We arrived in Laos by plane and what struck us the most when we looked out the window was that the forest seemed to stretch out of sight. Researching this by curiosity, we learned that about 85% of the country is covered with vegetation, making it the least altered country in all of Southeast Asia. Our plane between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang only took us one hour, we opted for this option rather than taking the long way that would have been literally 2-3 days by bus or slow boat. Have we missed the extraordinary experience of sailing on the Mekong? Maybe, but after hearing mixed stories about the ride, we are fine with our decision. Laos was part of Indochina in the past and it is still possible to see many remnants of this era, for example the French signs in the schools and other institutions, or the few bakeries that perpetuate the culinary tradition by offering pastries and baguettes to tourists. We took this opportunity to eat baguette sandwiches every day for breakfast, prepared by a friendly street cook. We all had a favorite sandwich and as soon as she was seeing us, she was welcoming us with a beautiful “Good morning – same same?” With her smile, it was impossible to say no!
The town of Luang Prabang is right on the shore of the Mekong River, we took long walks on the water’s edge everyday and we’ve let the children have fun skipping stones on the water. We were able to observe the famous “slow boat” which transported the many tourists who were making a stop in the city. We were also able to look at how the locals were enjoying the Mekong, the many children taking a swim after school or the few fishermen who were making a living by fishing in their panties. Luang Prabang really is a laid back charming little town. Coincidentally, we visited Luang Prabang during their annual film festival, specializing in movies from the Southeast Asia region. We took the opportunity to watch a documentary called “Banana Pancake and the Children of Sticky Rice”. The film was talking about the transformation of a small Laotian village by the extension of tourism. This film made us reflect on the impact we have on the locals and allowed us to have a good conversation the four of us about responsible tourism. Unfortunately, we did not find other films that suited the ears, or rather the sensitive eyes of our young boys, many of the films dealing with more difficult subjects such as prostitution or the narcotics trade.
In small Laos we started to realize that we had a lot of free time and that we needed a bit more activity to keep us busy through the day. We decided to get ahead of our resolution for 2017, and to get moving. Since we have a lot of time on the agenda, why not start immediately? Simon and the boys undertook a running program with the goal of running 10km within twelve weeks. Since Karine unfortunately can’t run, she decided to put herself more seriously into her yoga practice by taking advantage of the empty bedroom. Hopefully these resolutions will hold through Jan. 30;)
Tat Kuang Si Falls
About thirty kilometres from Luang Prabang are a magnificent series of waterfalls, nestled in a protected park. Apparently this attraction is not to be missed when visiting Luang Prabang. The locals understood this very well and it was literally impossible to walk around town without being asked every two minutes if we wanted to take a Tuk-Tuk in order to see those wonderful waterfalls. We finally abdicated and negotiated a fare with a Tuk-Tuk driver who would take us there and back to town. Since it takes about 45 minutes by Tuk-Tuk to get to the falls, our driver waited for us there and relaxed with the other drivers as we set off for a leisurely stroll through the park. We certainly were not disappointed with our excursion that day. The waterfalls were exquisite and the water was a light blue which resembled the color of a very famous lake in our beloved Canadian Rockies. We climbed up to see the source of the waterfall and from there we continued our way to another waterfall. We unfortunately did not reach the second waterfall since we stopped before. Indeed, we saw a Tarzan rope and people jumping in the water that seemed to have a lot of fun. So we took a little break and jumped in to get refreshed and enjoy the river.
There are about thirty Wats in Luang Prabang, but don’t worry, we haven’t visited them all! Even though we find that the Wats are generally very beautiful, we find they all look a little bit the same despite their uniqueness. Since we want to continue to visit other Wats in the coming months and want our boys to continue to enjoy them, we decided to limit ourselves to visiting only one or two per city to keep their interest. Unfortunately, we already have the impression that the boys are rolling their eyes as soon as we speak about visiting a Temple;) The most famous temple of the city is Wat Xieng Thong. Over there, you can observe one of the few statues of « reclining Buddha » dating from the construction of the temple, in 1560. There is also a beautiful painting of the Tree of Life that we had never seen before.
Since there are many temples in the city, this means that a large population of Buddhist monks live there. Every morning, a hundred monks were making their daily journey in the streets to collect food for the day. By morning journey we mean before 6:00 am and Karine was the only one who had enough interest in this to get up at 5:30 in order to watch with her own eyes this magnificent procession. Only women were present that day to make their offerings. Some women prayed before the monks arrived while others lit candles. Heads lowered, kneeling or sitting, they offered their gifts to the monks who passed in line while meditating. Everything happened in silence, it was very serene. This was a fifteen minutes that Karine will remember for a long time.
We found that Luang Pranbang was a more authentic city than Chiang Mai, far less developed and westernized. Nevertheless, tourism is an important driver for the local economy and the city has a large number of guesthouses, restaurants and craft shops. Just like everywhere else, there was a ton of tourist activities offered, but we decided to relax and flow quietly to the rhythm of the Mekong.