During our visit to Indochina last April, my family and I fell in love with Laos…more specifically, the residents of its ancient capital, Luang Prabang, and the surrounding countryside. The non-human inhabitants were fascinating, too, and we were thrilled to hitch a ride one afternoon at a 2,000-acre elephant sanctuary on the beautiful banks of the Nam Khan River.
When our mahouts (elephant drivers) asked if we’d like to give our charges a bath, we readily agreed, thinking it would likely involve lathering them up and hosing them down as we’ve seen so many times at the San Diego Zoo. So you could say we were a bit surprised when “bathtime” turned out to involve sitting astride the elephants’ leathery necks while they submerged themselves (and much of us) in the middle of the river.
Fresh from feeding unpeeled bananas to an elephant friend of his own, author and travel writer David Ebershoff recounts his unforgettable tales of Laos in a brilliantly written article called “Loving Luang Prabang” in the August issue of Conde Nast Traveler. It’s his vivid description of the city’s “untrammeled beauty” that really resonates with me:
“Luang Prabang is meant for roamers, or flaneurs, to use the French still spoken by some Lao. Everywhere you look you’ll find golden temples and colonial houses and venerable banyan trees whose flowing prop roots always remind me of bearded old men leaning on their walkers. Here, on the peninsula between the two rivers, a damp haze often shrouds the quiet lanes, especially at dawn, muting the city’s colors. The green coconuts on the villa lawns, the mangoes and pomelos glistening at the fruit stands, the pink frangipani blossoms littering the temple steps, the golden Buddhas sleeping on the altars – everything appears as if behind mosquito netting. Luang Prabang has more than 47,000 residents, but its Buddha population must be ten times that. Almost anywhere you look you’ll find a Buddha standing, sitting, or reclining, his face a depiction of enlightenment and serenity.”
You can read the article in its entirety on the Conde Nast Traveler website. Thanks to writing like Mr. Ebershoff’s, it’s no wonder Laos remains such a pleasant memory for my family and me. Strolling the streets with our expert guide, Toubee, who spent much of his teenage years as a novice monk, we ogled the stalls filled with ethnic handicrafts at Luang Prabang’s Night Market and rose before dawn to witness the centuries-old ritual of barefoot Buddhist monks silently past while gathering their daily alms. Most of all, we were charmed by the gentle, genuine nature of the Laotian people and their ever-present greeting, hands pressed together, of “Sabaidee!”
The very week we returned home, we revamped our itinerary so Laos now fits seamlessly into our 10-day, 9-night walking tour of Indochina. Beginning with the October 28 departure of our Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia tour, the delights of Luang Prabang will rank alongside seeing the sun rise aboard our luxury junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam, and exploring the temples of Angkor Wat in the Cambodian jungle.
As for those unforgettable elephants, our 12-year-old son still can recite the basic mahout commands (e.g. front, back, right, left, kneel) months later. If you’d like to master them on your own, we’d be delighted to introduce you to Laos and the largest of its jungle creatures! For full details, including departure dates, day-by-day agendas, and pricing, just give our Guest Services Coordinators a call at (800) 200-3887.