Luang Prabang’s cool mountain air is a welcome change from Vientiane’s heavy heat, but the things that make this city quintessentially Lao are unchanged – tuk-tuk’s and motorcycles weave around cars on narrow roads, coffee shops are ubiquitous, as are street-side food carts selling staples like Lao sausage and spicy papaya salad. Every day before sundown, vendors convert about a mile of road into a night market – unmistakable red tents are set up on sidewalks and in the middle of the street so that only foot traffic can go through. By morning, cars move freely again, the tents and vendors are gone; there’s no sign that they were ever there.
From the outdoor garden at Utopia restaurant, I watch as soft morning light illuminates both the river and my exposed skin. It’s not yet hot enough to be uncomfortable, so I forego shade to sit on a wooden stool in the sun. Facing the Nam Khan river is a yoga class I planned and failed to attend. I watch as they wrap up with Shavasana – laying flat and quietly on their backs. We share the silence.For breakfast I order a smoothie bowl -because fresh fruits are abundant here- and ginger tea with honey that reminds me of my grandmother’s home remedy for a stubborn cough or sore throat. The warmth I feel from drinking is soothing; literally and figuratively. When AD joins me for breakfast, we settle into soft cushions on the restaurant’s bamboo deck. From here, it’s easy to see fishermen glide through in long skinny boats on their way to or from the day’s catch, and the unstable-looking bamboo bridge that connects one side of the city to another, where people will gather to take photos with the sunset as a backdrop. We eat in silence, mostly, but the space left by our conversation doesn’t beg to be filled, or maybe neither of us wants to fill it. Outside the restaurant, AD and I hug goodbye and make tentative promises to keep in touch.Today, the quaint city is quieter and calmer than usual, so I ride my rented bicycle on near-empty streets, stopping to photograph scenes along the way.When I park the bike for good, it’s at a spa – one of many in Luang Prabang. Massages are as common in Laos as freshly baked bread, though not as affordable. Bold signs advertising establishments and their prices are hard to miss.
I pick the least populated place and sit down to a foot massage. In clear warm water, my feet are soaked and scrubbed clean with charcoal black soap before soft, deft hands work on each muscle.
I want to relax while this is happening, maybe even sleep, but I’m ticklish, so instead, I try not to giggle, not loudly at least.
Good to Know
Where I Ate
Breakfast: 1) Utopia [the smoothie bowl is delicious] 2) Saffron Coffee
Lunch: 1) Cafe Vat Bene [the Khao Pad fried rice is delicious, as well as the mulberry leaf tea]
Dinner: 1) Manda de Laos [it’s a bit of a splurge, but worth it for the red curry, sticky rice, and gorgeous space] 2) Bamboo Garden [more relaxed, affordable traditional Lao cusine]
Dessert: Night Market, specifically Indigo Cafe -I went back three times for their pastry
Where I Stayed: Singharat Hotel [rented a bike for the whole day for 40,000kip here ~$5]
How I got to Luang Prabang: I flew Lao Airlines from Vientiane. 10/10 would recommend.
thank you for reading.
all photos shot by me on iPhone XR.
Same footprints, Different Sands