Luang Prabang – Laos

10 days in Luang Prabang 

Want a vacay idea? Head to Luang Prabang.

I absolutely love this place. I love the people that love this place. It’s Capitol Hill meets Pottery Barn.

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We accidentally ended up here about six days longer than intended thanks to my second job interview scheduled for Monday, May 5. I was delighted about the interview, albeit incredibly nervous that the internet in Laos isn’t exactly existent or impressive, but mostly thrilled at the excuse of staying longer.

Our week plus here ended up being perfectly timed to write magazine articles, blogs, play with photos and videos, go for daily runs, touch my toes in yoga classes, reunite with volleyball, dance like crazy at hours extending beyond our previously established bedtime, splash in puddles and dodge lighting in the most dramatic storms we’ve seen yet, swim in waterfalls, impress one another with creating chicken stuffed lemongrass, stomaching tripe and slurping up bile.

Oh, did I mention there is a night market? Every. Single. Night.

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The first few days we rented pedal bikes, cruised around and donated endless hours to Utopia. Utopia is a sweet zenned out riverside joint with inviting cushions featuring a view during the day, and serving as a lively mecca for travelers at night.

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One day we rented a scooter and rode 30km outside of my favorite town to Kuang Si Falls. The falls are amazing and we definitely didn’t expect Laos to pack this much beauty.

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Our other days in town were spent cruising around on bikes, checking out temples and climbing up stairs to say goodbye to the setting sun.

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One of my favorite days of the entire trip was taking a cooking course at Tamarind. We do a good deal of research before committing to pricier ‘touristy’ stuff like this because, well, frankly we are flat broke.

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Every penny was worth it. I would do it again in a second. I might even fly all the way back to Luang Prabang JUST to take this class a second time.

Need a place to stay in Luang Prabang? Head to Indigo House. Not only is the location perfect, they have market-view porches and incredible grub.

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What else does LP offer besides acting as a perfect recharge point for two 27-year-olds on early (okay, temporary) retirement?

Monk spotting.

I was up around 4 a.m. and just beat the sun rising. Naturally I stepped out without shoes and in my boxers thinking I would be the only one to watch the monks walk around their route collecting rice offerings. I was wrong. Really wrong. The streets were packed with locals and tourists, all with a small blanket laid upon the sidewalk offering up sticky rice to the passing monks.

It was quite magical.

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Some people say I have ADHD. I can’t pay attention long enough to ask why, but James has become quite desensitized to it. When I say “I’m going to see the monks, be back in an hour,” he knows not to worry when its been 6 hours and I’m nowhere to be found. Particularly if he knows a morning market is nearby.

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I cruised around the market for several hours, absolutely falling in love with the colors, smells, textures, sounds and the whole little town transitioning from a peaceful sleep into a bustling fair.

I bounced around between two purse stalls, carefully examining every one and wondering if $5 was completely insane to spend on a purse, considering I didn’t have anything to put in it and that was the cost per night of our guesthouse.

Heck yeah this cutie is worth it. I should have bought the whole stall!!!!

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Luang Prabang packs a serious artsy fartsy punch for you creative right brainers out there.

Accidentally more than once we cruised up on some lady weaving in her driveway…

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One very gorgeous morning, Lyndsey and I left the boys at home to head to
Ock Pop Tok store. I would say we discovered treasure, because this place is incredible.

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The showroom was littered with brilliant batik pieces, traditional designs and modern twists to create an overwhelmingly sweet viewing experience. Naturally Lyndsey and I ended up in the workroom, and then of course on a mini shuttle to the Living Crafts Center. We spent two hours wandering around the beautiful grounds. We met the silk worms who donate their lives to the creation of these fine invaluable threads. The artisans that spend hours working with complicated patterns on the looms have the warmest smiles that you feel like you want to spend the whole day being mesmerized by the sounds of the wooden blocks creating rows of intricately woven threads.

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Even if you are some macho hot dog eating, gun wheeling hunting dude, I guarantee you will be impressed by this operation and the simplicity yet overwhelming complexity of weaving.

On Monday, May 5, I had an interview with a children’s hospital via Skype. Skype cooperated for the most part, however the chickens that were loudly greeting the rising sun at four-something am definitely did not help sell my professionalism.

After the interview we celebrated the idea of perhaps one of us being employed and jumped into a death trap shuttle to Vang Vieng.

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425 Magazine Tells Our Story

This week 425 Magazine, a Seattle-area publication, told the story of our trip around the world in a four-page feature article in its July/August 2014 travel issue.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 5.05.10 PMCoverFor those of you in the Seattle-Eastside area, pick up a print copy at your local news stand and turn to page 67.

For the online version of the story, click here.

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Border Crossings and Jail Threats

Thursday

We departed from Chiang Mai around 9 a.m. on the shuttle headed for Chiang Khong. The driver stopped halfway into the five hour ride somewhere in Chiang Rai to give his ankle a break from violently sealing the pedal to the floor for the past couple hundred of k’s.

The stop ended up being a pleasant surprise. We were given permission for a quarter of an hour to explore the White Temple, Wat Rung Khun. The buddhist temple was blinding and absolutely stunning, like a bridge in a crisp white wedding gown that indecisively chose to decorate herself with too many jewels so you couldn’t decided what to focus on.

I felt like I was walking around the set of The NeverEnding Story. 

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A few hours later we arrived at Chiang Khong. Chiang Khong doesn’t exactly have a lot going on, which was fine because we were only in the mood to stroll around in the sleepy town. We went out to dinner with Jackson and Lyndsey and called it a night before our border crossing and slow boat the following day.

Friday

This particular morning was pretty crap.

That might be because we were told to be up and ready by 8 a.m. and at 7:15 a.m. our idiot guide was slamming on my door telling me to get in the truck. Thanks to him putting us up in the wrong hotel, we need to be at breakfast somewhere else without more than a 2 second notice.

He was furious with me and I can’t say I was very apologetic for his own idiocy. Sorry dude. I’ve dealt with elite scamming scum likeminded indiviuals the past three months; and this particular morning I wasn’t in the mood to spend the next 12 hours half-showered still in my pajamas.

While trying to find a quiet spot to enjoy my powdered coffee and my own miserable company, this same guide decided to set up his folding table scam shop just outside the reception of the hotel we were supposed to (and already paid for) have stayed at…also the one I could be enjoying a shower and a change of clothes that very same moment.

He carried on, ripping off every poor budget traveler with every opportunity he could. He was charging for coffee (that was included in their package), transfer to the border (also included), and offering up exchange rates that even a Zimbabwe bank wouldn’t accept in exchange for their once existent currency.

By the time I tasted the undissolved sand in my coffee, I was fully aware that this guy sucked, and I was confident that his ego was so inflated that his feet didn’t even touch the ground.

Next up, it was our groups turn to deal with him. We forked over our transfer tickets and exchanged some baht into kip. He told us Laos had locked currency and it would cost $20 to get anything out of an ATM, regardless of the withdrawal amount. James handed him 3000 baht and the sucky man handed him back the equivalent of a quarter of what it was worth in kip. With my XE Currency app in hand, I immediately called him out. He didn’t appreciate me one bit as he had already decided he didn’t like me earlier that morning. We asked for our money back and he handed us exactly half back, claiming that is all we gave him. He flat out just pocked half of the money we had handed him seconds ago.

“Very funny. The rest of our money?” We said loudly.

We weren’t impressed with the magician and probably shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation. Our voices were raised and obviously inflated with anger.

I think we forgot we weren’t in India – the land where screaming gets you further in life.

He didn’t respond well and immediately morphed into a crazy raging defensive lunatic. Long story short, he threatened to call the police, send us to jail, and in the end our bags were thrown out of his truck and we hung off the back of another pickup to get to the border crossing into Laos.

The border crossing was pretty hellish. Still pissed off, I apologized to the Laotian border control for sticking my ass in the air while repeating down dog and sun salutations in attempt to chill the heck out.

By noon we were finally on the slow boat.

The slow boat is primarily a tourist boat that takes travelers down the Mekong River. It shouldn’t be called a slow boat. When everyone said ‘slow boat’ I imagined we would be crammed into a little wooden row boat with a man dressed in a two tone onsie, a variation of a sailers hat, smoking a pipe while playing an organ and intermittently paddling us down the Mekong.

It’s not slow. It is fully equipped with a roaring engine that has some serious guts.

The whole trip has the potential to be quite boring.  If you have good company, some cash for onboard beers, snacks and playing cards then this is easily an enjoyable way to spend a day (well, two).

The scenery that passes by is a sweet green hazy welcome into Laos.

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We moored at around 4 p.m. and found a hotel to make home for the short night in Pakbeng.

Pakbeng was surprisingly sweet. There were several options for eating and drinking, but besides that there wasn’t much to see or do so that’s how we spent our evening.

Saturday

We boarded the boat around 9 a.m.

Unfortunately we chose seats wrong and there was a very sick, maybe dead body that was brought onto the boat about 45 minutes into the ride so James and forfeited our seats and shared the stairs as a seat for the eight hour journey. It wasn’t necessarily a fun day but it sure beat any day in India.

We arrived into Luang Prabang and I have to say I was a bit nervous. I wanted badly to love everything about Laos, particularly Luang Prabang.

The first impression one receives after walking up the stairs from the dock might not be the best, but oh how quickly one can fall in love with Luang Prabang!!

 

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