Luang Prabang, Laos

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“You should write her a letter telling her what she meant to you.”

Samit sits across from me in a cafe in Luang Prabang. It took us three days in a kayak to get here. We had come from a small town up north in the mountains where we sat quietly under the clear stars reveling the edge of the Milky Way. Samit is a man I admire. We had been traveling together for at least a week, but our paths had crossed much earlier in Southern Laos. If one thing’s certain, it’s that travelers tend to find each other again in another place.

 On a particularly warm summer night in a midwestern town in the United States some months before, a girl told me how she fucked up. Samit’s suggestion: that I should feel grateful that I even knew her for a moment. She’s haunted my entire time in Southeast Asia.

 In Luang Prabang I have visited no less than ten wats within a miles stretch. They say there are more than thirty in the small town center alone. At the first stop early in the morning, I stumble upon a little shivering puppy wrapped in orange monk robes on a table. I actually keep walking down the stairs leaving the grounds, before I reconsider leaving the little guy unattended. I swing back around, find the puppy, and hold his little body in my arms against my chest. He is shaking violently- all wet from a bath I imagine. I look up to see a beaming smile from a young monk. Eager to practice his English, he tells me he found the pup in the countryside and brought him back to his wat. The puppy began to relax and look so comfy in those bright robes. I just had to smile. before turning to leave, I bow and tell the monk how beautiful his wat is, and he beams again.

 At this point it had been months since I first arrived in Southeast Asia. I had met and chatted with many Buddhist monks. Long conversations about the state of being. I even spent time reading the stories of the Buddha in English to my first “teacher” a head monk of a little wat in Cambodia. Yet I felt exactly as I had that summer night when I was briefly given a moment with a girl I was fixated on. Attached, I think is what the Buddhist would say about it. I remember sitting down with a older monk with a hearty laugh who taught at a University in Phnom Penh. “Maybe,” he says “we suffer because we love too much.” Hearty laugh. “I guess that’s against some current world beliefs. Maybe we just love in the wrong ways.”

 I leave the puppy and head for a view of the Mekong River. Powerful and rich, it’s the life-force of the entire region. Luang Prabang sits at the junction of the Mekong and a smaller river called the Nam Khan. A Laotian told me a story about it, something about the younger brother trying to murder is older brother, chopping off some body part, and now the two rivers magically collide around the city. It seemed rather legitimate of a story to me after a few Lao beers. This place feels pretty magical after all.

 I watch the river at the waterfront for a bit as night begins to fall. Foreigners and residents blend around me. I remember my plans with Samit, and feel a sliver of happiness that I have someone to meet. As I walk along the river to the little place we agreed on, I think of what I would be seeing if I was back in that midwestern town. I remember that girl walking into the Asian wing of the local art museum. I looked up as she approached me, and everything just sort of fell together. She approached without saying a word, becoming the entire room and everything in it.

 Samit says, “You should write her a letter telling her what she meant to you.” For a moment I consider what he is saying, and even think of what I’d write. I look behind him onto the street below. The walkers are appearing from the night market, and all the bright colors of Luang Prabang in the dark are blending together. I look back at Samit and the cafe patrons around us, and for a moment, that was everything.