Taking the slow boat down the Mekong River for two days was a highlight of our trip for us. Laos was slowly unfolding along the way, and we could experience the river life without intruding – children playing, water buffalo grazing, monks washing, and men throwing out the fishing nets.
Laos has more than 130 ethnic groups, and was a neutral nation during the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, plenty of CIA forces entered the country to train the anti-communist Hmong fighters in response to the large amounts of war munitions and supplies coming down the Ho Chi Ming Trail from North Vietnam. As a result there were more bombs dropped on Laos than any other country in history. One third of Lao people were displaced. Thirty five years later there are still unexploded bombs, and many people are innocently maimed or killed each year by them.
At the end of the second day on the boat we arrived in Luang Prabang, the most beautiful city we have seen in Asia yet. Set in the northern mountains, it is an intimate town full of French Colonial architecture, lantern lit streets, a Buddhist temple on each block, and plenty of cafes to linger in. But the best part is the people: Laotians are laid back, friendly, and like to have fun.
Our days start before dawn with the temple drums across the street. By 6am the saffron-clad monks form a procession for their morning alms. They quietly walk the streets collecting sticky rice to eat for the day: an ancient spiritual tradition. In the late afternoons they chant and meditate at the temples, adding so much to the atmosphere of the town.
We have been in Luang Prabang for over a week now, and talk about leaving in a few days. We have met so many wonderful people from around the world, sharing stories and meals. We cycled and hiked along the Mekong, out to the waterfalls, up and down each small street, through the morning and night markets…poking into Wats (temples) and relaxing in cafes. We talk about coming back for longer in a year or two as this town feels right to us.
Our plan is to cycle 800 miles south on Route 13 through Vientiene, Thakhek, Savannakhet, Pakse, and Khong, all the way to (and then through) Cambodia. Our visas expire in mid-Feb, so we think we best pack up soon and get on the road. By the end of this week anyway.
Click the link below to hear monks chanting: