Let me keep my distance always from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say ‘look’ and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads. -Mary Oliver
Sa bai dee, Laos! I wish I had been more motivated in Nong Khiaw, but I didn’t accomplish much else other than watching the slow rotation of the earth from my hammock. After a lazy two days I moved down to Luang Prabang, which I found totally charming. Hugged on either side by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, there were plenty of riverside cafes to relax at, temples to explore and well preserved French colonial buildings to admire. I perhaps should have done more research on the appropriate time to visit, turns out April is low season because of the oppressive heat and haze that covers the north’s sleepy little towns like a quilt. Midday the unrelenting temperatures made anything other than cowering in the shade with a cool drink impossible, but once the heat grew a little more manageable I spent the late afternoon walking around, passing temples filled with monks in saffron robes and perusing little shops.
While I liked Laos, it wasn’t until the bus ride to Vang Vieng that I felt it- that inexplicable pull, the familiar feeling of falling. I could all but hear the countryside calling to me, begging me to run outside amongst the rice paddies and karsts and trees and rivers. I spent the rest of the ride transfixed, unable to tear my eyes away from the landscape, a woman in love yet again. I still don’t understand how it’s possible to leave parts of myself in so many places and with so many people, sometimes I wonder how there’s any of me left at all.
The next day I met up with one of my favorite travel buddies and two of her friends, all fresh from Oakland. After checking out the sunset from the top of Phou Si Hill, we stopped by the night market. Laotians in general seemed pretty indifferent to the farangs in their midst, making for probably the most pleasant market experience I’ve had in Asia, able to freely browse at my own relaxed pace. Another day was spent visiting the Kuang Si Waterfall, hiking alongside layers of milky blue pools to the dramatically cascading falls. Because we were having such a nice time, we decided to keep cruising on what wound up being an accidental 10km loop to a natural spring for a beer and a swim. We played on swings and a natural slack line of sorts, before at last forcing ourselves to head back to our impatiently waiting tuk tuk driver.
We concluded almost instantaneously that Vang Vieng was a garbage town, although the sunset on the river bank with colorful wooden boats zipping past was still lovely. After an uninspiring day trip out to the Blue Lagoon 3, I opted to take a yoga class amidst the rice paddies, rather than line up for the drunken tubing that Vang Vieng is (in)famous for. My last day was spent climbing with Adam’s School, easily my highlight of the trip. After a tuk tuk ride through the countryside and a long boat across the river, we arrived in a shady canyon. My climbing partner for the day happened to be from the Bay Area, and we shared the space with a couple from Germany, a pair of first time climbers from Korea, and two women working at an NGO in Vientiane, from Denmark and New Zealand. I had a blast playing around on limestone again, and after a fun morning we arrived back into town sweaty and starving, sitting down together for the best meal I ate in Laos: spicy papaya salad with cherry tomatoes and topped with salty peanuts, platters of sticky rice to ball up and dip in the salad dressing, crispy spring rolls, vegetarian green curry and pork larb, all washed down with coconut shakes and plenty of Beer Lao’s.
The long, sweaty van ride to Vientiane was followed immediately by a much-needed shower, and afterwards a buffalo sausage and paratha from the night market changed my life. After one final drink to toast to a successful trip, we slept hard and then took off early the next morning. Laos has my favorite ‘thank you’ of any country so far, so, khop jai lai lai, Laos! I hope to be back one day soon for an extended visit.