We were part of a two-day cruise down the Mekong River,
and had just spent the night at the Luang Say Lodge at Pakbeng, Laos. After
breakfast, most of the group walked to the village morning market, but we
opted to go to the boat and cruise with it from the lodge landing to the
village dock. Big teak logs were being unloaded from barges to be trucked to
China, and we wanted to watch the process.
were enchanted by the friendly novices and their attention to a 93 year old
monk who couldnít quit smiling at us.
The unloading proceeded slowly but the Luang Say captain
knew just where we were going to dock. We tied up not to a dock but to a
barge loaded with teak logs, which was also tied to a barge loaded with teak
logs. The intrepid market passengers had to climb over and around enormous
logs, pass through a barge kitchen and then climb aboard the boat. We waited
for them with ready cameras and much laughter. Cold towels and drinks were
offered, and we began our journey again.
Within moments we spotted elephants working with teak
logs on the side of the river. It was good to see that they were well
nourished. More elephants appeared on the other side of the river, along
with water buffalo and a herd of goats. A few men panned for gold, some
filled bags with sand and loaded it onto boats. Fishermen were there in
abundance, and children ran across the sand dunes. We saw peanut plants
growing in the sand. Our guide told us they would later be transplanted. Our
next destination was Pak Noi, a Lao Luang village where we were eagerly
anticipated guests. A rice whiskey tasting had been arranged.
up not to a dock but to a barge loaded with teak logs. Intrepid market
passengers had to climb over and around enormous logs, pass through a barge
kitchen and then climb aboard the boat.
This village was far easier to access, only about a
hundred steps straight up, and far more interesting. Children greeted us
with small flowers and followed us everywhere but didnít beg. Like most of
the villages on the river, there are no roads leading in and out. Products
were off-loaded to villagers from our boat, and loaded onto the boat. A
small textile market had been set up for our visit, as well as the rice
whiskey tasting. Every family seemed to have its own still and the villagers
were eager to watch as the few and the brave tried the whiskey. The
resulting puckered faces caused much laughter. An amorous male turkey
displaying his plumage for his bored female companions attracted just as
much attention as the textile market. We were enchanted by the friendly
novices and their attention to a 93 year old monk who couldnít quit
smiling at us. Deaf and almost toothless, he nevertheless communicated with
plantings surround the small, elegant boutique hotels in Luang Prabang.
Second level balconies are set for dinner.
Our journey began again, this time to the caves of Pak
Ou. Set into a high vertical cliff, there are two caves. They can be reached
by steep steps that wind up the face of the rock, and contain thousands of
Buddha images. The cave/temples were originally dedicated to the spirits of
the river but were converted into Buddhist temples in the 15th century.
Heavy rain began to fall, so we just pulled further back into the caves and
waited. Smaller boats tied up to ours and waited also. Most of us were eager
to get to Luang Prabang.
As soon as we docked in Luang Prabang, older children
began scrambling down the steps to the pier to carry our luggage. Our boat
crew carefully supervised their work, but they were little experts. We again
exchanged email information with our new friends. Our bags loaded onto a
truck, we climbed in the back for the ride to our hotel.
cave/temples were originally dedicated to the spirits of the river but were
converted into Buddhist temples in the 15th century.
Luang Prabang was declared a World Heritage site by the
United Nations in 1995. The architecture within the site is French, and
reminded us of a kinder, gentler New Orleans. Tropical plantings surround
the small, elegant boutique hotels. Second level balconies are set for
dinner. What would be ornate wrought iron in Paris or New Orleans is carved
of teak and set above arched doorways. The predominant mode of
transportation is the bicycle; the few trucks and motorcycles we saw in
heritage site were surprisingly quiet. We did not miss the noise of tuk
tuks. The French brought an amazing cuisine with them in addition to
beautiful architecture, and we eagerly sampled it. Sitting in an elegant,
open-air restaurant that could be found in almost any sophisticated city, we
completely enjoyed our smoked duck salad, duck confit and grilled shrimp.
And we loved that our entrees were served with sticky rice!
Noi, children and novices greeted us with small flowers and followed us
everywhere but didnít beg.
We wandered the little lanes, visited markets and museum
and, of course, ran into our friends from the Luang Say. They shared our
enchantment with this tiny city. I believe weíll all come back.
For more information on the Laung Say, visit www. asian-oasis.com.