I had last been to Laos 9 ½ years ago in the summer of 2010. As a high school graduation present, my parents signed me up for a six week teen tour through Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. In Laos, we spent time in villages outside of the two main tourist centers: Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. That was my first trip to Southeast Asia. Now as a 4-time Southeast Asian veteran, I was very excited to return.
The real reason for my visit was to see my friend David. David led the Myanmar portion of the 2010 trip. We have managed to stay in touch over these years and I consider David to be a role model of mine.
David is one of the most optimistic and passionate people I know. He always wants to make things happen: even if they seem impossible at first. On the Myanmar trip, he asked me to scout out a village to see if the group could all visit the next day. I said no because half the island was flooded so it was difficult to get around. The next day we did go to the village and planks had been placed all over the village so we could walk. That decision has inspired me up until this day.
About 10 days before arriving in Thailand, David extended an invitation to Laos to see his new resort. Without hesitation, I accepted and rearranged my itinerary so I could spend 3 nights in Luang Prabang (Travel tip: unless it is high season, I usually wait to book my accommodations until late).
December 19, 2019: The Return to Laos
After a final morning in Chiang Mai at the famous Wat Phra That, I caught the Lao Airlines flight direct to Luang Prabang. Unlike the jets from other airlines, Lao operated a turbo-prop AR-72 plane. It is very safe, but definitely rattled some of the passengers.
One hour later, I landed in the mountainous Laos. After purchasing my visa on arrival for approximately $35 USD, I was greeted by David in the lobby.
We drove in a pickup truck back to the resort: On The Mekong Resort. The resort is quite unique. The land was originally acquired to house students on Rustic Pathways projects. David then purchased antique wooden buildings from villages in the region. The villagers dismantled the buildings and reconstructed them on the resort property. Then David came in and remodeled the spaces that he could into beautiful hotel rooms.
The result is an authentic Lao village with all the modern luxuries a traveler could want. Of note are the bathrooms, which are of equal or better quality to anything you can find in the US or Europe (a major deal in Southeast Asia).
David said that Lao government officials take visitors here to show them what a real Lao village looks like.
As today was the third day of operations, I was the fifth guest to stay at the resort. David and the staff were still putting in some of the finishing touches- which was really fun for me to see.
After a welcome drink, I headed down to a large wooden terrace overlooking the Mekong River.
David prepared a humongous Lao barbeque for me and the staff. The food was delicious!
Then I headed into town to see the night market. Lots of handicrafts. It was touristy but a far cry from the trash I saw in the Chiang Mai night market. Of note were snake wines and handmade silks. Then we went to a bar in town for a Beer Lao.
We ended our night at a local bar/hangout. For some reason I seemed to be the birthday spot: we counted at least 6 birthdays in an hour! We snacked on water buffalo skin, which was surprisingly good. The texture was like a super difficult to chew jello.
December 20, 2019: Kuang Si Falls
David connected me with a Russian honeymooning couple and the resort staff to visit the famed Kuang Si waterfall. I had been 9.5 year ago and it was amazing.
The drive took about 45 minutes. I remember the roads in northern Laos as being unbelievably windy and they did not disappoint.
We walked past a moon bear sanctuary and then were greeted with the most beautiful turquoise water- similar color to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon. After a series of small waterfalls and some stunning swimming spots we reached the main attraction: the 200 Ft tall Kuang Si Falls. It is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen.
A pathway leads to the top of the falls. We took it and it ended up being a long hike up through the jungle.
The top of the waterfall is not as pretty as the bottom but it is in thick jungle and has some views so it was worth it. We saw a sign for a cave 3km away and decided to hike towards it. That hike was nice because we were completely along.
The cave itself was small but deep enough to get lost in the darkness in. We spent approximately 10 minutes exploring. Then we walked back to the top of the falls, bottom of the falls and the car and then back to Luang Prabang. I had some time before sunset so I explored town a little bit.
My first stop for lunch was a place Utopia. This is the backpackerist of backpacker destinations. Man-Bun men and women in elephant pants plugged away on their laptops while lounging on cushions overlooking the river as Jack Johnson played in the background. This place is a VIBE!
I ate larb and got a mango-cinnamon smoothie to drink.
Then I visited a museum on ethnology and the various tribes in Laos: Hmong, Black Tai, Red Tai, and more. I did not realize that many of these tribes have moved all over Asia in the last few hundred years.
For dinner, the Russian couple decided to make Russian food for everyone! They managed to find all the ingredients in the local market. They made a soup called schi. It was delicious. In true Russian fashion, we also did like 10 toasts of local whiskey. It was a really wonderful night.
I absolutely loved how relaxed Luang Prabang was. It had the chill and cute vibe that backpackers (and other tourists) expect but do not get from Northern Thailand. Luang Prabang obviously thrives on tourism but does not feel like a touristy place. It seems to have struck that perfect balance of authenticity and abundance of tourist amenities.