Lori’s parents are here visiting for 2.5 weeks — our first visitors here in Laos. Close family friends, John and Shirley joined them for the final week. We spent about three days in the capital with all four of our visitors before catching a plane north to Laos’ most popular tourist destination, Luang Prabang. During our first visit in October 2012, we had a feeling we’d be back here. Four months into our time in Laos and here we are visiting for a second time. I’m certain it won’t be the last.
On the first time around, we approached Luang Prabang by boat after a two-day slow boat ride from the Thai border via Pakbeng. The past two times, we’ve flown in, which offers a completely different perspective but is an adventure no less. Both of our flights into town have taken about 30 minutes flying at 13,000 feet over Nam Ngum lake and the karst peaks that characterize Vang Vieng and the wilderness around Luang Prabang. Getting to fly in one of Lao Airlines’ ATR-72s is also a perk of this route for people who like something a bit more memorable than the humdrum A320 or B737 that are becoming increasingly common on these short routes.
Luang Prabang is very much like we left it, but for one big difference — it’s dry season! The last two times we’ve visited, it’s been the tail end of the rainy season. There are a few significant changes that come with the dry season: more tourists (dry season coincides with high season, after all — and for good reason), cooler/ drier weather, and consequently, lower rivers. And lower rivers translate into something very exciting and unique — seasonal bamboo bridges across the Khan River! But we’ll get to that.
I’m being completely honest, this place might very well get the award for best-sounding Specials in Laos, even if the prices sound a bit high. I do love me some river weed (think lightly salted, sesame encrusted dried seaweed, but better) and beer, of course.
‘B’ is for Best Chew Toy, Ever.
This time around we stayed at Sala Prabang, which overall we were very pleased with. A bit more upscale than what we’re accustomed to, but it ticked off all the boxes for our crew. We reserved well in advance (which is crucial this time of year if you want a specific room or multiple rooms together). We reserved three rooms in the building immediately to the left of the reception, which was set back from the road and shaded a bit more. Despite being on a main road, traffic noise died down after dark. The power was out for most of the first day, which was due to a neighborhood-wide outage. The rooms upstairs had fridges, but ours on the ground floor did not. The staff and manager are exceptionally gracious and attentive and really make the stay.
Immediately after checking in to our digs for the next three nights, Lori and I knew we had to go see it — the fabled bamboo bridge over the Khan River that we had heard about but never seen.
All of the bamboo bridges on the river are constructed from scratch at the end of the rainy season and used until they are washed away by the rising waters of the rainy season, then rebuilt the following season. This practice has been going on for as long as anyone can remember.
I think this strikes a lot of Westerners as troubling and wasteful. But it underscores a universal truth that Buddhists, and Laotians in general, seem much more comfortable with accepting — that nothing is permanent. These bridges in their destruction and reconstruction embody the cycle of rebirth that is at the core of Buddhist belief. With that said, I’d rather not find myself walking across one on the final day of their annual life-cycle.
We had to take the crew to one of our favorite cultural exhibitions in the country — the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC). Since we had just been through a second time a couple months ago, we enjoyed some local juices in the cafe while the group made their way through. Noe enjoyed indulging in his Asian heritage (he is 1/8th Southeast Asian, after all — but 100% Rockstar).
After TAEC, we took the gently sloping back way up Phu Si hill to watch the sunset. We very much prefer this way up since it winds through an interesting hillside neighborhood and is sparsely used — not to mention it avoids the majority of the stairs to the top.
Arrived just in time to grab us some seats! And for a gaggle of Korean girls to run into Noe.
Sun’s going down, which means cameras and arms go up. Even with the crowds, catching the sunset atop Phu Si is still a must-do.
That thar’s the Mekong. And that thar’s a sunset!
Time to head down…with everyone else…
At the bottom of the hill, we met Grampy at one of our favorite watering holes in town — Lao Lao. Hard to beat the ambience of this place.