It has been a few busy days of traveling. I “hopped off” the bus in Chiang Mai and now our group has grown to 22 and is huge! Luckily this has meant getting to know some new people as well! It was another independence day away from the US again this year which meant no fireworks, BBQs, or spending time with family and friends but I guess I can’t complain! Well, stray has been keeping us on the move the past few days as we left Chiang Mai on the 4th and headed towards Chiang Rai, home to one of the most famous temples here in Thailand… the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. The temple was absolutely stunning as the white shined in the beautiful sunlight. We walked around the grounds of the temples that had many other white, sparkly structures before it was back on the bus to travel through the windy and hilly roads of northern Thailand. We crossed the border in Laos then drove along the Mekong River to Houay Xai where we stayed the night. We had a wonderful sunset dinner overlooking the Mekong River before watching some soccer! The next day we boarded our private longboat with room for about fifty (so thankful for the extra bit of room) and headed South down the Mekong River for seven hours. It was quite relaxing as we spent time talking and listening to music, playing card games, and enjoying the beautiful views of the Mekong River with a nice breeze. We stopped at a village along the way to see how a few local Lao families live. The village was quite small and doesn’t contain much. Many of the families farm but it didn’t look like a whole lot was going on in the village when we visited. We continued down the river to Ban Pak Nguey village where we had a homestay. About one hundred families or five hundred people live in the village, a pretty typical village-size here in Laos. Some of the children walked us around the village before we stopped and played for awhile before dinner. After dinner, the village performed a baci (or welcoming) ceremony for us. We sat around a silver platter which was filled with strings, flowers, and plates of bananas, sticky rice, and gifts for Buddha. The village members chanted for us during the ceremony and gave us many well-wishes. We were all given a plate and enjoyed eating the bananas and sticky rice before village members came around and tied strings around our wrist as they prayed for us and wished us well. By the end of the ceremony, I had more than 40 bracelets around my wrists which means lots and lots of good wishes. We are supposed to keep the bracelets on for 3-7 days otherwise bad karma will come to us. But if we leave the bracelets on for at least 3 days, we should have good luck come to us… I’m not risking this one and my bracelets are currently still on! After dinner, we split up and headed to different houses in the village to stay for the night. It was nice getting to meet some of the local Lao people and getting to see how they lived. The next day, we were back on the boat and had another seven-hour ride down the river. Although it was a long ride, I would much rather be on a boat than in a car for that long! The boat ride was quite similar to the day before–talking, listening to music, playing games, and enjoying the view and the breeze. We stopped at another village along the way–this one was quite different in that the men literally don’t do anything… they sit around and smoke all day (illegal substances) while the women raise the children and do the farming… it was quite sad to see. After the village tour, we headed back on the boat for another few hours. We made another stop at Pak Ou Caves, just about an hour (on the river) from Luang Prabang. The Pak Ou Caves consist of upper and lower sections–the lower contains more than 2,500 sculpture of Buddha and is called Tham Ting. This is where we gave our offering to Buddha that we got at the village the night before. The upper cave is called Tham Phum and contains about 1,500 Buddha sculptures… so many Buddha’s here in Southeast Asia! When we arrived in Luang Prabang, we settled in before heading out and exploring a bit of the city along with the night market. We stayed in Luang Prabang for two nights which meant that we had an entire day to enjoy Luang Prabang and further, it also means that we got to unpack a bit and settle in! We spent the following day exploring Kuangsi Waterfall Park which had literally the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The water was a perfect aqua-blue and the water temperature was a bit chilly but it definitely felt nice in the Southeast Asia heat. For dinner, we had traditional Lao barbecue which was very similar to Korean barbecue… essentially you are given raw meat then you cook it by yourself at the table for a fabulous dinner! It was our trip leaders birthday so after dinner, we headed to a disco here in Luang Prabang… and what an experience that was! Everything in Laos is extremely conservative so I felt as if I was at a middle school dance… but we all had a lot of fun! We were the only Western people in the whole place so we got quite a few “what are they doing” looks when we walked in… but it all worked out in the end! Laos actually has a curfew of midnight so all restaurants, bars, and shops must close by 11:30 pm so that everyone can get home by midnight… and it is strictly followed. This has meant early bedtimes for me which I certainly can’t complain about! We have more traveling to come in the next few days as I finish my tour of northern Laos before heading back to Bangkok.
Once again, the internet isn’t fast enough to upload photos… so there will be a post soon with lots of photos for ya!
More to come!