Posted by: Anna | June 3, 2011

I love Luang Prabang!

I do. It’s great here. Some of it is timing – it was just what I wanted, when I wanted it. We moved too fast through the Philippines and Vietnam. When we arrived in Luang Prabang, the second largest city in Laos, I was ready for a break. I was ready to relax. Laos is designed for relaxing, and Luang Prabang is just my speed of slow.

Luang Prabang is a small town (only 26,000), recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. This has helped to preserve the colonial charm, and the Laos people preserve the take-it-easy attitude. It has everything – good food, plenty to do when you want, nice places to chill when you don’t want to do anything, spas, natural beauty, low cost. In short, it’s a small slice of paradise. If you want to go somewhere no one you know (except us) has ever been, that you are guaranteed to love, it might just be LP.

Early in the morning, many tourists get up early to see the monks collect alms. At 5:30, we joined those tourists, and headed out, bleary eyed. After fending off the rather aggressive (for Laos) ladies selling rice to give to the monks, we parked ourselves on the curb across the street from the action and waited. We had read up on this tradition before going, and decided not to participate. One article I read likened participating in the alms giving without Buddhist beliefs as like participating in communion without being Christian. So we watched. Tourists tend to really want to get a great photo (it’s really visually interesting), and get in the monks faces while they are walking. Can you imagine if someone did this at your church? You’d be horribly offended. Anyway, enough soapbox…

Theravada Buddhism thrives in Laos, and Luang Prabang has many, many stunning wats (temples). Monks live in these wats, and each morning they collect alms in the form of food from devout Buddhists. Monks wear orange robes (all the time, not just in the morning). At any hour of the day, you can see monks walking the streets of Luang Prabang, talking on cell phones, walking to / from school, and sitting in internet cafes. A high percentage of Laos men are ordained as monks in their lives, and I read that a man is not considered “ripe” until he has spent a few years as a monk. It’s not necessarily a lifetime commitment. Most monks you see are very young, mainly teenagers. Adult monks must work, generally either as teachers or doctors. Monks are always men, and there is no equivalent for women. Women must hope for a better rebirth in the next life as only men can achieve buddha-hood.

We watched local people roll out bamboo mats, remove their shoes, and kneel down in preparation. They seemed to raise the bamboo basket of rice to their forehead to pray or meditate, then lower it to wait. Not long after they got set up, the monks started walking by. They are barefoot (they wear shoes during the day), and each carries a big bowl with a lid and a shoulder strap to collect food. The devout pinch off a bit of rice (sticky rice) and drop it into each monk’s container as he walks by. The ceremony is done in silence.

Our picture of monks walking by - since we didn't want to get up too close, our pictures of the monks didn't turn out that great.

Later on, we decided to see some of the wats Luang Prabang is so famous for. A few photos – they are stunning. I am no expert on Buddhism or wats, so I can only appreciate their beauty, somewhat devoid of the deeper symbolism of each one.

We walked by this one almost every day. It's practically in the middle of town.

This Buddha statue was in the garden of one of the wats. Somehow so lovely and peaceful.

This was taken inside the oldest temple in Luang Prabang (I think). Some Buddhas have sashes, and some don't. Visually, I found it a lovely shabby-chic Buddha collection.

One of the shrines had these amazing dragon heads leaping out at you as you entered.

One more shot of the outside of one of the wats. I lost track of the name of this one. Stunning, though.

We cruised around to these on bicycles. Luang Prabang might be the best place to leisurely ride a bicycle in the entire world. We rented ours for a day and had so much fun riding around, stopping for pictures and sights, and feeling the wind in our faces. We finished the day with a visit to the local swimming pool / bar, where we cooled off and had some frozen cocktails before heading back to town.

This view you can see from all around the city. Luang Prabang is surrounded by lush tropical hills and flanked by two rivers on either side of town.

Luang Prabang is just bursting with charm and things I like. It is my favorite single stop on our whole trip, I think. Peppered with spas and upscale restaurants and wine bars, we never lack for a leisurely way to spend the day. We spent one night watching The Big Lebowski in a “theatre” that seats 13 in the upstairs of a bar. Our movie tickets came with White Russians (it’s in the movie, if you haven’t seen it). We’ve heard stories of the late-night bowling alley that stays open past curfew, but we can’t get into our guesthouse after 11:30 (city curfew). We have to stay somewhere a little more shady in order to go…sounds intriguing! It’s a speakeasy bowling alley. We spent one afternoon in a private little pavilion with cushions on the ground and a large coffee table, drinking beer and playing cards, overlooking the river and the jungle. There’s so many good ways to do not much at all.

We were supposed to stay in Luang Prabang for five days. But, well, plans change. We decided to keep pushing back our flight and pushing back our flight. When I called Laos Airlines to ask if we could fly later, they readily agreed. No extra fees, no problem – can you imagine that with any US airline? The only holdup might be that the flight we rescheduled to only had eight people, so it might get cancelled. Then we would just have to stay longer. Gee….I don’t know if I could stand it.

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Responses

  1. I loved hearing about this on skype too. It sounds even more peaceful and relaxing than our annual jaunt to Puerto Vallarta. You had me at bicycle riding.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful getaway…if I could only get UBE on a plane!!!! XOXOOX Kita

  3. Very interesting, I just arrive here and I feel that I am going to stay for a while too 😉


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