The nation of Laos is officially known by the name of Lao P.D.R. (People’s Democratic Republic), but to many travelers this name also symbolizes a deeply rooted part of the Lao identity. It is often said that locals operate on “Lao Time,” meaning that they are friendly and helpful, but in no particular hurry to get anything done. So backpackers have dubbed it with the not so official name of Lao P.D.R. (Please Don’t Rush). We embraced the P.D.R. attitude and took our time exploring the town and outskirts of Luang Prabang.
It was a welcomed change to move away from the backpacker party scene in Vang Vieng and into the beautifully serene and laid back town of Luang Prabang. The town even has a nightly curfew of midnight which contributes to its low-key environment.
We hired bikes one morning and set off to explore the rolling hills that surround Luang Prabang. The Mekong and its tributaries wind through the landscape while temples and shrines speckle the countryside. On our single-track bicycles, we quickly learned that the “rolling hills” are steeper than they appear. Hydration stops and fruit shake breaks helped us get through the toughest parts.
Waking up very sore and stiff the next morning, we opted to take a boat cruise up the Mekong River. We piled on board with two other couples and set off towards some villages and caves up river from Luang Prabang. There is something so mesmerizing about the Mekong. It really embodies the “please don’t rush” mentality as it meanders its way through the lush green countryside. The muddy brown waters were running high from the recent rains which made the journey to the cave a bit slower than usual but equally if not more beautiful. We stopped in a small village whose specialty is lao lao whiskey, made from sticky rice, had a few tastes for good measure, and kept on our way.
The caves at the end of the trip were more impressive than we’d imagined. For thousands of years, the two caves we visited have been used as places of worship. The native people of Lao used to worship spirits of nature and believed that the riverside caves were connected with the water gods. After Buddhism arrived in the region, the caves gradually became religious shrines and house countless statues of the Lord Buddha left as offerings by faithful pilgrims.
Another well-known attraction in the area is Kuang Si Falls. When it comes to waterfalls, Amy is hard to impress. The many falls of the Colombia River Gorge near her hometown of Portland, OR are tough to beat. This particular waterfall definitely met her expectations. At first, it seemed like nothing more than a fast flowing jungle river with some small drop offs, pools, and rope swings. As we made our way upstream, we stopped for some fun and took a few turns on the swing ourselves before running into one of the most spectacular waterfalls we have ever seen. This bad boy seemed to stretch on forever as it disappeared into the clouds escaping the reach of our camera lens.
Luang Prabang is the type of place where you can easily get swept away by the nightly market, amazing scenery and easy going locals. Our goal of circumnavigating the globe, however, means that we have to keep moving, even when we want to stay. The lengthy bus ride through winding, mudslide-ridden, mountain passes that we took from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang was more than we could handle for a second time, so we opted for a short 30 minute flight to Vientiane. In true Lao fashion it turned out to be the easiest and most stress-free travel experience of our trip so far; factor in the brand new airplane, tasty on-board vegetarian snack and breathtaking aerial views of the Mekong, and it may go down as the best flight ever!