An open letter: Luang Prabang

Dear Mama,

Luang Prabang is a place of butterflies. They are everywhere you look. Despite the haze in town from people burning their soil to make it fertile for the upcoming rains, there are flurries of encouraging little butterflies, in all sizes and colors, simply everywhere. They are in the corners of my eyes at all times. They delight when they randomly alight, and seem to meander to the sound of their own peaceful, syncopated mantra. I'm reminded that I'm here to do the same.

Everything in Lao (most people seem to drop the S in Laos) moves at half-pace, and it's not long before my steps and thoughts follow suit. Every face and conversation is gentle and warm, respectful. Everyone is quite happy to exchange the greeting of hello, "Sabaidee!" And the words for Thank You, "Kopchai!"

There are incredible, intricate textiles made here, ones that could bring you to tears, in colors I never knew I liked, in combinations I never knew could sing together so.

I've met so many kindred spirits on this trip. Mostly I've found the kind of fierce, storytelling, travel-hungry and compassionate-laden women I always seem to find, those women whose histories are unconventional and whose paths were dictated by nobody.

One such spirit in particular has truly made impressions on my heart. Bar-owner, published poet, confidante. I watched day after day as people would belly up to the bar, introduce themselves and within minutes be spilling their secrets; skeletons tumbling out of closets like sighs of relief.

And through the speakers, Tom Waits doesn't seem to judge us, either.

It takes a special kind of person to tend bar. That holds true all the world 'round. Elli's voice is like the tinkling of bells, deliberate but lilting, earnest but quiet. Looking around the room her eyes read hearts but her lips don't judge.

The drinks are strong. The atmosphere full of laughter.

I do hate to be dramatic, but six nights trading tales at this shop-house miracle on the side of a hill just may have changed me forever, just a little.


And have I mentioned there are gorgeous Buddhist temples everywhere, in every direction you look? Did I say here yet how the most beautiful aqua waterfall I ever saw is a scant 30 minute drive from the town center?

Luang Prabang: I'll hurry back, that's a promise.