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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

LUANG PRABANG

LAO PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

We had heard that there is a good French Restaurant in Laos. Since the French spent so much time there, no doubt they taught the locals their ways regarding food. So we flew to Luang Prabang, in northern Laos, for dinner. We ended up staying thirteen days!

Luang Prabang is the most laidback place on earth. It seems nothing has changed here for 100 years. It’s as if time stopped. Other than electricity and a few internet cafes, things are just the way they were decades ago.

LAID BACKED LUANG PRABANG

This small mountain encircled town, nestled along the mighty Mekong River, is known for its many temples, weaving, silver, and the Royal Palace museum. Buddhist Temples seem to be everywhere, and early in the morning, you often awake to the rhythmic sounds of chanting monks.

Most travelers blow through this town, spending a night or two on their way to that ever elusive paradise. Later,they regret not having stayed longer. However, we were constantly on the move, finding one thing after another to occupy our time. Sitting in one of the numerous cafes with a Beer Lao or a coffee shake, watching the simple Lao life pass by, is enjoyable anytime.

Wat Phou Si, the impressive landmark located in the heart of the historic district, sits high up on a hill overlooking the town and the Mekong River valleys.

We recommend making the 330 step climb, once in the cool morning, then again for the popular sunset. Your 50 cent ticket purchased in the morning is good all day. Another lofty view can be found at the Pan Sea Hotel. Plan on taking a long lunch in their rosewood dining room overlooking their infinity pool to the hills surrounding the city.

INFINITY POOL AT PAN SEA WITH WAT PHOU SI IN DISTANCE

But the real charm of Luang Prabang is the fact that it is situated on the banks of the Mekong, and river travel is the norm.

Continuously, large boats loaded with cargo, or smaller river taxi can be seen running on the river.

Our choice was to hire a boat and driver ($10 USD) to take us twenty kilometers up river, to the Pak Ou Caves, stopping at a couple of riverside villages.

Confident and steady, Batung navigated our long wooden boat past the many rocky hazards and eddy pools towards our destination.

Arriving at the caves, a sense of "something special" is perceptible. Pak Ou Caves for centuries have been a gathering place for Laotians to come and gain merit by ritually bathing the many broken images of Buddha. Entering the lower grotto, it is impressive to see the thousands of Buddha figures placed there.

The upper cave is certainly not to be missed. Eerie, mysterious and not well lit, flashlights are available for a small rental fee. This larger hollow has even more Buddha images. Dusty, covered with spider webs, the antiquity is easily felt, and the effect is awesome.

RIVER BOATS DOCKED ON THE MEKONG RIVER

Back on the river, now heading down stream, Batung guided our craft ashore to what’s called "Whiskey Village". Here the famous Lao Lao rice whiskey is made. Cooked in 55 gallon drums with water directly pumped from the Mekong, the liquid is then siphoned off into handmade clay pots. From there it moves to the “bottling line“. Giant scorpions or baby cobras have been placed in glass containers to add potency to the whiskey, which a small Lao girl pours inside.

 

We sampled the products, both red and white rice wine, and the Lao whiskey, and lived to write about it. Each bottle was selling for $1 USD, a fair price, but we declined the offer to buy.

Returning to Luang Prabang, the sun began to set over this mighty waterway and all who take their sustenance from it. Memories of village life, Buddha images and the calm river all intermingle as daily routines continue in the age old, undisturbed style of Laos.

PAK OU CAVES

Now we all know, that writers don’t make a lot of money, and need to count pennies. . So when two gorgeous twenty-something British girls asked if they could join our boat a couple of days later, it only made good financial sense to invite them along and share the cost. 

Fours dollars each was the agreed upon price with the boat captain, and our gang was on its way, cruising south on the Mekong River to Kwang Xi Waterfalls. The one hour ride went by quickly, chatting with the lovelies, learning about their lives and ambitions. The scenery outside the boat was nice too!

Disembarking, we took a short hike up a muddy hill, a dreadful, dusty tuk tuk ride on a bumpy road, and finally arrived at Kwang Xi Waterfalls. Our group anteed up the small fee that foreigners must pay to enter the national park.

KWANG XI FALLS

By now, the roar of the falls could be heard, louder with each step, until they appeared. The picturesque, multilevel falls, starting some 200 feet above, spill through a series of crystal blue pools, creating a great spot for a picnic, and tables are provided.

Unlike most parks we've visited in the West, here one is able to wade through the water, walk across rocks, go anywhere to take that certain photo. In fact, many were swimming in the clear ponds below.

Hiking up a slippery moss laden wet side to the halfway point of the falls, we were able to look directly down the chute! Pretty amazing; no guard rails, no steps, no signs telling us not to do this or that, and yet, no one got hurt.

After a couple of hours, it was time to head back up river to Luang Prabang. More chatter with the lovelies and viewing the sites, both inside and outside the boat, made for the perfect day trip.

WEAVER SHOWING HER WORK

There is more to discover in LP besides its natural beauty. Laos is celebrated for its high quality textiles, and we were hoping to get a few at a good value to bring home.

Knowing a little about fabrics and having confidence to pick out quality from imposters, we were taken aback by the sheer number of vendors, shops, looms and woven fabrics for sale. It took us days to discern patterns, the different threads used, and the prices asked for the finished pieces.  What initially began as overwhelm, started to sort out quite nicely.

Traveling by small motorbike with a two seater side car, we visited several villages to witness the weaving of these spectacular cloths. What we found remarkable was how such beauty could come from these simple and humble origins.

Looms were everywhere, under stilted homes, in back yards, on porches, behind doors, by shop sides or in small factories. Women of all ages were involved in the manufacture of these artful cloths, and children often played by the side of the loom as an older sister or young mother went about her daily production.

 

At the night market (which simply cannot be missed, as it sets up on the main street each evening), beautiful Lao women show off these handmade weavings. It takes anywhere from four days to three weeks to complete a woven cloth, and bargaining for fair prices is encouraged.

Children again were there, at Momma’s knee, or with their own mats, all learning the trade of selling. On occasion, a child would facilitate a sale by speaking in English for an older woman; a relative or neighbor. At other times, Mother or older sister would assist a younger girl who got stuck in negotiating price. All of this was done with gentleness and humor, teasing and sometimes a bit of pleading for "give luck toodaay, buy from meee". Occasionally there would be a bit of prodding "good for yoo, good for mee, luckee".

BEAUTIFUL LAOS TEXTILES AT NIGHT MARKET

On the whole, the weaving is not only of the textile itself, but of the fabric of the society from whence it comes. Work, childrearing, friendships, business, survival and the creation of beauty from the stuff of every day life. Our purchased items of cloth are stunning in pattern, exquisite in the reflection of humanity. Something to be cherished, and remembered for years to come.

Because Laos has only been open to tourism since the 1990’s, we discovered that the people themselves were innocent and untouched by cynicism of any kind. Now is the time to see Laos, as much building is going on in restoration of this World Heritage site. Upscale shops and restaurants are making their way into the main streets along with their upscale pricing. But for the moment, you will still see monks with their umbrellas walking from one wat to another, and whole families on small motorbikes or bicycles going about their daily routines.

STILL A COMMON SITE

About that French restaurant…. There are many in this small village, but a few to sample are: Auberge et Café Les 3 Nagas, with price fixed menus, you cannot go wrong. Try the Buffalo Medallions with green peppercorn sauce.…awesome. Or at the Café et Décor, a little more casual, the plates were well presented and the flavors matched.

LP can be reached by air from many Asian cities, with direct flights on Laos Air from Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

For the more adventurous, from northern Thailand you can take a two day river boat trip, or from Vientiane in the south, a bus or mini van.

A 15 day visa will cost $20 to $30 depending on how much time you plan ahead. There is a large selection of lodging available, from Guest houses and mid range hotels conveniently located, to high end resorts, just out of town. Whatever your pricing needs, or accommodation preferences, you will easily find a suitable choice.

For a step into the ancient past, with relative comfort and unhurried style, Luang Prabang offers quality, variety and warm smiles.

Lao Air departs Chiang Mai at 13:30, every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, 4,680 Baht RT.

Not to be missed:

The pastries at Phounsab Guest House. Though the surroundings are not fancy, we found their pastries far surpassed those in more costly places.

Wat Xieng Thong, built in 1560. Worth the small entry fee. Many buildings on the site, murals made from colored mirrors. Spectacular.

The onion rings at The Pizza Restaurant. Right in the center of town, this restaurant makes the best onion rings we ever had. Rolled in coconut and deep fried, they are served with a slightly sweet chili sauce. Pizzas are baked in a wood burning oven.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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