Although I had originally switched up my plans, in part to avoid the slow boat on the Mekong I later found myself there anyway. After the multiple vomit inducing, seemingly ever ending bus rides I dealt with in Vietnam and Laos I was ready for a change of pace. Multiple sources (travel blogs, guidebooks and others I'd met along the way) informed me that taking the slow boat was a must during my visit to Laos, thank Cambodia - Angkor, Egypt - The Pyramids. Given these great reviews I figured I had better give it a shot.
Although it's probably one of the top stops for most tourists visiting Luang Prabang, after nearly two weeks in the city (on and off) I had yet to visit Kuang Si Waterfall. I knew it was one of the must see destinations in town but my motivation for traveling out there was severely lacking. Mostly I was just being super lazy in figuring out what method of transport I wanted to take (tuk-tuk, mini van, bike, hike, motorbike), it seriously seemed like the possibilities were endless. I was nearing the end of my time in Luang Prabang and thought I might not actually make it out to see the gorgeous falls , that is ,before one of the boys from Big Brother Mouse saved the day.
After my adventures in Phonsovan and Vang Vieng I returned to Luang Prabang where I began to spend more and more time at Big Brother Mouse. As I volunteered there I developed duel feelings of both hope and frustration. The boys attending the conversation classes showed such enthusiasm to learn and improve their English, even if it meant give up other things to do so. I've definitely come to realize how often 'we' (many developed countries) take our opportunities for education for granted. Learning can come for free but to have a proper education there's always a price to pay.
After one day in Luang Prabang I started to wonder if I would once again be packing up my bags sooner than expected and moving on, but then I remembered Big Brother Mouse. I stumbled across this place months before taking my trip but stored it in the back of my mind knowing that I'd have to pay a visit. The organization has an impressive story, beginning as the brain child of one eager boy, Khamla and has now become quite an impressive venture. The major intent of the organization is both publishing and distributing books, making them accessible to children all over Laos. As I read the story of how they began it hit me that I never considered some children grow up without access to story book. Kids in America (and other developed) nations may scoff when they get a book as a gift, but to some children that could be the gift of a lifetime. Aside from book production BBM also offers free English lessons and resources to students in the city. From 9am - 11am and 5pm - 7pm students are allowed to come and read books and newspapers or practice their English with volunteers (if any come).
I'm always hesitant when talking to other travelers before visiting a city, of course I want to get some ideas: where to go, what to do and where to eat, but I also don't want their perception to alter or affect mine. The ideal destination for one person may be hell for another, this is especially true when the travelers are not encountering the city at the same time. There are way too many variables left unaccounted for: travel companions (or lack there of), accommodation, weather, length of stay, and the list goes on. Before arriving in Luang Prabang some told me that I'd "Absolutely love the city" while other were adamant that "You only need a few days", leaving me nothing but confused. I thought I'd lean towards the first end of the spectrum, especially after reading some great travel blogs, but there was only one way to find out.
Often overlooked on the backpacker trail, this is a destination to not be missed. Without the influence of 7/11, Mc Donalds or Starbucks this is a country that offers a raw, rich experience.