The road to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng was a bumpy sojourn into the mountains. There was a couple times I was worried the little van we were in wouldn’t make it. And then a couple more times I wasn’t sure my stomach would either. I was beyond happy when we arrived at a rest stop after going up a particularly steep hill. I ambled out of the van and was stunned but the view of the resulting valley below. I was so focused on not vomiting that I barely paid attention to the stunning scenery out of my window.
When the van pulled into town it dropped us on the side of the road and then sped off. After a couple of false starts we finally found a place to stay and I laid down for a nap. Later that night we met up with our friends at the night market. Luang Prabang had the best market I had seen in all of Laos, especially when it comes to food options. Vang Vieng had mostly restaurants and the street food was mainly relegated to sandwiches. In Vientiane there was a lot more street food but it tasted so much like Thai food I couldn’t get a sense of Laotian cuisine. I played it safe food wise avoiding anything spicy or too exotic, even though that is exactly what I wanted to be eating. My eyes had to do what my stomach couldn’t so I examined all the sweets and cakes that lined the entrance to the food market. As you dove deeper savory foods like sausage and fish were being grilled over hot fires. There was even a vegetarian buffet of different sauces and soups that cost pennies.
After eating we walked around the market and I ran into a couple of people I hadn’t seen since Thailand. We caught each other up on our adventures and then parted ways. The most curious thing sold in the market were trinkets made from the metal found in all the bombs dropped during the Secret War in Laos. I had no idea we found a war in Laos and so when I went and did my research afterwards I was shocked. The US dropped more bombs on Laos then all of Europe during WW2. This isn’t just a problem in Laotian history, those bombings still haunt the Laotians to this day. Children and farm works are being maimed because there are millions of bombs waiting to explode throughout the countryside. Obama gave 90 million dollars to clean up those bombs but more money is needed to provide a safe future for Laotians. Learn more about how you can help at the Halo Trust.
The next day a group of us piled into a tuk tuk and headed to the most spectacular destination in Luang Prabang Tat Kuang Si. Tat means waterfall, Kuang means deer, and Si means dig. There is a legend around these falls which state that they were created when an old man dug a hole into the earth. After the water was summoned a golden deer appeared and made its home under a large rock in the falls. The waterfalls are so beautiful it’s no wonder they are quite literally legendary. With aquamarine water created by the limestone rock Tat Kuang Si is hands down one of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve ever come across.
When you first arrive at the falls there is a museum dedicated to protecting bears from poachers who want to use their bile to create medicine. There is even a bear sanctuary where bears that have been rescued are free to live the rest of their lives in peace. After you pass the sanctuary you walk along a tree line path until you reach pools filled with bright water. As you go deeper the pools get bigger and the water runs faster. Halfway to the waterfalls there is a section that you can swim in and even a mini waterfall to play under. By the time you get to the end you are standing in front of a 50m waterfall that really takes your breath away. If there’s still air in your lungs you can do a 45 minute hike up to the very top of the falls though it is quite slippery and steep.
The next day Emmanuel mentioned this event called Sai Bat, morning alms, where the monks walk through the streets taking offernings from locals. I was unsure if I wanted to go because you have to wake up around 5:30/6am. But when Emmanuel’s alarm clock went off that morning I thought why not. The sun was not yet up to warm the air so it was quite chilly but we continued anyway. The locals give sticky rice and candy to the monks who then share everything they get when they return to the temple. It’s a very quiet activity and was a very peaceful way to start my morning. Sadly my day didn’t end as calmly.
My plan was to spend a couple more days in Laos before heading off to Vietnam. I was going to go by land and unfortunately you can’t get a VISA on arrival by land so I had to get a letter from the embassy. I thought my letter could be used at any land border until I asked one of the women who worked at the guest hose what my Vietnamese visa letter stated. I had hoped to be able to take a bus from Luang Prabang into Hanoi since they were a little cheaper then buses I saw in Vientiane. I was told that my visa was only acceptable at one land border crossing (the one closest to Vientiane) and that my visa was for two days from now meaning I had to take a night bus back to Vientiane that day or else I would have to pay money all over again for a new visa. I said goodbye to my friends hoping that I might be able to see them in Vietnam, and then proceeded on my two day two night journey to Vietnam. The highlight/ nightmare would be a 24 hour sleeper bus from Vientiane to Hanoi which I had read a couple of travel blogs called the bus ride to hell.
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