Slow Living in Laos

After the frenetic mania of Vietnam, we were primed and ready for the calm stillness of laid back Laos. The country’s unassuming capital, Vientiane, was our first port of call, and after hectic Hanoi, we realized that our senses were out of sorts. This tranquil town was… Quiet. Despite activity on the streets, we heard no honking from the cars, buses or motos speeding by. People were openly and freely smiling and waving at us. Sidewalks appeared to be for walking, rather than a secondary moto-road as in Vietnam. And while for several days after arriving we maintained the reflexive tick of checking each and every direction before crossing a street for fear of being run down by moto or tuk-tuk, we quickly felt at ease in seemingly relaxed, welcoming and low-pressure Laos.

The timing of our visit was intentional as Laos is one of Martin’s favorite countries, and after a few days spent in the cafes and along the riverfront of Vientiane, we moved north to stunning Vang Vieng where we celebrated his birthday. The bourgeoning village sits along the tea colored Nam Song River and is hugged by a dramatic, jagged limestone karst mountain range—a stunning vista we took in from our splurge at the delightful Riverside Boutique Resort.  Staying true to the town’s outdoorsy reputation, we made good use of the resort’s push bikes as we explored its surrounding natural beauty. And when we were fully relaxed, we closed out our time there with a peaceful sunset yoga class in an outdoor shala on the edge of a wild field just below the awe-inspiring hills, a beautiful and serene place in which to set intentions for the start of Martin’s new year. 

Renewed and recharged, we next headed to lovely Luang Prabang for some delicious Franco-Laotian fusion cuisine and culture. We watched the radiant monks move along the streets, collecting alms and returning to the monasteries each evening as we took in the dazzling royal palace and glittering stupa perched high on top of a central hill. We strolled the night market (one of the most well organized and clean markets we’ve ever seen!) as the local sellers traded the day’s gossip while tourists purchased colorful fisherman pants and woven textiles. And we delighted in the tastes and smells of the night market’s food district, a small alleyway stuffed with stalls selling grilled fish and other meats on sticks and all-you-can-eat bowls of vegetables and rice.

But of all the charm in Luang Prabang, our favorite sight was just a few kilometres away at Kuang Si Falls, an impressive three-tiered travertine waterfall that fills turquoise-blue pools spilling over many cascades down a sloping, wooded hill. We arrived early, and nearly had the entire scene to ourselves as we walked upstream and then hiked to the top of the falls, which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and farmland. As if we hadn’t already found peace in gentle Laos, the breathtaking beauty and cool tranquility of Kuang Si quickly got us into the spirit.   

From Luang Prabang, we made our way up the mighty Mekong via the only appropriate mode of transit to leave this laid-back land: a two-day soporific slow boat journey to the Thai border town of Huay Xai. The leisurely ride gave us ample time to take in the sights of river life—small villages and rice terraces dotting the hills, children bathing and playing in the rushing water, buffalo submerged, attempting to keep cool while goats climbed along the rocky shoreline.

As we finally arrived in Thailand, we couldn’t help looking back fondly on our wonderful time in Laos, which may have been slightly short but sweet nonetheless.