26 July 2012

Luang Prabang. Simply gorgeous.

The start of a rather long hike up to Phousi 

What a beautiful and relaxed city.  It’s filled with all of that charm that I was looking for in Laos… little did I know it would be the only town that I would find it in.  I arrived late in the afternoon and went hoofing it with my backpack to find a guest house, and afterwards I found one of my favorite cafes… this girl has priorities!  But unfortunately (and fortunately!) I was greeted with their daily night market filled with all sorts of food and local goodies and souvenirs.  Pretty much any souvenir that you’re looking for and more is available there… and did I mention the food?  Lots of food vendors, especially ones that have buffets where you can try all sorts of different foods for around $3 per plate.  Deals galore!

The things I love most about Luang Prabang (and in no particular order): 
1. Wine bars.  This was the first time I had wine in four months!!!   Wine is not popular in Asia and the local wine in Asia is… well…it’s all crap.  So many glasses were had and all the meanwhile made some friends while drinking (of course!) whom I later went and did some...

2. Late night bowling.  Alcohol sales stop at 10:30pm in LP.  Yes, 10:30pm.  It’s a tad early for the backpacker scene.  So all the night owls (ok, partiers) go to this bowling alley just outside of the city center where you could continue drinking after the 10:30pm curfew.  The best part, you bowl barefoot.  No rental of shoes.  No funky shoes or foot fungus.  Just you, beer (or whiskey), bare feet, new friends, and bowling. 

3. A little loungy place called Utopia where you could just chill, eat, drink, listen to music/entertainment and play games all day.

4. Phousy Luang Prabang Temple (aka Phu Si, Phosy).  Located on a hill it’s quite lovely with lush vegetation, blooming trees, and has amazing views of the city/town.  The name of the shrine is Phousy (sounds like the French version of pus&y) which has a  crack in the mountain that has been painted red.  To be honest, I’m not sure if they had intended for the um, similarities between the crack and the female genitalia but it’s um, similar.  Also there are a bunch of caves often with Buddha statues inside, spirit houses, Buddha’s footprint (let’s be honest, it looks like a strange shaped footprint or a bunch of odd holes in a rock and sounds like a marketing ploy – like coffee stains that look like the Virgin Mary or clouds that look like the white, Christian Jesus) and cool, long staircases with the naga statues in all their ferociousness.  Awesome place to explore and spend an hour or two or three.

5. Ock Pop Tok (East meets West) Lao Textile Design – I found this place while wandering along the streets.  What caught my eye were all of the beautiful handmade textiles they had.  While so many vendors claim that their items are handmade, they’re either not or cheap versions of the real thing.  This place is legit and the work is stunning and based on designs and methods from different provinces in Laos with quality materials.  This is a fair trade store/studio and works alongside development agencies and the Lao Women’s Union  to train female artists from remote areas.  Most often when you buy a scarf, the woman who made it has her tag on it along with picture, where’s she’s from, what the materials are, etc.  I like seeing a face to the handcrafted item personally.  While I was at the store, I found out that they also did classes and tours.  I didn’t have enough time for the classes (but believe me, if I go back, I’m doing a week’s worth of classes!) I did go to their studio for a tour.  What a great place!  It’s in a beautiful location just on the outskirts of downtown with great landscaping, cool design, outdoor workspace for the artists, views of the river, and plants that are used for their natural dyes.  Cool thing is, the scarf that you just bought you can likely see the artist who made it while touring through their facilities and chat with them.  Classes include natural dyes, weaving your own Lao or Ikat scarf, bamboo weaving or even doing Hmong batik.  It’s a DIY-er’s dream!!  Check it out at ockpoptok.com.

6. The best sight are the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls.  Talk about spectacular turquoise waters!  We (myself and three South American girls I befriended) went by way of the trekking trail and arrived at this beautiful lagoon with gorgeous waters and waterfalls.  Locals and travelers alike were playing around in the water and jumping off the big tree swing.  We had such a great time and just as we’re about to leave, we start heading towards the direction we though was a paved road going back, but found pool after pool of these turquoise waters and waterfalls until we finally got to the BIG waterfall… which we had no idea even existed.  We were perfectly happy with what we found and this just sent us over the edge.  This is a must see!

Meet Daniel, he's easy on the eyes and in spirit.  This man lives life big and
has been to corners of the earth that I can only dream of going to one day.
Like Antarctica. 

A whole lot of caliente going on in this picture with my gals from South America and Daniel from Romania.

My favorite part was just walking around the city with Daniel, whom I met at the waterfalls.  We stumbled upon each other walking down the street and ended up hanging out and walking the entire city for hours and taking photos for two nights in a row talking about everything under the sun but mostly about our travels, religion, energy, food, and unique experiences.  Some of our conversations really made me reflect on some of the decisions that I've made in my life and how I'd like to change them.  Every now and then I meet someone who really challenges my perceptions of myself and the world.  He's an amazing and beautiful person on both the inside and out (obviously!).  I love meeting people like that and having wonderful experiences of sharing some time, stories, and knowledge together.

You know I always have to go to a local market!  This one unique in it's own sense and has all sorts of produce I've never seen before too.  Always great people watching here!

Even this girl's gotta work!
Used for prayers at temples

Sleeping on the job...
Hung out with a group of locals playing an old French game that involves throwing a larger ball with the back of your hand facing forward and then try to hit a small pink ball on the other side of the game area or knock your opponents ball out of the way.  Very cool game to pass the time.

I also went to donate some books and school supplies to local village children...  it's incredible the little things that can make a difference.  Most children can't afford to even go to school as their family needs their help with raising their siblings and taking care of household duties while they're out working in the fields so something like school supplies, books, even toothpaste and toothbrushes are a luxury.  Another way to help is to donate your time at schools or places within the city daily where you can help locals practice their English.

One memorable full moon night...

This picture doesn't even do that night justice...


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