For all my harping on about the perils of slow travel we accidentally ended up spending two whole weeks in the charming holy city of Luang Prabang in Laos. I’m still very much in favour of experiencing as much as possible without burning out but we were getting a wee bit fed up with spending so much time on buses, trains and tuk tuks so decided to eat our words and find out what all the fuss was about.
It ended up being the perfect way to recharge the batteries and revive our excitement about the upcoming parts of our journey. I was getting to the stage where I was feeling that every town was “same same… but different” and not experiencing the usual joy of visiting somewhere new. I knew this was a bad sign and all the advice on how to handle this pointed to establishing some sort of routine. Paul and I are somewhat creatures of habit so this sounded like a brilliant plan.
We arrived in Luang Prabang having spent 2 days on the infamous slow boat from Huay Xai and the Thai border along the Mekong River. During the 1st day I seriously thought my bum was going to fall off due to prolonged numbness and the boredom I felt had no bounds. Day 2 was significantly better and I really started to appreciate the dramatic scenery of the extremely remote villages and enormous limestone karsts. We had a great combination of tourists and locals on the boat and the most adorable and well behaved kids I’ve ever seen, we Brits could take a leaf out of the Lao parenting techniques.
Luang Prabang is known as the city of the holy Buddha and was the home of the Lao royal family before the abdication of the throne. There is a huge population of Buddhist monks and a stunning collection of temples to admire. It is technically a city but has the feel of a smallish town and as a remnant of French colonialism the architecture is really beautiful. We’d booked a couple of nights in a lovely guesthouse just steps from both the Mekong and the very lovely night markets and day 2 in the city found Paul disappearing to negotiate a longer term rate with our guesthouse owner. We’d be spending 2 weeks in one place, something we hadn’t done since revelling in the luxury of our friends’ hospitality in Melbourne. We had a plan to do a little sightseeing, catch up on writing, photo editing and trip research and just generally calm down after a hectic few months.
We spent our days eating delicious French baguette sandwiches, banana bread and our own body weight in lemon fruit shakes. We checked out the £1 street food buffets and discovered a great restaurant on the banks of the Mekong that did delicious spring rolls and large Beer Lao for 10,000 Kip (90p). Notice how most of our activity revolves around food, gives you an idea about our priorities!
To combat the gorging we signed up for yoga classes. I haven’t done yoga in 10 years and Paul has never been to a class, his exact words were “how hard can a bit of stretching be?” Mwaa ha ha, the sweat pouring down his face at the end of our 1st class had him rethinking the benefits. We enjoyed the classes mostly at sunset on a terrace overlooking the river and it sounds ridiculous to say but I had no idea how relaxing it would be. As soon as I have an income again I will be signing up for classes when we get home.
We visited the famous Kuang Si waterfalls outside the city with a cracking Aussie couple we met in Sumatra and who just happened to be in Laos at the same time. We climbed the huge hill in the middle of town to admire the otherworldly temple complex of Mount Phousi and to try and find a monk to chat to (to no avail). We wandered the French colonial streets and sauntered through the night market stalls who were selling the most beautiful arts and crafts. We read a lot of books and watched tons of movies. It was a completely different pace to what we’re used to and it was weird to adjust, but on reflection I can whole heartedly agree with establishing a routine if you’re getting burnt out. It was wonderful and quiet and by the time we packed up to head south I was raring to go again.
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