Luang Prabang, Laos

We spent our first couple of days in the serene and stunning small city of Luang Prabang.  With a population of about 50,000, Luang Prabang is a formal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975. Now the downtown area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it remains a pretty quiet spot nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

Because I am a pretty early riser, I was up in plenty of time to see the half marathoners whose route carried them right past our hotel. There was a porch swing in a little garden overlooking the river, and I watched some of the “race” from there while contemplating the beauty of life and the joys of being at the beginning of vacation. Eventually, I went over for a quiet breakfast with my book. I was reading Half the Sky (highly recommended), which opened aptly enough with a story about a young girl from Laos. Since internet was still down at our hotel and I was desperate for news about my beloved Christyn’s wedding, I did venture downtown to some cafes for lots of coconuts and coffee before Jason and Ricki even woke up. Side note: my love of coconuts is steadily increasing and reaching dangerous levels.

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The cute little nook near the breakfast tables of our hotel.

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There was a water station for the half marathon near my hotel, but by the time I started watching the race, there was only a trickle of people. I loved cheering for the singletons anyway. They are really the ones who need love on the course.

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This is the main street in town. Though some roads leading to this one were closed for the race, it was so eerie to see so few people on this street when I walked to the cafes. I guess the difference between a city of 50,000 and one of about 11 million is lots of elbow room.

Though Ricki and I had book our tickets long before him, Jason was really the one with some planning initiative. He planned to leave Monday morning for Nong Khiaw, so he only had one day in Luang Prabang, and his burning desire was to visit Kuang Si waterfalls. So after they joined me at a cafe and we did some leisurely wandering around town, we hired a tuk tuk to drive us to the falls. We stopped for lunch at the entrance to the park where I had a lovely soup. Then, we began our ascent to the falls. There was a rescue zoo for moon bears at the base of the falls. Our elementary school Roots and Shoots club, spent much of their time last year educating our community about the endangered moon bears, so it was great to see a sanctuary for some of the rescued bears, even if I was still sad they have to live in a zoo for their own safety. They are trapped and their bile is extracted to use as a supposed medical cure for everything from hangovers to cancer. Once we cleared the bear area, the swimming holes were breath taking, and before long, we were swimming in freezing cold water and climbing over the falls. We didn’t know how high up the falls went, so we kept becoming more and more amazed as we discovered more of the park. In fact, we stayed until closing time and enjoyed every minute in the majesty of nature. Rainy season definitely makes the falls full and powerful. What a treat!

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it is hard to see, but there is a moon bear sitting on a platform in the center of the photo

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One of our first glimpses of the lowest part of the falls

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The water collected in swimming holes at the bottom of each waterfall was a stunning, otherworldly blue.

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My travel buddies.

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More falls. I might have taken a hundred photos.

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So in love

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Such a great time finding the top after our swimming adventures.

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I wish there was always the sound of crashing water behind my head. So easy to be truly at peace in a place this lovely.

After getting home from the falls and showering, we met up for dinner along the Khan Nam river at a little cafe/bookstore. Then we did a bit of night market wandering before calling it a night. Though Jason was leaving in the morning, Ricki and I were following him a day behind because there was no way we could pry ourselves away from Luang Prabang just yet.

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Dinner with Ricki

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The market was just so pretty

The following morning, I woke up early to run. I still hadn’t really figured out my way around town, but I was excited to explore it, so I laced up my shoes and rolled out. I hadn’t even made it around the end of the peninsula before I ran into 2 co-workers, Bilal and Megan, and in another 50 yards, another co-worker Karen, was starting her own morning run. Apparently Laos is the place to go in the fall. So I ran a couple of miles with Karen, and then I pursued a different road. It turns out, I really have no sense of direction. Many of you have witnessed this before. I pretty much was running in ever widening circles around the edge of town. Eventually, I found one of the rivers and made my way home – 7 miles later. After my run, I laid around and had breakfast.

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The Mekong at low tide at the end of the peninsula – always great to stop for pictures during a run to catch my breath.

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post run laziness

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One of the temples we visited earlier in the day

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Everything was so beautiful at this old temple which was right beside the Chiang Inn

Eventually Ricki and I made our way on the hunt for the perfect riverside cafe after ducking into some wats and weaving shops. We found a couple of good spots to sit and soak in teh views, but I didn’t last too long before I was ready for a bike ride. I headed back to the hotel to borrow a bike and then biked to the post office for some stamps. Of course, I got lost again – around the same area as during my run. So 1.5 hours later, I met Ricki back at the hotel to begin our hike up the hill to see Wat Chom Si and watch the sunset. This sunset was one of my favorite parts of our time in Luang Prabang. There is something pretty magical about being a part of the lightening and darkening of the world.

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As we started the climb, we had a great view of the National Museum temple.

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From the top, we had a pretty good view of the surrounding town.

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all this topography couldn’t make me happier

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The Wat itself was beautiful.

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Though we were a little late to grab the best seats, our view of the end of day was perfect.

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This was my favorite tree at the top of the hill

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so pretty

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As the sun sank, the moon appeared.

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such good colors

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temple tops are so pretty

After sunset, we stayed at the top until the crowds cleared. It was nice to have a bit of time to reflect on how this vacation was already rejuvenating me. Though I had of course entertained thoughts of moving home, it started to hit home that this was not a life I am ready to give up. There is too much left to explore. After we hiked down, Ricki spotted an adorable woman wrapping things in leaves and serving a noodle dish. We stopped to eat, and, aside from the coconut pancakes we were/are obsessed with, this was my favorite meal in Laos. Everything was the perfect level of spicy with lots of fresh mint thrown to soothe. Super yummy. Unfortunately, though we tried to return other nights, we never found this gem again.

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The best cook in Laos

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further into the night market, we ended up sharing a table with these ladies who invited us to try their dish of something soupy, but it was way too spicy for me.

After enjoying all that we could, we walked over to a sports pub along the river to ask if they would rebroadcast the latest Packers game for Ricki. I watched a bit with her, but then I headed back to the hotel for some alone time. We had booked bus tickets for Nong Khiaw in the morning and planned to go watch the procession of monks prior to that. All our dreams came true, and we were ready to join Jason when the bus arrived to pick us up.

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Every morning the monks of Luang Prabang process through town to collect alms.

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such stunning colors

More about the trip north and our return to Luang Prabang to come. Hope you are as eager to visit as I am to return.

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