Luang Prabang is a beautiful jewel of a town. Small, with plenty of temples and quiet, shady lanes, the place is hemmed in on two sides by rivers. There are gardens and flowering trees. There is a splendid mixture of restored French colonial architecture and traditional Lao wats. With the exhausting heat it was easy to slip into a dreamlike daze, wandering slowly from place to place, enjoying the delights of the architecture and gardens, drinking cold fruit shakes in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the river, or browsing in the handicraft stores. Every night there was a big craft market with colorful silk scarves and hilltribe goods. With a little bargaining we picked up a Hmong baby carrier. Buddhist New Year, celebrated in the middle of April, was coming. We made reservations for a room in a guesthouse and left on a tour of northern Laos .
Northern Laos is filled with rugged mountain peaks and broad valleys. Long, uncomfortable bus rides are required to get anywhere. From Luang Prabang it took us a whole day to get to Luang Nam Tha, near the Chinese border. Just down the street from our hotel was a Lao herbal sauna. It had rained that day and we were a bit cold - so why not try? The sauna was a rudely covered bamboo platform with an open massage area and two unlit tiny rooms. Thick steam was piped up from a burning metal drum underneath the sauna. We crammed ourselves into one of the rooms and sat in the vapors, surrounded by a wonderful aroma of herbs. We traded some simple conversation with our neighbors, two Lao ladies, in the next room. Eric had bought a book to learn Lao before leaving Thailand, and was trying to learn. The few words he knew were enough for some laughs. After a few trips into the sauna and then outside to rinse off with cold water, we had forgotten about the long bus ride. We headed back to our hotel for a night of sound sleep.