Luang Prabang, Laos

Aside from the constant smoke, a staple here in Laos, Luang Prabang is an inviting town. We would have liked to stay longer, but not being able to breathe freely really put a damper on our visit. Located on a peninsula where the Nam Khan river meets the mighty Mekong River, this quaint town is known for having countless temples and monasteries, not to mention an impressive night market. We strolled the streets meandering from one site to another. Highlights included:

1. The view from a top Wat Pho– located in the heart of the town. We scaled up the many stairs to reach the top platform that provided great 360° panoramic view of the surroundings.

2. The Kuang Si Falls–located 20 miles or so outside of Luang Prabang, is a beautiful collection of cool, turquoise pools lining a walkway up to the 50 meter high, main event,  waterfall. We hiked all the way up the steep, slippery hillside (in flip-flops no less) to get a glimpse from the top all the way down. Looking over the edge gave me that stomach dropping feeling for sure. Back down the hill, we treated ourselves by swimming in the refreshing water, though we did enter rather slowly, shivering all the way. Scotty and I swam under a small but powerful waterfall area, a first for him. It was a great side trip.

3. The ritual alms giving–when the resident monks come out at day break to collect their daily meal from the public. We had heard that the alms giving ritual was especially spectacular to view here in Luang Prabang so we got up while it was still dark to find a good place to watch from. What we saw was a strange mix of reverence and circus. Along many of the roads outside of the various temples, mats were set up with baskets of rice waiting for the arrival of the monk procession. The streets were quiet for a while, then tuk-tuk after tuk-tuk and van after van showed up as devotees poured out and took their positions upon the pre-arranged mats.

Soon after the monks began to show themselves, forming single file lines and going down the street with their alms bowls to collect their daily meals (apparently monks only eat rice once a day and then are allowed liquid diet for the rest of the day- oh the price of piety). Monks are not allowed to beg or ask for money, they simply walk around and rely on the generosity of others in the community to take care of them. As their bowls became full, they gave what extra they had to the many children forming a single file line directly behind them, hoping to get as much of the overflow as possible.

The scene gave a feeling of good-will, caring, and community as the believers did their duty to the holy men who prayed for them as they went down the line.

And then there were the tourists…. There were so many disrespectful people at this ceremony as well. Khaki-clad women with their digital SLR’s moving in front of and through the monk procession. Anything to get “the shot” was what seemed to be their philosophy. They were practically pushing monks out of the way to get better angles and totally disregarding general standards of conduct and good manners, let alone the special care that one should take when observing anyone’s religious ceremonies. As we sat quietly, on a curb across the street, next to another couple, we could not help but collectively shake our heads at the brashness.

4. The overall access to so many old temples and a pleasant atmosphere– it is hard to quantify a feeling, but Luang Prabang just had a certain calm, and charm that is hard to put into words. We simply felt good being there. The abundance of old, intricate temples certainly helped as there was much beauty to be hold. The food was nothing to shirk at either. On a couple nights I went to one of the meat ladies and bought $2 worth of delectable pork ribs. She would use her cleaver to hack up the bones into several pieces and then put them into a plastic bag for easy travel. Mmmmmm, bag of meat. The $1 chicken cheese sandwiches and 50¢ fresh fruit shakes were awesome as well.

Overall, not a bad place at all. I’d recommend Luang Prabang to almost anyone.

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