We descended from the hills of Lao into our home base of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage City, looking ahead to three days of relax and exploration before traveling onwards towards the Thai border. We had a good meal and rest in preparation for the next morning when we made our way to a set of brilliant clear blue waterfalls. Tessa and Amanda chose to pump their way to the wonderland by bike—a gorgeous and sweaty 32 km ride, where they met Alecc, Brian and Steph who had gone ahead on by tuk-tuk. We enjoyed swimming in the cool water with some small jumps down the falls until we discovered the rope swing. Steph cycled around again and again, gracefully Tarzaning into the water about a dozen times, and setting the example for many of us who somehow managed to get mangled by the rope on the way down (no worries, all in one piece, just some black and blues…). We had lunch together, each downing yet another fruit smoothie, before setting back for the city. Tessa and Amanda were expecting a difficult ride home, but were pleasantly surprised by a more downward-sloped return on the bike ride back. The sun was lower, the schoolkids were slapping them high fives and tuk-tuk riders were giving thumbs up as they rode past.

The waterfall trip was a glorious adventure in itself, its bliss only to be accentuated by a visit to a Buddhist temple for evening chant. Brian, Tessa and Amanda sat at the back of the temple as monks trickled in throughout the prayer-chants, with us mimicking their sitting and bows as best possible. Toward the conclusion of the hour, the 25-plus orange-robed monks all turned their faces from the Buddha statues towards us visitors at the back and offered us direct blessings. The powerful energy waving over us was overwhelming; one of those moments that will surely live on in mind and heart’s eye.

From waterfall to monk blessing, we topped off this magical day with the boat lantern festival, an occasion marking the end of rainy season and honoring the legends of Luang Prabang. “Mr. Jim,” one of our two thoughtful, attentive guides from the trek, was again our guide through the throngs of people who congregated at night for the boat and lantern festival. We joined the sea of Laotian and internationals moving toward one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang where we were mesmerized by the array of decorative boats on display—one made in the shape of a rooster, another a dragon, another a lotus flower… There were about thirteen of these in competition, each the work of a different village from the region. Mr. Jim’s girlfriend was kind to make our group several small offering floats made of banana leaves and flowers so that we could make wishes for good future and send them into the Mekong River with the thousands of other glowing art pieces floating along. All the time there were fireworks exploding, both high in the sky over the river as well as close to our ears… keeping us alert and amazed.

The next day we spent in our unique ways… Brian, Alecc and Stephanie rested and enjoyed the calm and beauty of the city, while Tessa and Amanda took a tuk-tuk to the infamous Buddha caves. After an hour’s ride down a bumpy, dusty, windy road, we crossed a river in a long canoe to the entrance of the caves that hold over 2,000 discarded Buddha statues. The landscape was breathtaking, the energy of the space inexplicable, and the mysteries of the formations humbling. Thirsting for more, we stopped off at the beginning of the footpath up to the highest temple in Luang Prabang, Phousi, and climbed our way up the hundreds of steps to an impressive sunset view over the city. We descended into night market, where all of us enjoyed our last night of shopping.

Our last day in Luang Prabang we filled with a fun cooking class led by two highly-organized Laotians who taught us how to make about a dozen typical dishes. Lots of laughs, good eats, and new Aussie friends… “you like a spicy, you make a spicy, you no like a spicy add the sugar then no spicy”