“Would you like one”? AD asks holding out an open tin of white mints towards me. “No, thank you”, I decline politely if a bit prematurely -I do want one. But it’s too late. I’m not retracting my response. He turns to the driver and repeats the question. When the driver picks out three mints, AD can’t help but smile. “I don’t think he knows just how strong those are”. I laugh in response but turn my attention back to the window where Luang Prabang’s mountains are clearly visible under a cloudless sky.
I’m zoning out again when AD asks, “Where are you traveling from?”. “San Francisco,” I say and turn to face him since it seems like we’ll be having a conversation. I find out that AD is traveling from Paris, France. I’ve been in Vientiane for two weeks (working) and tell him as much. Like everyone else, he’s curious as to what “working” in Laos entails so I roll out my elevator speech explaining that my job is in malaria elimination. For the rest of an hour-long drive, we talk travel, trading stories about places we’ve been to and the ones we’re yet to visit.
AD is a French pilot who speaks enough languages – Mandarin, Italian, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish– to communicate in several places. I express my envy in an overt but playful manner. I’m more impressed than jealous.
At Kuang Si Falls, our final destination, we fall into step together and make our way through a bamboo archway that acts an entrance. Further in, natural pools form at the base of a waterfall that looks closer to an illusion than anything real. The water in the pools is a pale shade of green that’s made more vivid in direct sunlight.Despite the view, both AD and I are keen to explore past the main falls, so we cross the short bridge facing the falls and start on a steep hike into the forest. The ground is slippery from rain, and my sandals are close to ripping, but I continue anyway, and try to mirror the nimble moves of my travel partner, who’s wearing even more impractical shoes – flip flops. Any complaints I have stay lodged in my throat.We hear the water before we see it, and I -who has just been contemplating turning back- squeal in excitement. Somehow, we’ve managed to reach a spot near the top of the main waterfall. Using vines as hand railings and rocks as steps, we maneuver our bodies carefully into the nearest pool and swim across to others.From our viewpoint, the mountains are at eye-level and we can see down to where most people have gathered to swim or take photographs. “Isn’t this incredible?”, AD says loud enough for me to hear over the sound of running water. “Yeah”, I respond, too stunned to say more. Instead, I close my eyes and sink deeper into the cool stream.
We’re walking the rest of the trail when we run into a group of monks draped in fabric the color of burnt orange. Save for matching clothes and sandals, they’re not adorned with much else. It’s not uncommon to see monks walking to and from temples, or paying for coffee at a café. I wonder if there’s a temple near the falls or whether they too have come to do nothing but relax.Later in the afternoon, AD and I buy coconuts, grilled chicken and sticky rice –a Laotian staple which we eat with our hands on a picnic bench near the main waterfall. A group of giggling girls make eye contact with me. Two are bold enough to step forward to ask for a photo. I motion for them to sit. We smile at the lens of a phone camera. “Your skin is so beautiful,” one of the girls says through a grin, “thank you for the picture”. I can’t help but smile back.
Good To Know
Where I Stayed – Singharat Hotel [booked via booking.com]
Vientiane – Luang Prabang – I flew Lao Airlines [highly recommend]
How to get to Kuang Si – The waterfalls are popular enough that any tuk-tuk driver will know where to take you; you would just have to negotiate a price before getting in. I organized my spot on a tour bus through the hotel’s concierge. Total cost – 40,000 Kip ~ $5 [includes entrance fee to Kuang Si and Roundtrip Bus Ride]
thank you for reading
all photos shot by myself & AD on iPhone XR
Same footprints, Different sands