Laos is a slow-paced, laid back country which you must allow to operate on its own time. The nature is vast and beautiful, the villages are simple yet serene and the people are kind and usually smiling.
We had a slow start to our Lao chapter, arriving in Huay Xai from Thailand, which is really more of a tourist catch-all for various activity start points than an actual village. We spent three nights in this town, never consecutive, as we, too, needed it as a base to visit some other attractions. As a town, it was a bit over-priced and underwhelming, with very few things to see or even decent restaurants to relax at. We went, first, to the far-north villages of Luang Namtha and, by motorbike on a winding road that wrapped around the mountains, to Muang Sing, just 13 km from China and 32 km from Myanmar. The very few restaurant-type operations that we did find were mostly all closed. Eventually, a woman approached us and brought us to her “coffee shop” (read: home) and made us fried rice with egg. Something we are, by now, very well acquainted with on this trip. But the north is less about the towns and more about the lush green countryside and catching the occasional glimpse of the local indigenous tribeswomen selling jewelry or opium. Jasper was feeling ill, so we kept it low-key, found a nice bakery in Luang Namtha and drank tea/coffee and read our books during a rainy afternoon.
After another overnight in Huay Xai, we headed out for the highlight of our Lao experience and one of my highlights of the full year: the Gibbon Experience. I remember, back in university, someone telling me about this tree-top ziplining course out in the jungle and I was absolutely in awe, so it was a bit of a dream to actually do this. You are taken out into remote parts of the jungle to take a series of ziplines from high up on the mountains to eventually land in an actual, full-size tree house, fit to feed and sleep 15 people. The zips were very high and it was a bit frightening at first and definitely a huge adrenaline rush but also one of the most spectacular views I’ve had. And the feeling of soaring alog, high above the trees is unparalleled. The treehouse, alone, was a highlight; just being out in nature, high above the ground, with beautiful views, sipping on a coffee. I can’t really describe it with due justice; if you ever have this opportunity, take it, take it, take it! We stayed one night and I hated to leave but we had a nice zip course and hike back to civilization (somewhat), ending in a very small village where there was a lake to swim in while the local women prepared a lunch for us.
Our next journey was also a destination in itself. We took a two-day slow boat down the murky brown Mekong river. We spent about 8 hours each day in the boat as it rocked us slowly all the way down to our final stop in the Mekong region: Luang Prabang. We stopped overnight at the small town of Pekbang and enjoyed the forced relaxation and scenic views of the mountains and riverside towns.
Our final three days in Luang Prabang were a nice wrap up to this chapter. The self-proclaimed jewel of Southeast Asia, it truly is a beautiful and tranquil town. Built up alongside the Mekong, you can spend your days strolling along the riverside and stopping at the quaint little cafes and restaurants. There are some nice temples and a hilltop shrine with large Buddha statues and a vantage point to see the whole town. Nearby are the Kuang Si waterfalls, which drop from a cliff and then stream down into cascading azure pools that you can swim and splash around in. With the heat and humidity, it is bliss and was, for us, the perfect ending to exploring this beautiful country.
As for what we ate, it was a lot of the same dishes that we had seen in Thailand and even Vietnam, though a bit pricier. I continued to love the fresh fruit and juices, the sticky rice that is unique in Laos, small coconut pancakes and our final dinner, a BBQ buffet. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it… ❤