Last days in Laos
Congratulations. If you are still with me, then you have made it to the end of this incredibly long series. Pat yourself on the back. Now pat your head & rub your tummy at the same time. Now stop it. Everyone’s looking at you.
So, after making it to the top of Angkor Wat, we got on another plane & flew to the last country on our itinerary…Laos! Luang Prabang is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site & it’s easy to see why. The quaint streets & colourful store fronts were beautiful, revealing the European influence that had once held control over much of this part of the world. From the little cafes to the street markets, Luang Prabang was definitely one of my favourite stops. Especially since we arrived on New Years to a delicious dinner & the lighting of lanterns that we set off into the sky with a wish.
Our first morning in Laos started off with a 30km bike ride through the rolling hills of the countryside. We made a stop along the way to visit a local silk & paper shop. Using the local foliage & utilizing the creativity of local designers, the paper is brought to life. Although not skilled in the art of paper making, they still let us try it for ourselves. If I had to chose between the two, I would say the paper was a little easier to work with than the clay pottery…but I’m still not gonna quit my day job.
While we waited for the paper to dry, we finished our ride & boarded small boats to head to the Pak Ou Caves, better known as the “Buddha Caves”. Located along the Mekong River, this cave is home to thousands of Buddha statues that have accumulated over the years. The statues vary in position & size, showing Buddha in all his forms & poses. It was believed that a hermit who once inhabited the cave achieved enlightenment, making it a significant site for believers. The Buddhas can be washed & added to the cave only once a year, but the upper & lower sanctuaries contain more than 4,200 statues, so I’m not sure they’re in desperate need of more statues anyways.
That afternoon, some of us decided to take a cultural walk with one of our guides. We walked through the streets of the city & visited one of the local temples as well as the local night market before dinner.
The next day had been highly anticipated the whole trip & it was finally here…visiting the elephant sanctuary! Elephants, in my opinion, are one of the most amazing animals. Ever since I met the baby orphan elephants in Kenya, I have been obsessed. This time around we saw much bigger elephants & we even had the chance to ride them. I felt bad making the poor guy carry us, but apparently they could handle it. However, before we crossed the river by elephant, we had some lunch & took a small boat across to visit the babies.
Once our pockets were out of bananas, we headed back to shore for our turn to ride some older elephants. Apparently no matter the age though, they still love bananas & we got to reward them with a couple bundles afterwards.
We had traveled all the way up river to visit the elephants, so we traded our bikes for kayaks & paddled back down. Apparently water & cameras are a “no-no”, so we couldn’t take any pictures. The highlight though was definitely Liam’s kayaking look, which consisted of a bucket hat underneath a helmet, a life jacket with a hood & of course, his “French” scarf. There was only one flip on the way back, but that was because someone was trying to hitch a free-ride on the back of our speedy kayak. No one was hurt, but the elephant poop smell will take a while to come out.
Once we cleaned up a little, we dressed for dinner which started out with a Baci well-wishing ceremony. All the elders of the village had gathered to bless us in a traditional ceremony. Each elder says a prayer while tying a thin piece of string around each of your wrists. This ceremony is usually performed before traveling or leaving home & you must wear the strings for three days before taking them off by hand, one by one. It was a really beautiful ceremony & we made it home safe, so it must have worked!
The next morning we were up before dawn to participate in another traditional ceremony. Each morning, monks from different temples across the region walk through the streets of the town to collect alms. Alms can be anything from rice to money, whatever the locals can afford to donate to the monks. We were given rice & set up on the side of the road, waiting for the procession of monks. It is disrespectful to point your feet towards a monks, so you must kneel with your feet pointing backwards. During this ceremony you must also not look the monks in the eyes. This, combined with the speed at which they were walking & how full their baskets were made it a little difficult to make sure the rice was dropped in their pot. I’m proud to say my aim got a little better with each monk that passed.
Even though not all the food in the market was the most appetizing, we were still hungry for some breakfast, so our guides arranged for a little breakfast at a waterfall they said was one of the most beautiful they’d ever seen. I agreed it wasn’t too shabby.
Once we got back to town, we headed to the airport to catch a plane to the final city on our trip…Hanoi! After spending the night in the capital city, we woke up & let someone else do the pedaling on our last day, taking cyclos to Ho Chi Minh’s residence & grave site. The deceased leader is actually embalmed & held in this building, but unfortunately it wasn’t open to the public on the day we visited, which made me weirdly disappointed. I mean, who doesn’t want to see an embalmed body? Just me? Okay.
^^ One of the guides told us that if we clapped, the fish would come. We all tried it, but then I looked around & realized how stupid we looked…it may or may not have been a set up.
So, just like that, at the edge of a koi fish pond, our trip came to an end. That night, we had a delicious dinner & looked back on some of the photos we took & saw the premiere of the video my cousin Elle had been working on all trip! Here it is:
The next morning we said our goodbyes & headed to the airport to catch our flight to Hong Kong. In 18 days we saw 3 countries. We experienced new cultures, tried new foods & saw wonders from another time & place. Although I’ve traveled & spent time abroad, I never thought I would see this part of the world, however, I am so grateful that I did & that I got to experience it with my family.
Well, that’s it from Vietnam. I guess all there’s left to do is sign off:
Just a girl sharing the baubles she loves & the bliss she experiences!