Entering into the first of two Communist nations to be visited during our travels, we decided to embark on a bit of a "knowledge quest" (i.e. Wikipedia-perusing) as to understand the history of the places to which we would be traveling. With Communism representing the government of choice in both Laos and Vietnam, what struck us more (when not being bombarded with Communist propaganda posters), was the European-based influence of these two Asian nations. For those familiar with the late/questionably-great Christopher Columbus, it should come as no surprise that Europeans had a mild obsession with colonizing the world. Like, the entire, world.
With the UK, Spain and Portugal representing some of the greatest "property borrowers" across our Earth, the French seemed to have left the greatest cultural impact on those nations they once called "ours, not yours, but if you are going to stay, learn to bake a damn croissant, s'il vous plait." Laos is no exception, as despite being 5,600 miles away from good ole Paris (pronounced Pear-ee at the time this sentence was written), it is hard to avoid the the unavoidable presence of French culture left upon the city of Luang Prabang. From the endless coffee-serving, croissant-baking cafes on every corner, to the wood-lacquered architecture throughout the entire city (apparently a French thing?), one could almost forget they are in Asia (if not for the relentless touts requesting "you want tuk tuk?").
Overall, Luang Prabang is truly a remarkable retreat in the midst of Southeast Asian chaos. It not only provides visitors the opportunity to absorb the unusual fusion blend of French and Asian culture, but also provides their stomachs the ability to absorb something aside from the endless array of rice, noodles & soup that has moreorless liquified one's bowels (TMI? Nah...). Thus, for Julie and myself, we want to personally thank the French for bringing the baguette across the sea to these lands, as it was about time something "semi-solid" made its way into our stomachs. And on that note... onto the highlights:
Kuang Si Waterfalls - As a resident of the great state of Texas for the past 8 years, I consider myself quite knowledgeable on the topic of "watering holes." Spread throughout the greater part of Central Texas, these "depressions of liquid" (well played Thesaurus, well played), are a favorite past-time of those looking for a bit of relief from the never-ending heat of summer. Primarily catering to the adult-only crowd (i.e. beer-saturated), experience has proven that an afternoon can easily be wasted away relaxing within the spring-fed waters around Austin (and by relaxing, I mean sitting for 5 seconds until having to remove Kerby's gyrating/hump-obsessed body from that of another poor, violated, four-legged soul - Such a good boy!).
Nonetheless, despite being on almost the exact opposite side of the world, and without our sexually-repressed mutt, we decided to visit one of the more popular watering holes outside of Luang Prabang - Kuang Si Waterfalls. After a quick ride on our new favorite mode of transportation (i.e. my new favorite, Julie has yet to drink all the motobike-flavored Koolaid... yet), we entered into what I can only describe as turquoise-tinted paradise. Imagine dozens of multi-tiered waterfalls flowing into an endless array of remarkably-turquoise blue pools (eat your heart out Crayola). Then surround these pools with a lush forest, countless hiking trails, and you literally have an oasis. Sure there may be a few (aka countless) Chinese tourists who have not yet mastered the art of "voice control," yet still, it is almost impossible to ruin the serenity of this once-hidden gem.
Utopia - For the days in Luang Prabang not spent soaking in the depths of the turquoise-coated pools of Kuang Si, instead were enjoyed at a newly-famed backpacker establishment - Utopia. Previously visited on my prior trip to Luang Prabang in 2009, apparently the word is out, as Utopia has grown into the go-to spot within this French-inspired Laos village. Want to sip a few drinks while watching the river float by under your feet, why not? Feel like refreshing the same website page over and over, in hopes the crappy Wifi miraculously fixes itself, have at it! Want to read a book, act all sophisticated, but secretly people-watch from the corner of your eye, well good sir (or miss), you have probably just discovered Utopia's most popular activity! For Julie and I, several days were spent lazing away at Utopia, enjoying a wide array of fruit shakes, reading some semi-crappy novels, and just soaking in the few days we had remaining until our departure for Vietnam.
Baguette/Crepe/Fruit Shake Stands - Why serve just one amazingly-refreshing creation, when you can offer all 3?! A delicious baguette sandwich, the perfect cure for countless consecutive days of soup, noodles, and noodle soup. A made-on-the-spot crepe, filled with Nutella and whatever other ingredient you want to pretend will make this a healthy snack. And then of course, wash it all down with a mango/pineapple/guava smoothie. Grand Total = $3. Consider us sold / #1 clientele.
Bowling w/Bob - Let's just say Bob deserves his own blog post - And I will gladly concede to such an inevitability in the coming days.
Onto the pics: