I have visited Luang Prabang once before briefly on a two week journey through Laos. It is a special little village with lot of heart, which has a feeling of warmth that you just can’t put your finger on. There are a numbers of reason why I and now Elise love this little town so much.
Situated on the edge of the Mekong River, this bustling little village is the main thoroughfare for most backpackers travelling from North Thailand. After two days travel by boat, most travellers are greeted with the refreshing laid back attitude from the Laos people. There are large influences from the French here in both architecture and food (leaving their legacy of fine bread and wine). The main street is lined with wine cellars, bakeries and the odd cheese shop dotted along the way.
Activities are plentiful here, such as: seeing the waterfall, Buddha caves, trekking, mountain biking or visiting the number of Stupas located throughout the town.
However our most memorable experience was just down the road on an afternoon walk.
We found ourselves with nothing to do on our last day, so we grabbed a couple of the local ales, wandered down to the edge of the river and observed the busy Mekong and what it provides for this community.
With the sun slowly creeping behind the hills, we watched taxi boats going to and from the other side of the river, monks getting food supplies, teenagers yelling and doing back flips off long boats and local men shoulder deep in the fast flowing river fishing for bait.
One man in particular that we were watching, time and time again would come up with his net without any fish, while his daughter eagerly waited on the shore ready for Dad to reveal his catch. We too watched intently to see what was going to come of his efforts.
After about 30 minutes, with a cheesy grin on his face and cigarette in mouth, finally the first catch of the afternoon was raised to the surface! Slowly, he began to bring more nad more to the surface with his triangular shaped net, and the excitement from his daughter grew with every catch.
In between the fish surfacing we built sand castles with the muddy Mekong sand with the little girl. She was so amazed and excited when I began making a huge sand snake that curved and twisted along the shore, its large tongue forking out tasting the river water. She spent the next hour decorating the sand castle snake while I helped the father fish.
Now, when I say I ‘helped’ him to fish, I mean that my job was purely to get the tiny baitfish as he threw them to shore and secure them in a bucket of water! But it was enjoyable none the less. Even with no way to communicate with father and daughter, Elise and I felt like we became a part of the community for a brief moment. We shared smiles, exchanged glances and elation as each scope of the net brought more baitfish.
Standing knee deep in the muddy Mekong water, chasing fish to waters edge, I looked over to Elise while she was plaiting the little girl’s hair, and thought this is what travelling is about. Sharing experiences with the local community and not feeling as though you ‘have to’ do all the numerous activities in each place, just enjoy an afternoon on the rivers edge with a local family catching fish and building sand castles in an experience enough.
Thank you to the father and his daughter for letting us get a glimpse into Laos life for a brief moment.