You. Only Better. Desire No. 3: Travel abroad. On you own. There is something about traveling in a foreign land that makes you appreciate the kind of person that you are. Like what I’ve said before, the opportunity to explore a country which language you know nothing about and which physical beauty you struggle to comprehend always brings out the kid in you at the onset, and the more mature version of you, really, once you’re done with the trip.
Now, imagine traveling in a foreign destination, alone, for the first time. Like Luang Prabang, in Lao PDR. Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang might just be that quaint, interesting destination that you would want to get lost in while you develop more respect for that “person in you” no one knew ever existed.
“Luang Prabang? Where is that?” It’s the automatic reply that I get from people when I tell them of my travel to Luang Prabang. It’s probably the same reply I blurted out when I was offered to attend a seminar there in 2008.
It was an all-expense paid trip that I couldn’t resist, and the first time that I will be out of the country. I jumped on the opportunity even when I knew nothing about Luang Prabang except from the fact that it is once the capital of the landlocked country Laos.
I was excited to travel outside the Philippines and I’d be honest that the view from my airplane when we were nearing Luang Prabang did not match the kind of international travel that I had in mind that time. I stayed in Bangkok for a night before I flew to Luang Prabang but I didn’t like to consider Thailand as my first ever foreign destination since I was, obviously, just in transient then.
Mountains after mountains greeted me when I looked out of my plane’s window, and I remember telling myself, “You sure don’t know what you’re going into.” The sight of a brown muddy Mekong River didn’t help either. I imagined some Rambo-ish type of music being played as we got nearer to our destination.
The reason why Luang Prabang is my favorite foreign destination to this day lies in the realization that the place actually surprised me after a very not-so-good first impression. After that trip, I have learned not to prematurely judge a destination or an experience just by the kind of view that one gets from the airplane’s window.
The small town of Luang Prabang, says UNESCO which has named Luang Prabang one of the world’s heritage sites, is “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
It is easy to understand why a lot of travelers had been taken by Luang Prabang’s charm. It is quaint, yes, but in spite of its small geography, it packs a myriad of adventure and flavor that can be just too much for someone who is exploring a foreign land for the first time.
I felt that when Luang Prabang slowly unraveled its beauty to me. It’s old soul was unmistakable.
And it got even more appealing at night when the yellow lights illuminated the narrow streets that became home to al-fresco restaurants once the sun set in. I would walk around town tirelessly, taking in the sights and the smells in every corner, retiring only when the main street got devoid of tourists and peddlers.
The succeeding days of my stay became even more exciting when I learned I can have my own bike while in Luang Prabang. While it can be explored by foot, I found more joy in biking around Luang Prabang. It got me from one place to another with such ease.
And helped me hopped from one temple.
Luang Prabang is home to numerous Buddhist temples. It actually surprised me to find temples after temples in such a small setting. One claims that it is this high concentration of golden wats that have earned it its UNESCO recognition.
I also found myself sharing some light and funny moments with young monks who were just too eager as well to get to know people from other places. To gain an understanding of the kind of life they live, I would wake up very early to witness their procession.
Once tired from all the temple-hopping, I would head to the restaurants lining the Mekong River banks and wait for the sunset there while I finish an order of Pad Thai or while I try to comprehend why their sticky rice tasted so differently creamy.
Other days, I will be riding a tuktuk. Or driving one (although it was a very fleeting experience).
Such as that time when I decided to climb the Phousi Hill which had a view of the entire town. Mt. Phousi is a sacred place in Luang Prabang and most of the establishments around town carry such name. The hotel where I stayed was called Phousi Hotel.
I was also riding a tuktuk when I spotted an unassuming book shop that doubled as a cafe. It was here where I met some backpackers from Europe who invited me to sample the night life in Luang Prabang, which I politely declined given my involvement in the seminar.
I also explored Luang Prabang by boat.
Or when I crossed Mekong River one morning to know what was on the other side.
But it was my elephant encounter that endeared Luang Prabang the most to me. As a child, I have always wanted an elephant for a pet. I am not exaggerating. I knew, however, that it was an impossible desire so I had hoped instead to one day be able to ride one. I didn’t know there were elephant camps in Luang Prabang!
So even when I only had six hours before my flight back to Bangkok, I managed to arrange an elephant ride in the outskirts of town. I got overly excited (pretty much how a kid would react) when I found myself surrounded by eight elephants.
We trekked into the forest. And to this day, I remember it with so much fondness.
I really didn’t expect Luang Prabang to be that exciting and unique, and from it I learned that best trips can be made even in the middle of the most surprising circumstances.
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 😀
- All photographs taken in July 2008 with an earlier model of a Nikon digital camera.