This is the last part of the Vietnam & Laos story. From here on out (and especially given my recent post on Wednesday), the travel stories will go further back in time to periods in my life before this all began. They will not really focus on last year and my current mental health issues. I think for now, those longer stories will end here. But, just the ability to write these particular stories on paper has been therapeutic and important to me, even though they may have been too ‘public’ for a reader to accept; or in many cases (and it is okay), these words were not read at all; or in haste because they were “just too long”. Writing about my painful experiences has allowed me to carefully think and talk at length through scary memories, and be able to process everything that literally broke me. Why I need that and why I did it publicly, I am not really 100 percent sure, but I think it is all part of the eventual healing process and acceptance of everything. It is not easy to understand. JH, case in point, would encourage me always to ‘move on’ and ‘try to be happy’, but it’s not always that simple. It would take getting out of my own head in the first place, and for me that is an everyday challenge.
Whether I want it to or not, last year replays over and over in my head. As I wrote on Wednesday, the search for stabilizing medicine continues. Once or twice a week, I still have days where I have to run to the bathroom at work and without reason, bury my face in my knees and cry quietly in the last stall. Only when I get home on those days, can I release myself and actually sob so hard that my body feels like it is breaking. Almost every day of the week, I feel hungover, but I have only touched alcohol twice in the last four months. Every day of the week, I feel irritability; irritability I wish that I could control, because every time I want to throw stuff or yell at something without reason, my stomach tightens up and I feel like vomiting. The gag reflex and vomiting in the morning has been a new one for me lately. JH tells me that it is good practice for being pregnant.
In truth, I do want to feel normal again. I just want to get out of my head, and go back to the way things were before I pushed everyone and everything out of my life. But as I refer again back to Wednesday’s conversation, creating a bubble has given me perceived safety. Last week, I broke down really hard because someone important in my life mentioned suicidal context out of context. I couldn’t handle it; the racing thoughts and tears just overtook me. This in fact happens every time someone mentions depression or sadness out of context, like “I am so depressed I am coming back from vacation” or “this [situation] makes me want to kill myself”. I know people don’t mean it, but sometimes a slip happens, and I sit there feeling as if I am oblivious; as if last year did not matter and that I don’t have enough strength to prevent it from happening again. Referencing Wednesday again – the demons end up winning. I know I can’t live like this for the rest of my life, but all I hope honestly is that one day I can just be my true self again. That’s all I can hope for.
- Mood – Foggy.
- Focus – The last bits and pieces of the good and the bad.
- Craving – Normalcy.
- Feedback from the husband – I was literally so close to coming home. I guess he was excited to see me. He didn’t pick me up from the airport though when I returned from Europe.
Okay, enough of this – let’s talk about Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
At this point, I flipped back and forth between continuing in the country and moving on. Saigon is in the southern part of the country, so if I wanted to continue exploring the places I wanted to explore, I would need to back-track. I figured at this point, I wanted to move on, so after a couple of days in the city, I moved on to Laos. The full intention was that I would stay in Laos for awhile, and then move onto Indonesia, but things changed.
Ho Chi Minh City is a big, chaotic city, full of life. It is one of those cities that appear as if it never sleeps. I think that if I were younger and with a group of friends (specifically someone who could speak the language), it would be really fun to explore especially at night. I explored as much as I could (of pretty much one district – the city is divided in districts, which reminded me of Hunger Games), but it is only walkable to a point before the heat, sun and crowds really get to you. I was also afraid to explore the big city at night by myself. I originally booked an evening food tour, but decided on a whim to change it to a day city tour that ended up being a bit lacklustre. I was also pretty saturated by this point, so I feel that the food perhaps stopped tasting as good as it did in Hanoi and Hue, etc.
Once again, I booked hotels haphazardly, and ended up staying at two different hotels. The first hotel I stayed at was the Nikko Hotel at 235 Nguyen Van Cu. The hotel is not that walkable to any of the main tourist sites, so this ended up being a bad pick for me. For reference, to walk to the big Ben Thanh Market in District 1, it took about 25 minutes. This is not really a long walk, but when it is hot outside, and there are crowds everywhere, 25 minutes feels like an hour. Aside from that, the hotel was beautiful. It is Japanese owned, and you can see the little ornate touches in the way they arrange the room, and the highly automated toilets. It is clearly a business hotel; the service was efficient but a bit cold and distant. I was also probably the only one in shirts, and not a suit; and my bags were a bit filthy from all the travelling, so I kind of felt out of place to begin with. Anyhow, for $130 a night (booked on Expedia as of May 2016), I got a beautiful room with a king-sized bed, a huge bathroom, fast WiFi, turnover service and a bunch of amenities (including a gym and a really nice swimming pool).
I wanted however the ability to be able to walk around the city with a little more ease, so I changed the next night to the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel, right by the river at a price of $125 a night (booked on Expedia as of May 2016). My room here was a bit smaller, but the bed was still comfortable and the room was clean. I also had a beautiful view of the river, which was lovely to wake up to at sunrise.
The hotel was also walkable to everything – tourist sites, food stalls, the market, and the river. I would have given the hotel five-stars, with the exception of how they handled a situation with a seemingly belligerent guest in the middle of the night next door. At 2:30AM, I woke up to shouting, and it was a bit of a scary experience. Apparently, the guest next door had brought home a girl when he was registered as a single guest. Management followed them upstairs demanding the girl produce ID, insinuating that she was a prostitute. The man was clearly slurring, but he kept on arguing that the girl was his girlfriend, she left her wallet at home, and her home was an hour away – “They just wanted to have fun”. For the next hour or so, he screamed profanities at the hotel staff while they kept on insisting that the girl produce ID or leave. While the situation was scary, I was fairly annoyed that the hotel staff made no effort to move the situation away from the exposure of other guests sleeping. I ended up messaging JH to calm myself down and ease my fear as the profanities continued to get louder and threatening. I complained a bit the next day, but the front of house gave me a mixture of a curt and fake smile, and did nothing to rectify the situation. It was pretty annoying.
Even though I would later learn that Laos food was a bit similar to Vietnamese food, Ho Chi Minh city was my ‘last chance’ to find the rest of the ‘key dishes’ I wanted to try.
The final list I tried is found below, along with their locations:
- Bun Mam – Noodle soup with fermented fish broth, seafood, pork belly, and eggplant. The stall – Bun Mam Dac San– is located at 22 Phan Boi Chau, in District 1, across from the Ben Thanh market. The bowl cost about $4CAD (more expensive than I was accustomed to), and there are plenty of tables to sit at in the restaurant. I had read so many good stories about how good this soup would be if you are able to adapt to the pungent flavor of the broth. Truthfully, I didn’t love this dish as much though, but then again I am not often a fan of tart and sour flavors. This soup was definitely sour and fishy. I also thought it was too murky.
- Banh Canh Cua – Banh Canh Cua is a crab tapioca noodle soup with crab and shrimp. I really wanted to try this because it read like a relative to Bún Riêu Cua, which I loved. I read there was supposed to be a stall near Ngo Duc Ke Street right by my second hotel near the riverside. However, I walked by there on one of the mornings, and I could not find anything. Anyhow, I ended up having Banh Canh Cua, as well as more Banh Khot at Banh Khot Co Ba Vung Tau at 40B Tran Cao Van. This is a large multi-floored restaurant with a huge menu. It was a little bit more expensive than eating at a food stall, but it satiated my desire to find Banh Canh Cua. It was not as good as the Bún Riêu Cua, but I also think this was probably not the place for that particular dish. I ate it there just out of convenience, and for some air-conditioning.
- Banh Tam Bi – I waited for a table at Sadec Quan on 154 Nguyen Dinh Chieu in District 3. At first they put me in the back where there is a packed single row of chairs near the bar, but I stalked a nice seat by the front with better light, and moved once the customer left. This place was packed, but I did go around lunch time. I ordered Banh Tam Bi, which are tapioca noodles in coconut sauce, with pickled vegetables, pork meatballs and sausage. The noodles are a bit slimy in texture, but the flavours in the dish were really good. I love anything with coconut.
- Hu Tieu – Basically, Pho’s cousin with pork stock, and random toppings like pork strips, chives and shrimp. I forgot where I ate this (my picture denotes a location of “Phuong Ben Thanh”), but it was a on a random street corner by the market near my hotel on the riverside. Hu Tieu is so common though that you can find stalls for it anywhere you walk. At some stalls, I saw quail eggs and crab as toppings.
- At Anthony Bourdain’s recommendation (and really, his episodes on Hue etc. were the only reason why I ever wanted to go to Vietnam), I visited the famous “Lunch Lady”, at Da Kao, in this little enclosed street of restaurants. She is known for offering a different dish (mostly noodles) each day at her stall. On the day I visited, she was serving up Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio – vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls. Truthfully, it was not that great. The whole dish felt day-old, especially the stale spring rolls. I was also a bit irritated because I took a taxi there given it was so out of the way. I read there is another lunch lady, whose offerings are much better. She is supposed to be located on the corner of Dien Bien Phu and Hai Ba Trung. I wish I made it there, but you win some, you lose some.
- A couple of other dishes I wanted to try but ran out of time – most of the rice (com) dishes, and desserts (I barely ate sweets). Honestly, there are probably a billion other dishes (especially non-noodle dishes), but I just simply ran out of time and stomach space.
- Also, I did eat vegetables here and there.
Aside from wandering aimlessly again and eating a lot, I did one last city tour in Saigon with Vespa Adventures. I did the Insider’s Saigon Tour from 8:00AM to 12:30PM. The cost of the tour was $72USD, a bit expensive for how I felt overall with the tour. The Vespa driver picks you up from the hotel, then joins you with the rest of the tourist group in the large park off of Le Duan and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. JH and I already saw this in Cambodia, but in the morning, hordes of senior citizens and middle-aged women are out and about at the park working out to what can only be classified as roaring disco music. Also in the park is a Bird Club, which was the first site of the tour. People from all around the neighbourhood bring out their birds in birdcages, and it becomes a bit of a social activity. It was a bit pretty to see as there are literally hundreds of birdcages strung about, and you see their owners casually sitting and drinking tea in groups.
From there, we were taken to the statue of Thic Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection in the ‘60s in protest to the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. There are pictures depicting the event, and it is a bit haunting but all the while beautiful at the same time because of its strong purpose and meaning.
From there, we visited a beautiful flower market, the ‘Chinese’ district where there is a majority Chinese population, the Chinese temple in that neighborhood, a pagoda (10,000 Buddha’s) full of Buddha statues, and then a panoramic view of Saigon from District 2. Because I was due to fly out a few hours later, I wanted to grab lunch and head back to the hotel, so I skipped the last two stops on the route because I had already walked by them – the Saigon Post Office and Cathedral. The one thing I wish the tour included (but it is probably a tour on its own), was a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels – a connecting network of underground tunnels used during the war. All in all, I thought the tour was okay, but the spots seemed a bit lacklustre especially after travelling through the country for a month. I felt for a city so big, they would have found more interesting spots (this in particular reference to a flower market and a Chinese temple – not so special in my mind). The guide Chin and the driver Cunh were both really nice though, and riding a Vespa was fun especially through the really heavy city traffic. They do an evening food tour and I kind of wish I had opted for that (it was my original plan), but once again, you never know what an experience will be like until you go through it.
And with that, my time in Vietnam was done, and it was time to head off to Laos.
I went to Laos during the beginning of their low (wet) season, so everywhere I went (albeit, just two of the main tourist cities) it felt less crowded. It took me a few minutes to adjust, but I put away all thoughts of Vietnam, and switched to ‘divide currency by 6,289 versus 17,789’ (as of May 2016), and from “ga am ern” to “khop jai” (‘thank you’ in the two languages). A few days into exploring Vientiane, I finally made the gut decision to go to Europe and join up with the bride and bachelorette party, even though they were half way through their trip already. Despite being scared of seeing my friends and figuring out how to adjust my mood swings around them, or even fathom sharing the idea that I was having actionable suicidal thoughts, I struggled and desired familiarity. I missed them, and at this point, I really missed home. Seeing them I thought would allow me to feel the comfort of home again without having to face reality (doctors and medicine) completely just yet. With this in mind, I had enough time for just Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Laos though is such a beautiful, authentic place that I know I have to go back there – except maybe not Luang Prabang. When I go back, I want to experience:
- Luang Namthan – Their trekking capital, and as I was told, a place with endless opportunities to explore and discover barely untouched trails;
- Plain of Jars – A beautiful historical Iron Age cemetery site;
- Si Phan Don – Four thousand islands hidden within the Mekong, and;
- Vang Vieng – The place for river tubing.
This might have to be a trip with kids in a few years, but I can dream about it still. I only did one tour in Laos, and I did it in Luang Prabang. In Viantiane, I mostly wandered aimlessly again, and did one long 45 km bike ride along the Mekong River into a National Park against my better judgment on a hot 40-plus degree day.
Viantiane is really walkable. The main section with all the restaurants and cafes can be summarized in one loop, starting off of Ave Lane Xang, looping around Rue Samsenthai and then Rue Setthathilath, which ends back at Ave Lane Xang (where if you walk a bit further north there is a large monument – Patuxay, which kind of looks like the Arc de Triomphe).
I stayed at Green Park Boutique Hotel in Vientiane. Now that I am looking back, I am absolutely not sure at all why I stayed there. It was not that cheap at $140 per night (booked on Agoda as of May 2016), and it was super far from everything. It was about a 30 minute walk to the main strip facing the river, and it was also located on a dark unlit street, so navigating it in the early morning and evening was not that easy. The best thing about its location was that it was located next door to a mall – Vientiane Center. By this point in time in the trip, one of my running shoes had a hole in them, and given Laos was a bit rainy, my socks continually got wet every time I went out in runners. I ended up buying some Puma runners for approximately $50 CAD. Until this day, I am not sure if they are actually ‘real’, but they are my main comfortable pair of running shoes.
Because it was low season, the hotel felt deserted. I never saw people until breakfast, and even at breakfast, there were only about 2 or 3 people at any given time. The staff was really nice, but they were incredibly slow. Check-in and out took forever, and even when I tried to order a juice, it took almost twenty minutes. The rooms were big and spacious with a huge patio overlooking the swimming pool (which was an unfortunate murky green, due to the rain I guess). But the atmosphere and furniture felt a bit dated. Wi-Fi was pretty spotty. Needless to say, I did not spend too much time there.
Because I knew I had little time left in the country, I actually did not research too much into eating from here on out. I just walked around, and if something looked good, I sat down, ordered and ate. After the fact, I wished a bit that I actually did do more research, because there were definitely some dishes I would have wanted to find if I had some knowledge about their existence.
Lao food reminded me of Vietnamese food. In reading about it, it is actually often compared to Northern Thai cuisine, but considered less spicy and earthier. My memory might be spotty, but near Rue Samsenthai and Khun Bu Lom Road, I found a soup noodle street stall with a lot of locals eating there for breakfast. The pot looked and smelled so good. When I sat down to eat, all the locals just stared at me (I guess my harem pants gave me away), but the lady spooning the noodles was eager to throw me down a bowl.
I would later learn that the dish was Khao Piak Sen, which translates to “wet rice strands”, and consists of tapioca flour noodles, and in my case, crumbled pork, chives and fried garlic. The broth is really thick from the simmering of the tapioca, and it tasted fairly garlicky. It was really delicious, and for some reason, because of the viscosity, reminded me of congee. The bowl cost about $0.50 CAD.
A short distance away on the same street (location of which is still fuzzy to me), I found tapioca and corn pudding wrapped in banana leaves. This was so warm, fresh and delicious. It was a little sweet and salty, and just felt like a good summer dessert. I really enjoyed this. It also cost something like a quarter.
On another occasion, I ate on the patio of an actual restaurant – Nangkhambang. I forgot why I wanted to eat here. I think maybe because there were no more food stalls out in the afternoon, and I was just on the lookout for somewhere with Khao Pun – vermicelli in a clear broth with sausage slices and a platter of raw vegetables. Also here, I remember eating a mango salad. Neither dishes were all that great, validated by the fact that the restaurant is not highly rated at all.
Laos is heavily French influenced, so there are sprinklings of cute Parisian-like cafes everywhere, case in point, the bakery-café chain – Le Banneton. The desserts there made me miss baking and sugar a lot, but I was so saturated from eating street food that I just had a cappuccino. The café is really cute, but at the end of the day, it just reminded me of any café in Toronto. I just wanted some coffee, and it was a nice, cold and clean place to hide from the heat.
For my last meal, I decided to go touristy, and ate at one of the more popular tourist restaurants – Lao Kitchen, near Rue Hengboun and Rue Saigon. I ordered the Lao national dish – Larb– which is a minced pork salad. I also decided to try their grilled sausage and sticky rice. The larb was really good, and I loved all the different notes of herbs and aromatics in the dish. I could taste cilantro, mint, onions, limes, chillis, and it felt like a really good dish to match the summer-like heat. The sausage was okay – it just tasted like a grilled sausage, so I cannot really comment further. The restaurant was clean and contemporary, with a number of wooden tables, all dressed up with napkins and placemats. It was also completely open facing the street, so you could feel the sunlight and a light breeze. I do not remember exactly how much I paid, but it was a tourist restaurant with tourist prices.
I walked and biked through a lot of Vientiane, so none of the activities are entirely all that interesting to describe. On one morning, I walked the extent of the city:
- Starting at my hotel, I walked west along Khouvieng Road.
- Then south on Nongbone Road, turning onto Quai Fa Ngum until I reached the park there.
- I managed to catch sunrise, and it was really pretty as there were only a few people out and about running along the lakeside and in the park.
- I then explored the extent of the main area of the city.
- After all was said and done, I ended up at Patuxay Monument, which was also a nice area with water fountains.
Green Park lent out bikes for guests to use, so I decided to take a long bike ride another day. This bike was considerably shittier than the already shitty bike I used in Vietnam. Up-hills were definitely tough when the pedals were creaking and at points, felt like they were going to fall off. Nonetheless I took the route below, which ended up being an almost 45km bike ride. It might as well have been 100km because it was sunny and clear blue skies that day with a hot temperature of 41 degrees Celsius.
The route took me out of the main area of the city, along the beautiful Mekong river, and you can see Thailand on the other side of the river border (I never made it to the Thailand / Laos “Friendship” border bridge because it was in a different direction to my bike route, but wish I did). The path starts out easy, but gradually turns into rough gravel, which was a little bit harder to navigate with a crappy bike. The path also had no shade. Nonetheless, I worked my calves and legs as hard as I possibly could, and at some point, it hit a main road leading to the airport. Once again, I screamed and panicked as I rode with South-East Asian traffic. The scariest part really was if trucks ever drove next to me. I always felt like I was going to tip over. Chugging along, the road finally turned into the road leading into the Phou Phanang National Bio-Diversity Park. I hoped that I would see some great landscapes. At times, there were instances where you could get some great views once you rode an up-hill, but nothing was really that spectacular. It was actually much prettier by the river with all the boats.
Anyhow, I rode the middle loop of the park, and did see some lovely things. I saw lots of simple settlements scattered here and there with children and farm animals running about. It was nice and quiet, and I actually enjoyed being out of the city area and away from anything touristy.
The long bike ride out in the sun (in conjunction with my Phu Quoc Island beach day), seriously effed up my body though. I literally turned a disgusting dark brown, but because I was always wearing a tank-top, I was left with a really bad tan. My body today still has not fully recovered, and I perhaps worry slightly that I might have taken in too much sun this trip. Anyways, getting back to the ride, the park had a number of non-shaded up-hills which were tough. I was sweating and continuously dehydrated (even with drinking gallons of water), so every time I saw an uphill, I groaned and regretted taking a ride with no way to finish it except to ride the extent of that particular path or turn around. Anyhow, at some point, I reached the end, and slowly chugged back to the city. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was drenched in sweat and my face was beet red as if I had chugged back a beer. I was perhaps a little embarrassed when I returned the bike to the hotel. I think the gatekeeper laughed at me a little.
And so comes the last part of the story – my time in Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang, in actuality, is quite a touristy place, but there was something about the surroundings and the people that felt so calming. I mostly got cloudy or rainy days while there, but I enjoyed my time exploring and trying to soak in the last bit of my time alone in Asia. The city once again faces the beautiful Mekong River, and it intersects with the Nam Khan River right around the main area of the city. The main area of the city once again feels like one big walkable loop. Starting at either Kingkitsarath Road or Sakkaline Road, it is easy to loop or cut into any area of the city, around Khem Khong (facing the river) and then back up to Phothisalath Road which turns into Sakkaline Road.
I stayed at the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao on a last minute low season deal off of Agoda. I wanted somewhere kind of amazing before I left, and somewhere where I could really decompress and gather myself together before facing my girlfriends, and then shortly after, JH and the reality of home. Because it was the low season, I am actually pretty sure I was the only guest in the hotel. I did not see another person. It was pretty amazing. Both the hotel and my room were gorgeous. I was given a free upgrade to a room with a mountain view, and it was probably one of the prettiest hotel room views I have ever stayed in (other than one really luxurious stay at the Coeur Des Alpes in Zermatt with JH many years ago). I spent a lot of time at their infinity pool overlooking the jungles and mountain landscapes, just soaking in the surroundings. Sunsets from here were also just intoxicating beautiful. The hotel is a 13 minute walk to the main area, but they do provide a shuttle to the town at request (during normal day time hours). All the staff were incredibly friendly, and the managers made a point of introducing themselves. I honestly had nothing to complain about this hotel at all, except that I wish JH was with me.
Breakfast is included. They set up these little stalls outside by the pool area to kind of replicate street stalls. The one morning, I had pho. It was fine. Otherwise, the breakfast was mostly continental breakfast items. They gave me newspapers, and I just read for a while, and caught up with the real world over the pho and coffee.
Food and Activities
At this point, food became a bit of an afterthought. There was one restaurant I really wanted to go to called Tamarind, but it was closed for holidays the days I was in Luang Prabang. One night I walked along the Night Market starting at the corner of Kitsalat Road and Sisavangvong Road. There were a lot of clothing stalls, and I ended up buying another little dress for my niece. I also bought some fresh little coconut pancakes shaped like walnuts to snack on. They were so delicious. Somewhere near here, I had Khao Pun again in what felt like some lady’s house. She didn’t speak English, but her young daughter could say a few words. The lighting was horrible, so I did not take a picture. This was really my last bowl of noodles in Asia. Unfortunately, it was not the best, and at that point, I was really craving peanut butter, cheese, butter and sugar. I walked back up the night market and noticed there was an alley way with grilled meats, and a less-than-hygienic looking salad bar. There were many groups of tourists (of the hostel party type), and it looked like it might have been fun had I not been alone. This would be the last (and probably rare time) I walked alone at night, but a small night market felt safe.
Luang Prabang is the place to see the beautiful, stunning turquoise coloured Kuang Xi Waterfalls. I booked a day trekking trip with Green Discovery Laos, which would have us ending up at these falls. It was probably my favourite tour of the whole entire trip / month. I took the trip right after landing, so I dropped off my stuff at the hotel, changed into my hiking boots and was on my way. It was raining and I did not have a poncho, but the hotel kindly gave me two. Lucky for us, the rain stopped once we started driving. There were four of us on the tour – the guide Sak, myself, and an American couple who lived in Vietnam. We drove for about an hour before we stopped at a farm in an ethnic Khmu village. We walked around for a little bit before driving along to a nearby village of a different ethic tribe – the Hmong Tribe. Sak explained that despite their differences, these tribes work collaboratively to share and divide farmlands. Their children also go to the same schools. From here, we started the trek and walked through more scatterings of villages to a whole variety of different, beautiful and astonishing landscapes – the mountainside, small rice paddies, vegetable fields (a lot of squash, eggplant and pumpkin), dramatic forests and jungles. Sak was very knowledgeable about the entire trail and he was interesting to talk to. I laughed a bit when he said I seemed “fit”. He told me he helps out on his family’s farm during the off-season, and this helps him to get into shape for trekking season. He said I needed to come back and experience some truly spectacular longer trekking trips in some areas of Laos that are definitely off the beaten track.
At some point, we started going though narrower trails in the mountainous forest, and it started to pour. It was a bit messy with the rain but it was still really fun. We tried to walk really quickly because leeches were starting to attack our legs, and as we continued to almost run, it was a little bit panicky seeing blood run down our legs. When we reached a clearing though, we worked to scrape the mud off our boots, and Sak used a first-aid kit to help clean up our leech wounds. The rain stopped around the time we reached the spring which feeds the waterfalls. It was right here in really pretty reflective waters that we stopped for lunch. There was a man stationed in a hut here, and he worked with Sak to make lunch for us. I did not photograph the food and so it’s slightly spotty in my memory what we ate. I think it might have been some sort of grilled meat, vegetables and rice.
From this point, we walked onwards to the falls. We reached the top first, and in order to get a top view angle looking downwards, you have to kind of dangerously make your way across this slippery path to a fenced off area. To get a good picture, you have to lean a little bit off the fence, and make your way even further along another continuation of the wet, slippery path. I am a disaster, so I ended up slipping, and soaking my shoes fully in water. There was no point getting upset because we were going swimming in the falls anyhow.
Once you got down to the main falls, they were gorgeous. Falls are falls, but when they are turquoise-coloured, they are just stunning. I took my time to photograph them, and the great aspect was that the area was not that full of tourists. This was a score for coming in low season on a technically rainy day. Sak encouraged us to swim and photograph for a while.
Somewhere down the falls, there is a tree, where its branch is wide-enough that you can jump off of it into the pools, and it is just deep enough that you don’t hurt yourself. It took a couple of tries, but Sak managed to catch a photo of me jumping into the pools. The jump felt exhilarating, especially to the somewhat cool water. Sadly, I think my bikini top kind of came up a little becase a bunch of creepy Asian men clapped and gave a thumbs up when I swam up from the water. I am pretty sure the clap was not for the jump. I didn’t do the JH back or front flip.
The end to the perfect day was the fact that the sun came out, and we caught the sunset. Sak managed to get a beautiful picture of me with the sun setting through the trees. It is one of my favourite pictures from the trip and I am entirely grateful to him for taking it.
One of the days, I just walked around town. I had felt an adrenaline rush from the previous day with the trek, but this morning I felt subdued and a bit upset. I ended up having a really tough morning, but forced myself to leave the hotel in hopes that it would elevate my mood. There are a number of Wats (Buddhist Temples) in Luang Prabang, and they were really beautiful but I did not have much interest exploring them further. I had seen a lot of this in Thailand and Myanmar. From here, I walked up the 300 steps to Mount Phousi, which is an easy walk up sets of stairs to a nice viewpoint of the main city, the Mekong River and Nam Khan River behind it. It was a cloudy day, so admittedly I did not take too many photographs. I also lacked the interest during this day – my mood was definitely off. The walk is accessible off of Kingkitsarath Road, and the entrance is a little bit hidden – just look for stairs. I think there may have been admission to enter, but I got there incredibly early so there was no one at the ticket booth.
From there, I crossed the bamboo bridge overlooking the Nam Khan River. The bridge normally operates only during the dry season, but I guess it was open at this point because I just made the cut between wet and dry season. The bridge is pretty rickety and unsteady to walk over. The unsteadiness made me feel unsettled. I was already feeling very off, and the rushing water around me instantly gave me dark thoughts. With nobody around, I allowed my mind to faze into the rushing waters below. Similar to my experience in Hue, I felt those suicidal thoughts of jumping, drowning and suffocating. The scary thing is that this time I actually leaned over the railing a bit and the ricketiness of the bridge almost felt like it could propel over, and I had to re-settle my footing. The adrenaline from just that little movement kicked me backwards, and from there I just broke down. I sat down in the middle of the bridge and continued crying. At some point, some tourists crossed the bridge and asked me if I was okay. I kind of nodded them off, and re-focussed them by asking them to take a picture of me. Without going into much detail, this was not the only time I went over the bridge, and the second time I went at night where it was even more daunting. Long story short, I can write this story, so you can guess the ending.
I think at this point, I was very ready to leave Asia. As much as I loved Laos, and the idea of exploration, probably into Indonesia next, I had to give up on this little ‘self-journey’ for now. I wasn’t finding answers, and my mind was becoming more twisted – an indication that I truly needed help, whether it was a doctor, medicine, or something. I can’t really imagine going back to Vietnam, at least to places I went already. I feel like if I encountered places like Hue’s bridge (or the bridge in Luang Prabang for that matter) I would feel extremely bothered. But like everything else, sometimes things just need time. I myself am not healed yet. And so the story ends now, and….as I promised, the next story around, I should be writing some ‘happier’ words of the past.