My trip to Laos in 2012 had been a very relaxed, come-what-may kind of trip. Jen and I didn't do much planning save for booking accommodations beforehand, and everything else kind of just fell into place almost effortlessly thanks to the many people we met along the way. I think we both didn't want a hectic, intensely scheduled itinerary after all our previous whirlwind trips to other countries. It probably had to do with us maturing as travelers as well. I suppose it happens to a lot of people who travel often - at some point, on your Nth trip, when you're a little less scared and a little more welcoming of the unknown, a little less excited about visiting every suggested destination on the tourist map and a little more interested in trying to live like a local, you realize that a trip doesn't have to be tremendously eventful to be memorable, and allow yourself to experience the magic of a place on the spot, without any expectations or prior research. So I was quite surprised at how long this list turned out, considering we had zero plans. It only goes to show that boredom and travel probably rarely co-exist, especially to those who are happy just to be in a foreign place, regardless of where it is and what there is to do there. For a true traveler, there is always something to explore, something to discover, and something to learn - at the very least, there is always something to do. And if you are by chance planning a trip to Luang Prabang anytime soon, this might help get you started.
1. Have breakfast by the river.
Wake up early (I love waking up early during my travels - it sounds counter-intuitive, but I quite like it that way. Waking up comes easy to those who fall asleep knowing you'll be doing what you love the next day, I once said) and take advantage of your guest house's free breakfast, and request that you have it outside by the river. Early mornings in Luang Prabang are lovely, like that Jason Mraz song - "how can you sleep at a time like this, unless the dreamer is the real you?"
2. Participate in the alms giving ceremony.
Another good reason to wake up early in Luang Prabang. The numerous monks in their orange robes walking in single file along the streets are a sight to behold in the haze of dawn - the early morning mist adds an almost ethereal glow about them. Take as many pictures as you want, as long as you don't disturb the ritual and are not rude to the monks.
3. Visit the local market.
Revel in the vibrant colors, rich aroma and the buzz of trade usually characteristic of markets anywhere in the world. Don't forget to take pictures!
4.Try the local brew.
A must in every country, I suppose. While you're at it, pick up a shirt with the beer logo to remind you of good times long after the trip is over, when you're sitting at home, sober.
5. Get stranded.
We had to cross a rickety bamboo bridge to get to Dyen Sabai. Once there, it began to rain and we found ourselves stranded amongst comfortable pillows, great coffee and the haunting music of Amy Winehouse. Can I still claim that we got stranded if I would've stayed regardless anyway?
6. Teach English to local students
It's always good to give back to the community you've visited. Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang lets you do just that by organizing classes where travelers can teach English to Luang Prabang locals of all ages.
7. Take a lazy boat ride on the Mekong River
The slow, steady pace of the boat and the noisy roar of its motor surprisingly make the trip conducive for a lot of self-reflection.
8. Visit the Pak Ou Caves
One of the main stops of the boat ride along the Mekong River that was quite reminiscent of our junk boat cruise in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. The caves house hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes. I found that the statues with imperfections and missing pieces were the best ones to photograph.
9. Visit Kuang Si Falls
Another common side trip in Luang Prabang. Vans usually take groups of tourists to the falls and you can purchase tickets for the trip in the same place where they offer the Mekong River boat rides to Pak Ou caves.
10. Write a postcard.
The laidback pace of life in Luang Prabang lends itself well to writing, which was great, because I share a great tradition with Tiff, a college friend of mine who is now based in Australia, of sending each other postcards from wherever we are traveling in the world. I sent her a few postcards from Luang Prabang which I wrote as I enjoyed a lime shake at a restaurant overlooking the river.
11. Go shopping
A nightly market is open in the main street of Luang Prabang where you can buy beautiful fabric, Beer Lao shirts to take home, and coffee beans contained in beautiful packaging adorned with local artwork.
12. Visit a temple.
Or several, because there are a whole lot of them scattered around Luang Prabang. Visit the popular, well maintained ones but also drop by the temples that aren't as well taken care of and perhaps not as visited by tourists.
13. Ride a bike.
Next to walking, it's the best way to get around.
14. Try the local food.
Laap or larb seems to be the most well-known of local Lao cuisine, but the Lao sausages are also quite memorable.
Sometimes, the most important thing to do on a trip is to do absolutely nothing. Wake up to a lazy day, take a leisurely walk along Luang Prabang's empty streets with no particular destination in mind, and enjoy a lime shake to cool down afterwards. The thing about travel is that it doesn't always have to involve frantic, itinerary-packed activities. Sometimes the beauty of travelling is not in being able to experience everything you can in a certain place, but instead allowing yourself to take a step back to revel in life's slow, simple moments.
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