It was in dusty Vientiane – perhaps the most provincial of all the capitals I've seen – that we hooked up with a friend of mine from New York who was backpacking around southeast Asia. One of the afternoons in Vientiane, we decided to check out the herbal massage and sauna at a Buddhist temple outside of town recommended by our guidebook as the most traditional around. So, off we were in a tuk-tuk to the forested temple of Wat Sok Pa Luang.
The next thing you know: we're up in a sort of a tree house where a couple of smiling Lao ladies order us to strip into a sarong, push us into a pitch-dark wooden cabin with heavy herbal scents and a bunch of benevolent eyes you can half-discern through the steamy air. Just as I am starting to feel faint, we're invited back out and onto the massage table, where I am treated to what is probably, to this day, the most vigorous massage of my life. It all happened very fast, without words, and with a sense of surreal comedy about it. We laughed the entire tuk-tuk ride back into town.
After the short stay in Vientiane, the three of us hired a driver to take us up to the Buddhist mecca of Luang Prabang on the Mekong River. With the only buses up north running at night, we didn't want to skip what was apparently some of the most beautiful scenery in Laos. So we splurged on a private drive – definitely worth it! The nine-hour jaunt was packed with stomach-churning twists and turns through the mountains and a few unexpected adventures. At a tiny village where we paused en route, we accidentally stumbled into an impromptu karaoke session in somebody's hut. Suddenly, we were a part of the afternoon party, dancing with a pair of grinning ladies, a lone drunk (or opium-high) man and a group of kids watching us in giggles.
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I'm a traveler who writes and a writer who travels. I travel to make a living, I write to travel, I live to take the next trip.…
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