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WSJ: Cruising Down the Mekong River in Laos

How CHARMING – this is on my bucket list!

WSJ:  Two days on a slow river cruise through the countryside offers decompression with a side of fresh fish

By the time we reached Ban Baw, the second village on the itinerary, the weather was ideal. Baw village is home to the Lao Loum, who are indigenous to the lowlands. We passed a Buddhist temple and monastery, painted in traditional red. The yellow-cloaked abbot sat on a bench in the morning sun, teaching an aspiring monk Buddhist sutras. At a nearby school, we gawked into busy classrooms through open windows, and later admired the work of women who were weaving colorful cotton scarves on rustic looms. Others sat on the ground, their work displayed around them, offering no more salesmanship than an imploring look in their eyes. Kathryn bought some gifts while I sampled rice whiskey distilled in an open barrel under a flowering tree. It seemed decent enough to buy at first, but we ultimately poured it down the sink of our hotel room.

Our penultimate stop was Pak Ou Caves—for which our boat was named—a pair of caverns set into a riverside cliff that house nearly 3,000 Buddha figures made from bronze, wood and stone. Fifteen miles upriver from Luang Prabang, it’s a popular tourist outing and a short hike up from the wharf. Mr. La explained that for centuries local people have brought Buddha statues to the caves in a sort of pilgrimage, and thus the caves are considered sacred.

“What did you like the most?” I asked Kathryn as we sat on the small bench on the bow watching for the first signs of Luang Prabang. She thought a moment. “The people,” she said. I agreed. Whether the staff on board the boat, the villagers with whom we exchanged glances, the local children who danced for us or the women who carried our bags up the steep lodge stairs with laughter and smiles, they were what most impressed us on the river through Laos.

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