Memories Of A Million Footsteps: Return To Luang Prabang

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Life in Laos | 4 comments

Last week we returned to Luang Prabang for the first time since we left, more than a year ago. Those of you who have visited Luang Prabang will know what I mean when I say it’s a special place. Those of you who haven’t, imagine a small town nestled in between two rivers and cradled by jungle-covered mountains. Imagine gold-gilded temples meets old-world French architecture. Imagine orchids and saffron-robed monks and sticky rice steaming in small bamboo baskets.

We didn’t own a car during the three years we lived in Luang Prabang, so most evenings after Mike got home from work we would strike out on foot. Walking those streets for three years etched Luang Prabang into my internal map like no other place I’ve ever lived. It’s maybe the only place in the world where you could drop me anywhere in town and I would know where I was.

(Here, Mike would doubtless say that you would hope so, given that the Old Town is entirely contained within three parallel roads, but that is beside the point.)

The point is that I know Luang Prabang. A million footsteps mapped it into me, and coming back was a sort of coming home.

Mike and I weathered some very difficult times during the years we lived in Luang Prabang – broken bones and medical emergencies, two spinal surgeries, depression, post-natal anxiety. We both floundered in stormy internal seas during our first year as parents.

But when I go back to Luang Prabang now I have to reach to pull those difficult times into view. As we walked around those familiar streets, it was all the good things about living there that flooded back – all the happy evenings and favorite restaurants and the lush, pervasive, and perfectly proportioned beauty of the place.

We timed this return visit to coincide with the annual Fire Lantern Festival that marks the end of Buddist lent, so our first two nights there were lit by the thousands of flickering candles that adorned the temples and the singular brilliance of hundreds of paper lanterns ascending from all over town into a still, dark sky.

We went back to our favorite waterfalls and we drank Mojitos by swimming pools. Waiters and market vendors remembered our names and did a double take to see red-headed baby number two in tow. We reconnected with old friends and we spent (too much?) money on beautiful silk scarves and wall hangings.

We remembered all over again that there have been many, many things that we have loved about our time here in Laos.  And that we were lucky to have lived in Luang Prabang for three of those years. And that even when times feel dark, future days can bring the hushed serenity of candlelight and the fierce brilliance of fire rising, rising, rising into the night. 

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  1. Lisa, I love this! Your words captivate my imagination. The photos are simply stunning. I am happy that you had such a beautiful time. Thank you for sharing this.

    • We did. It’s so lovely to be in a happier season again after such a long hard start to the year. Hope you’re also in a happy season!

  2. Lisa, What a beautifully crafted post. The imagery your words create are magical. I want to attend the fire lantern festival and bathe in the waterfalls in this special place. What a lovely reflective piece. I am so happy that you and Mike and the children could return and relive your wonderful memories as well as create new ones. The happy photos are such a joy to see. Oh, in my opinion, no such thing as too much $ spent on silk scarves and beautiful wall hangings by the way! Thanks for sharing it with all of us. Hugs and best wishes.

    • Thanks. It’s a great festival for sure!! My favorite of the year here in Laos. Definitely worth attending at some point if the opportunity presents. And totally agree with you on the silk. Mike, however…