Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Days 2-5: Laos

The Kuang Si waterfalls near Luang Prabang were definitely one of the highlights. They had several layers of waterfalls and we wandered up above the falls, and then went swimming down below. I dove in (the depth was enough, although I was told that I probably wasn't very smart by doing that…Gavin redeemed me later by doing a backflop, and I have pictures to see the carnage in action…) I managed to also stub the daylights out of my toe, which definitely limit my mobility (still even back in Seoul). And for all of the dumb stuff I did, this happened while running up the stairs barefoot?!?

The next day (any nighttime activities from the previous night are censored) we took a 2.5 hour boat ride up the river to see the Pak Ou Caves. These caves have had old Buddhist statues in them for more than 5 centuries. There were hundreds of them, ranging from 2 centimeters tall to larger than life versions. We stopped by a whiskey village on the way there (part of the tour, although we decided to only have a small sip, it was too early to start that!) I also talked with a Buddhist monk on the way to the boat, who had a very cute dog, Toto. The monks were so friendly, it is such a different world to have someone talk with you without the usual pan-handling (yes, I have spent too much time in places that have jaded me perhaps). The English of many of the monks was surprisingly good! I wish I could speak any language (other than English) that well!

We saw a number of sights, from murals on temple walls, to kids selling birds in cages (so foreigners can release them, a very sustainable business model for them…) The food was excellent, and one of my favorite elements was the massages. The massages were anywhere between $5-10 for an hour, and similar to a Thai massage. Fantastic and much needed after our long days. I just needed more hours in a day to get more! All of us joked that we wanted to open a Samsung office in Luang Prabang. After all, it is the second biggest city in Laos (with 100,000 people to put that in perspective ;)

Each night from 5 to 10 pm, they have a night market that was great. Rows upon rows of scarves, tablecloths, shirts, and little trinkets. I made a beeline for the ATM, and proceeded to buy more paintings, scarves and random knick-knacks.

One of the things that surprised me was that the people here were so short. It makes me wonder if it was nutrition or genetics (or likely a certain combination of both). This led to some amusing comments, none of which I shall publish. Not that any of that mattered, the great thing about Laos was the friendliness of the people and the lack of a full-touristy feel. You can see the tourist elements of the area increasing, but it still retains a large portion of its charm. I can only imagine what it was like 20 years ago though!

The final day we just wandered around the town, hiked up the hill in the middle of the town and relaxed. It was far too short a visit, and I know that my compatriots are planning a return trip. The challenge is that it is not an easy place to get to! But there are plenty of more adventures to be had in Laos, and more unique sights to see. The only thing we need is more vacation time!

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