How to choose on the world map the first place to visit with your best friend?
There are places you’ve already been, places you’d love to go… A good friend of ours told us that Luang Prabang, in Laos, is for sure the most enchanting place in the whole Asia. Ok, it’s a deal. Let’s start from there!
Laos is a small green treasure, surrounded by countries much more popular and bigger than this. Almost 6 millions people and 240.000 km2, crossed by its majestic river that runs throughout the country, and marks the lives of its inhabitants.
Our trip starts right from the river: we left Thailand and arrived in Chang Kong after several days of heavy rain, tuk tuk rides and sticky rice. Customs is an odd little house along the bank of the Mekong. On the opposite bank, we can see the Laotian customs: a stamp on the passport, a short crossing on a tiny boat which barely stands the weight of our backpacks, and here we are on the opposite side.
As soon as we arrive in Laos, it’s the turn of the so-called “slow boat”, which is the best option to choose compared with the fast boat, a terrifying high speed boat that can give you an adrenaline rush and a panic attack at the same time. The slow boat became our home for the following two days, sailing peacefully on the great Mekong. The slow trip was ideal to read, take pictures, greet the children on the river bank who jumped into the river to sell you a soda. We lost ourselves in the stunning vegetation of Laos, so green, deep and tangled that it seemed to leave no space for any human presence. After two days of saling, here we are: Luang Prabang, “the happy town”.
Colonial houses, vintage cars coming from another age, streets which are barely paved, everything seems frozen in time. And the biggest amount of monks (or wannabes…) you could ever meet in just one place! Luang Prabang has indeed the greatest number of buddhist schools all over Asia: kids in orange robes surround you constantly, everywhere you go.
It’s pretty hard to choose what to focus on or what to suggest in such a special place. Here’s our selection:
A beautiful colonial building on the main street -which is the only street that you can name like this- of Luang Prabang. Three breathless things:
- a bedroom adorned with flowers and fruits never seen before, left by your bedside every morning;
- the softest sheets we can remember (and we have travelled a lot);
- an amazing breakfast on the veranda with hot buns and fresh croissants, probably coming from a French colonialism tradition, which seems to have never left the city, giving a sort of romanticism.
L’HIBISCUS SPA and MASSAGE
Trust us, we have tried countless massage centers in our travels to Far East, but L’Hibiscus got the highest score of all of them. From the scent that pervades you as soon as you get in, to the tea made with “Laos flowers”, thin slices of a fruit apparently similar to an orange but actually with a delicate vanilla flavor.
We came across this art gallery owned by an American photographer completely in love with Laos and its people.
Naga Creations -that maybe doesn’t catch your attention at first- is definitively able to offer hidden gems for those who have the patience to spend there more than 10 minutes: ceramic bracelets and hand-painted pendants, calendars made of precious tiles from bone and silver jewellery.
One day, wandering around, we bumped into something that seemed like a normal scarves and fabrics store. We started talking to the owner, an English girl same age as us, that decided to move to Laos tired of a busy life in London when she was 20. Here she opened this magical and unmissable place, with the help of a weaver from Luang Prabang. Ock POP Tok is actually a big colonial building turned into a weaving center, which organises classes and one-day lessons for those who’d like to try. There’s also a small restaurant and two or three delightful rooms in which you can spend the night, cradled by the sound of the river.
To be honest, we don’t remember Luang Prabang as the paradise of foodies, but some things deserve to be tasted: the above-mentioned infusion with Laos flowers; the mysterious “coconut balls” they cook in funny little moulds at every street corner; the horrible dried Mekong seaweeds (!) to crunch as if they were fries; and a good sip of BeerLao, famous local beer and almost a national hero, its logo is printed on several t-shirts and gadgets for tourists.
It may sound like a cliché to say that the Laotian people are truly what gets under your skin. But it’s the truth. So if you’ll find yourself in this magical place, wake up at dawn, buy cookies and rice to offer from one of the old ladies on the street, and sit down in the main street. Down the street hundreds of monks, of every age, walk in line: everyone has his copper vase hanging on the shoulder, used to collect the offers. In a long line, quiet in their bright orange robes.
Maybe this is why an old Australian man we met in front of a temple, told us that he’s been many times in Laos, this time for the last one to say goodbye to his friends before his death.
Last but not least, before you leave, face the 328 steps to climb the Mount Phou Si. The view from up there is priceless: pinnacles of golden temples emerging from the green forest and, of course, the magnificent Mekong. Right there, on the top, you might meet some young student monks reading and meditating, and they could be named Keo, that means “glass” in Lao.