The best moments take you by surprise.
Never would I have expected ours would come on a day we spent crammed in a minivan, 13 people in all, in a space that comfortably fits eight. With a full day to spend in Luang Prabang, we were on our way to the Kuang Si Falls, surrendering any notion of personal space for the 50-minute ride there.
“This guy drives like a 16-year-old who just got their learner’s permit and robbed a bank,” Sara said.
She was right. We barreled down hills and around corners, passing every car in sight, no matter the speed or conditions. At any given moment, you felt either close to death or close to vomiting. By the time we arrived, I was more interested in a bed than a dip in the waterfall.
Still, we pressed on.
The Kuang Si Falls are laid out in a set of tiers, and they get better and better the more you climb. They start an impossibly azure blue, growing in size with each stage, until you reach the grand finale: 200 feet of waterfall, cascading down level after level of turquoise pools, spraying mist into the sunny afternoon. It’s the kind of sight that stops you in your tracks and leaves you with no response but to laugh at your good fortune — the most beautiful waterfall any of us had laid eyes on.
That could’ve been it right there, but then we ran into friends we’d made back in Phnom Penh. They told us about a secluded swimming spot halfway up the waterfall, so off we went, veering off the track and through mud, branches, and long-abandoned paths until we found it: our own personal Eden.
We lingered there, just the four of us and the waterfall, soaking it all in — a rare moment of solitude on a trip spent surrounded by people. Later that night, we caught the sunset over Luang Prabang from the top of Mount Phou Si, watching the mountains of Laos turn from gold to amber as the sun dipped behind them — its last rays coming to rest on the lazy river and town below.
Some moments, you wish you could freeze in time.
Tales from the road:
1. One thing I never thought I’d see: three Buddhist monks huddled around a cellphone as one monk takes a picture. The world is full of surprises.
2. You know the whole “when in Rome” thing? Well, it applies to Southeast Asia, too. We were killing time at a fashion store in Bangkok when Warren and Scott started looking at custom suits. The only problem? We were leaving the next morning. No problem, we were told. They could be finished and delivered that same night. In the end, we all got in on the action, and in a flurry, we were looking at fabrics and having our measurements taken. Four hours later, the mock-ups were ready to try on. Sure enough, our suits (and, in Sara’s case, a pea coat) were delivered that same night. From a piece of fabric to a custom-tailored suit in the span of 10 hours. When in Bangkok.
3. Just when I thought food couldn’t get any cheaper, we came across the Chiang Mai market: any number of meals are on sale for less than $2. I had two spring rolls, wonton noodle soup, and eight pieces of sushi for under $4.
4. On the topic of food, we’d been talking for weeks about trying durian, the world’s smelliest fruit. Its reputation for stench is so bad, it has been outright banned from at least three of the hostels we’ve stayed in. I finally tried it in Chiang Mai as an ice cream flavour — no word of a lie, it tasted like raw onions. Warren was in tears from watching me struggle with it.
5. Guess which country’s travellers pay the most to enter Laos? Canada’s. A list of visa fees for other countries’ travellers went back and forth between $30-40, but Canadians are required to pay $42.
Things I’ve seen:
Both nights in Luang Prabang offered their share of beauty. The first shot is a glimpse of the Buddhist temple outside of our hostel. The second shows the city from atop Mount Phou Si.
We spent the better part of a day at an elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, feeding, bathing, and walking alongside the beautiful, towering creatures. The feeding part was a riot — they never stopped eating. Our guide told me an adult Asian elephant will eat up to 700 lbs a day. We had bananas, watermelon, and cucumber to give them, and each time we reached to put food in their trunk, they’d come right back asking for more. It turns out elephants have a sweet tooth, too: ours would drop the cucumber on the ground and wait for bananas.
3. Gold everywhere.
Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep is an architectural marvel: a beautiful blend of carved wood, rich red tile, and golden monuments. Legend has it a white elephant chose the site for the Buddhist temple centuries ago. Today, it offers one of the best views of Chiang Mai you’ll get.
What I’ve been reading/listening to:
Joe Abercrombie – Half A King
Jonathan & Jesse Kellerman – The Golem Of Paris
Scarub – “California Sunrise”
Shad feat. Eternia – “Love Means”
Alessia Cara – “Wild Things”
(Header photo by Warren Jones)