village.
Only 2 others joined our van, and we were on our way. At the park, we only saw a total of 4 other people (maybe 6), but they did a good job of rotating activities where we really were only just us 3. The park can process about 160 visitors for one day, so to think that we had the flexibility of only having about 6 of us in the park on this given day, it was a glorious day with the elephants.
We learned about the history of the park, a little bit about the Lao culture and people, and our guide Lei, told us about his life, his divorce, his 3 kids, and traditions surrounding marriage in Laos. It was interesting, but maybe he was just using up time before we got to ride the elephants…
We then made our way to the feeding area where we could buy bunches of bananas to give to the elephants. It was fun how accessible they were. We could walk all around them, touch them, feed them, pet them, and do whatever. We then learned the Lao commands for go, stop, left, right, thank you etc for how to properly mount and dismount the elephants. We then got our try at riding them.
After getting the elephant to curtsy and let me use it’s leg to prop myself over her neck and head, I was onboard. I fed her bananas from her head where I would tap her forehead, and she would reach back knowing I had a treat. The trunk came at me as if to sniff where the bananas were, and I put a couple of bananas with each sniff. We then walked over to the hospital station which had a trough of water, and she brought up a bunch in her trunk and sprayed herself (and me) to cool off. Luckily I had been told to bring a change of clothes, because that was the simple beginning of a dirty day!
After a quick loop around the park, we then met our Mahouts and got on other elephants (2) and rode down to the river. I was lucky because I got my own elephant and rode on her head again. We then continued into the river and she dunked herself lower to cool off. It was quite an exciting ride, as it was hard to hold on.. you definitely had to keep paying attention.
After a long ride through the river and back up around the nearby village, we made our way back to the camp and got to clean up before lunch. We had lunch overlooking the river. It was so peaceful and beautiful with the mountain backdrop, elephants hanging around, and beautiful maintained hotel/resort style lodging on the site as well.
It was then time to go give our elephants their baths, so we got back on them, headed down to the river, and were given scrub brushes to brush the elephants. As fun as this sounds, the river does not look great—it’s brown with mud, but also the elephants completely relieve themselves in the water as well, and it’s as though a UPS plane crashed and all these parcels are floating around the river.
I wasn’t too keen on getting in, so I held onto my elephant as well as I could, and I escaped the fate of having to be dunked, or swim in this ‘river’. My two new friends weren’t as lucky, especially Danielle. She wasn’t keen on being in either, but before I knew it, she had let go, and was wading in the pool beside her elephant.
I continued scrubbing and hoping we were almost done, and then we were up and back to our walk. Holding on to the head like a Mahout was actually really tiring. I thought I was doing it wrong, looking for that sweet spot behind the ears that would actually prop up my legs, but my thighs and butt were both tired from squeezing hanging on. The hair on her head was coarse, and with the riding, my legs were sweating and left sweat marks on her head. I noticed butt marks too after I dismounted!
At this point, we had finished working with the elephants for the day, and they were ‘out from school’, and headed off to the jungle where they get 75% of their food intake. We took a boat over across the river to the jungle as well to go meet Maxi, who was turning 1 year old that day. When we walked up to their pin, Maxi was excited and knew we’d be giving him bananas. He stuck his trunk out and I shook it like a hand, and he pulled me in, so I tugged back. He was playful, and soft. We gave him and the mother bananas, and we saw him devour the bananas, and go to his mother for milk. He’s the first baby born in the camp, so the community is very excited to have Maxi. What his fate will be at the camp, we don’t know, as they do not keep males because of their aggression. The entire camp is females, all starting with the name Mae.
The day ended with a retreat to the resort on site and a soak at the pool. It was a welcomed relaxation in the sun and it was the perfect ending to the fun filled day. We met Caroline, a German girl who also did the half day tour and hung out at the pool.
That night we got together again at café utopia for an evening out, but an early one as I had my flight early the next morning.
As I got in my tuk tuk early this morning for the airport, the air was fresh and a little cool. It was definitely a nice break from the heat that Luang Prabang had been sharing with its visitors for the past week. We wound through the backroads from the hostel, and bid farewell to the Mekong river floating in our same direction out of the city. The air actually gave me a chill surprisingly, because it couldn’t have been less than 25C outside, but it was such a change.
During out departure of the city, it may have been how early I was up or simply a moving recognition, but seeing the Alms procession of all the town’s monks walking along the streets, in a duck-like formation painting the city orange with their robes, I watched the people waiting in anticipation to provide their home-made food offering for the monks. It was truly a moving sight, to think of the sense of community that is among these people who day after day, provide food every morning to their community’s monks, to keep them fed, in exchange for a feeding of their soul in a blessing.
The tuk tuk sped by as monks bowed their heads in prayer, all facing the ones who provided them food, whose hands were all pressed together tightly in a prayer form to receive their blessing for the day.
What a way to start a day. I’m envious of their sense and effort of community.