Luang Prabang ~ the Jewel of Laos, ” Land of a million Elephants”: Our new home

It was an acquaintance we had long wanted to make.  Luang Prabang — this exotic sounding destination had become symbolic of our Green Global Trek – ASEAN chapter.   Long ago identified by us as a “hot prospect” for one of our potential “homes” in Asia (Just like Nicaragua became a base for travels in Central & South America),  there was a romantic mystic for us about Luang Prabang, Laos.

Over the course of our almost one year “trek” through  the ASEAN region, we have fallen in love already twice – once with Hoi An, Viet Nam, once in Ubud, Bali/Indonesia.  This exercise of finding the “perfect” home, is of course quite fun.  It is also important as we know ourselves —  we know that we have a tendency to grow roots quickly.  It usually doesn’t take long for the contour of a rich life to appear, including projects we may create, kittens we might adopt, new friendships and passionate endeavors that may become all consuming.

So it requires a willful attitude to pause and remind ourselves that this region is full of architectural and cultural jewels and we owe it to ourselves to take the time and let the home slowly reveal itself to us.  The magic number of potential homes from which we would downselect our Asia “base” has always been 3: we figured that with three potential homes, we would be able to triangulate the best habitat for this ASEAN chapter.

What are the ingredients we are looking for, individually and as a couple?

Peta’s core requirements:

1) Easy access to plentiful fruits and greens ~ a food source that is amicable to a mostly vegetarian / vegan lifestyle, and still yummy;

2) Nature ~ abundant – the more the better.  Green, green, green. It’s about the quality of the air, and being surrounded by trees and/or rice paddies.  Something about the green in nature that brings serenity;

3) A natural body of water ~ somewhere to cool off in.  We seem to keep landing up in tropical climates, which can be challenging especially in the hottest months.  Having a lake or a river or the ocean, makes a big difference;

4) The people and culture ~ Being able to have real relationships and connections with the local people.  This is trickier than it may seem in countries where our lack of language (to date) is a potential inhibitor, but also when relations between locals and travelers have been shaped through history;

5) Being able to join a thriving community of yoga practitioners;

That’s Peta’s list.

Now Ben’s list of priorities:

6) Architecture ~ the town/city has to offer innate beauty so that each and every outing in the street presents aesthetic pleasures;

7)  Cappuccino ~ Yes, it’s THAT important to me.  Nothing like a good cappuccino, preferably with a reasonably recent newspaper.  If that can be delivered in the envelope of a cafe culture, all the better;

8) Ethnicity ~ It’s no coincidence that our business, some 10 years ago, was called “Ethnicities”.  The textiles, the carvings, the crafts, the artisans themselves, the overall aesthetic, and the rich socio-cultural context that present opportunities for positive impact;

9) Gastronomy ~ Gotta have good food.  Much as we loved Nicaragua, the “issue” of a limited local culinary culture made it a priority for this next round of our trek.  This is one of the main reasons we chose Asia over Africa;

10) Potential for impact and income ~  The nexus between positive social & environmental impact and income is the ideal.

So how’s Luang Prabang faring:

1) Easy access to plentiful fruits and greens ~   Lots of fruits, greens, veggie options.  Not quite Ubud’s mind boggling vegan/raw offering, but sufficiently good. Check. 
2) Nature ~   Surrounded by beautiful mountains, forests and two rivers. Double Check.
3) A natural body of water ~   Fantastic waterfalls 45mn away. Check.
4) The people and culture ~  Friendly, easy to laugh and to communicate with. A rich  culture and plenty of arts.  Check.
5) Yoga ~ Morning and evening yoga at two fabulous river-front locations. Check. 

6) Architecture ~  Stunning French and traditional Laos architecture. Triple Check.
7)  Good Cappuccino ~ French cafes, the hills are rich with coffee agriculture. Check.
8) Ethnicity ~ Northern Lao is home to three main ethnic groups, with countless hill tribes and villages.  Triple Check. 
9) Gastronomy ~  French influence combined with a strong culinary culture which is not well known outside of Laos.  Check.
10) Potential for impact and income ~ Currently consulting for the United Nations on environmental issues in ASEAN.  Check.

OK, read the next entries to discover the details of how Luang Prabang shapes up for us, as a new home.

Our new home: Laos, the “Land of 1000 Elephants”.

5 thoughts on “Luang Prabang ~ the Jewel of Laos, ” Land of a million Elephants”: Our new home

  1. Gili

    Nice! Laos in general is amazingly lush and green (or at least so it seemed), full of water, so you should be in your element. I remember Luang Prabang being squarely on the tourist trail, so we only spent a day or two there. Kayaking down one of the rivers was a fun activity in the area, as well as the first (and best?!) banh cuon we ever had (yes, Vietnamese cuisine in Laos…).

    1. Ben Sandzer-Bell

      Oh too bad you only spent a few days. The gems of the place unfold during the slow exploration over time. Lucky for us it is also slow season and so it is pretty quiet even on the main street which is where tourists congregate – very easy to “lose” them. At any rate, traveling through is very different to selecting a place to call home, a base for an extended period of time. One looks at places very differently. Food entry upcoming.

    2. Gili

      Sure, I think it’s true that as you travel faster you see more places but at a more superficial level. That’s one of the reasons we like to travel by cycling, it enforces slow travel (but there are other reasons…). Of course, another way of traveling slowly is to travel fast from place to place (say by bus or plane), but then stop for a long time at each place. Anyway, that was just a first taste of south east Asia, we’ll be back…

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