Cruising Laos in style.
Mist wreathed the mountain tops like candy floss beards as we pulled away from the riverbank below the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang one late-year morning. The Monsoon, one of an elegant couple of boats from Mekong Kingdoms’ flotilla, nosed out into the Mekong flow as we headed on our downstream journey.
We settled into the ample day beds, all taupe bases with lime green dividers and cushions colored in pops of tangerine, rose pink, and sunflower yellow. At 35 meters long, she’s a lean beauty, and fitted with huge, deep rectangular window frames for panoramic views and watching life on the river.
Looking back to the ancient former royal capital we spied the crowded glossy greenery which provides cover for temples and monks and shophouses and dreamy hotels but caught glimpses of raised roofs and stupas as our distance from the city grew. The golden glint of the stupa on Mount Phousi flashed in the morning sunlight like a lighthouse emitting signals to the faithful.
As the Luang Prabang peninsula disappeared from sight, and evidence of the taming of land and jungle for human life vanished, the river grew wider and its banks grew wilder. Towering chiseled limestone karst, flanked by rampant forest, created a funnel. The air chilled. We zipped from side to side, in the wide chocolatey flow, and reached for pretty patterned blankets. Coffee and banana chips were served to keep us warm.
Deeper into our journey the shaggy trees of emerald, lime, and celadon green flecked with a mustard hue took on a more disheveled look and tangled vines appeared like a huge spider’s web. Then tiny slopes of riverbank and banana plant fronds appeared, evidence of locals managing to manicure slithers of ancient forest. It was a sign we were close to our landing point where a bulbous buffalo was sunk deep at the water’s edge, checking out his reflection in the water.
We were met by a tuk-tuk driver who drove us through villages festooned with poinsettia and past plots of paddy fields nourishing rice. We’d arrived at Laos’ famous Kouang Si Waterfalls before many of the crowds. Wandering past the informative exhibits at the Bear Rescue Sanctuary from Free the Bears we, like so many others before us, were completely startled by the bright blue water which lies at the base of the area’s many pools. Get there at the right time of day, and it still feels like discovering a secret Lost World. Snow white water falls over tiered rocks dressed in lush foliage. It’s all supremely picturesque and draws swimmers, photographers, hikers, and families on picnics who can’t get enough of the blue hue of the cascading pools – said to be due to a magical combination of sunlight reflecting off water in the terraces layered with calcium carbonate.
After a hike to the top of the main falls and down the other side we were hungry for lunch. It was prepared for us on board the Monsoon: a salad of quail eggs on a baguette was followed by piles of bright mango, pink dragonfruit, and melon. After our fill, we returned to the day beds, which held greater appeal on the return journey. We found ourselves lulled into a snooze by the movement of the boat, the warmth of the sun, the memory of the falls, and the small pirogues puttering about midstream.
Lao Airlines has daily flights to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hanoi, Vientiane, and Siem Reap.
Text BY Claire Boobbyer
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Mekong Kingdoms