Luang Prabang, Laos

This was our first trip to Laos. Friends of ours suggested that we stay at a boutique eco-resort in the mountains outside the city of Luang Prabang. When we first arrived, we were so excited about soaking in as much of Laos as possible. Since we only had a few days, we were determined to do all of the activities: meet the Laotian people, visit the rice fields, hike the mountains, yoga, boat down the river, swim, tend to elephants, visit the women weaving silks and of course taste the local fare. 

From the moment we stepped into the lush jungle stress just seemed to melt away. The eco retreat is for those who enjoy eco-living=open to the elements. The accommodations hidden among the trees are quite lovely, with mosquito netting draped over fine linen bedding and a row of wooden louvered French doors that swing open to a spectacular bay view of the cloud crowned and sometime misty Phou Pha Mah mountains.

As we began to relax slowly our walks turned to shuffles, our eyes softened, and our watches stayed tucked away in our bags – time no longer existed. We often found ourselves sitting in chairs for long hours just staring off into the beautiful serene mountains as the river flowed by. One afternoon an elephant stumbled into our view and we watched for hours as he munched on leaves. For the first time in a long time, we had both gone down to zero=much needed.

it is believed to be haunted

I mentioned to the manager that we might want to go for hike in the Phou Pha Mah mountains. She told me, that the locals don’t go into the forest because it is believed to be haunted by phi spirits of the military men, who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. So, we decided to take a walk on the eco-resort grounds instead.

Along the way, we crossed this rickety scary as hell woven bamboo bridge (I’m deathly afraid of heights so the ghosts became the least of my concerns) which led to the spa that housed Japanese soaking tubs. Then we walked down a path to the Namkong River, where we found families fishing, swimming and boating along the banks.

Watching wooden boats glide down the Namkong River can really work up one’s appetite the eco-resort chef, fed us fantastic meals made with fresh produce bought from the local Phousi Market in Luang Prabang.

The staff was delightful and the other guests were charming and entertaining as well and many nights we sat around chatting late into the evening as the sounds of nature echoed enchanting melodies. We agreed, “It just can’t get better than this” and we never wanted to leave. But, one day we decided to pry ourselves away from the heavenly world of the eco-resort and venture out and this is what we found…

this is what we found…

The manager drove us into town and dropped us off for the afternoon to explore the town in Luang Prabang; which was once colonized by the French. We roamed the streets in awe of the beautiful meld of Asian/French influences in the architecture and the scooters lining the streets and corridors.

We more overwhelmingly impressed by the quiet reserve and welcoming kindness of the Laotian people.

After hours of exploring the town streets, peeking into small shops, and visiting the Buddhist temples, we stopped in a cute little French bakery with an outdoor café that served coffee grown in southern Laos in the Paksong District of Champasack Province. We sat down at a small bistro table, savored our frothy foamed cappuccinos, and nibbled on melt-in-your-mouth flakey buttery croissants. 

Not only was this combo amazingly tasty, but it caused us to sink into our chairs as we gazed at the Wat Sop temple across the way, and we watched the monks slowly stroll down the street.

Ahhh, the monks strolling…

The manager met up with us again and took us to visit the Phousi Market to shop and gather produce for the evening meal. It was April in Laos, and on the cusp of rainy season, so on our way back from town, it began to rain. The mountain road was not paved, it became so muddy, bumpy, and slippery. The fear of the truck getting stuck gripped us all. But the huge square chunk of metal on monster wheels did its job and trekked us up the hill with no problem

We were all seriously grossed out

When we returned to the eco-resort, the other couple staying there, a woman from New Zealand and her husband from Ireland, were sitting by the eco-pond. We noticed a staff member was tending to a wound on the man’s foot so we stopped to see what was all the commotion.

He explained that they had just gone on a hike through the Phou Pha Mah mountains, and a forest leech had burrowed its way between his toes. And that he hadn’t noticed anything strange until he was petting the eco resort’s puppy and found drops of what looked like red paint all over his furry head—because apparently, the little guy had been resting just under the man’s feet. We were all seriously grossed out. I mentioned what I had heard about the haunted Phou Pha Mah forests, hinting that maybe the leech was a possible result. In true Irish fashion, the man started cracking jokes, making light of the situation, and we all ended up roaring with laughter.

Later that evening, we had a fantastic dinner together – eating the freshly prepared meals made from the Phousi Market produce and drinking mojitos until we were all exhausted from laughing so hard that our faces hurt from smiling.

After dinner, we walked back to our room, taking in deep breaths of the fresh mountain air, admiring the sounds of night crickets and other nocturnal creatures singing in symphony. When we reached the cabin door, we found that we had left the outdoor light on. Hundreds of winged bugs frantically flying fluttered by the doorway, and on the doorstep was a huge pile of wings. 

As we opened the door, I was telling Bob about how terrible I felt that we had left the light on and had caused so many innocent bugs to go to their demise. When we stepped in, all we saw were huge shadows of wings on the walls. It looked like a circus of fairies had invaded the room – we were immediately bombarded by hundreds of flying creatures. Trying to cover our faces with our arms we ran to escape and jumped under the mosquito netting covering the bed. And that is when we discovered, I had left the bathroom light on as well. 

It looked like a circus of fairies

We were feeling trapped, so I made my way through the rowdy drunken bug convention and ran up to get the manager. She came down to the room, and all she said was that we would have to wait for them to leave, and that these kinds bugs were a delicious delicacy in Laos. So, we sucked it up (not the bugs), crawled back into bed, took one last look at the shadows dancing, and pulled the sheets over our heads. We stayed under the mosquito netting all night, nervously twitching and itching. 

Bob eventually started snoring. Over and over, I kept mentally retracing my footsteps of the evening. Trying to remember if I was the one who left the lights on or if it was light or dark out when we left for dinner. Then I had a spine chilling realization — we were sleeping in the phi inhabited Phou Pha Mah forest! I laid wide-eyed for hours, anticipating the lights to suddenly click on, startled by every creak and rustle, but somehow I fell asleep. 

In the morning, the sun came up and room was silent, except for hundreds of wings scattered like dried leaves all over the floor – it was like nothing had ever happened. 

Click here to see more about the Phousi Market–Laos