An hour’s flight from Chaing Mai, Thailand is a small little oasis called Luang Prabang in Laos. http://www.tourismluangprabang.org/index.php This charming city is honoured as a world UNESCO heritage site, because of its preservation of a combined European colonial culture with its ancient roots in Siam. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479.
This city was originally populated by monks, and each day you see many young monk novices heading to and from school. You can also participate in the morning alms procession, where you purchase rice to give the monks. This tradition is part of the monks vows in order to for them to practice humility and the locals would support them in this exercise. Very moving to see, but sadly is now simply a tourist attraction and thus has lost some of it’s meaning and charm. Late in the afternoon, the monks perform a musical devotion with large drums. It’s quite something to hear as you are walking around the city. Not so many monks with cell phones here like we saw in Chiang Mai 😉 We talked with one young novice here. He spoke wonderful English and shared with us some insight into his life, his schooling (very expensive for him) and the choices he will need to take soon on what he will do in the future … take his vows or continue in school. He’s lucky as he has a sponsor in Canada who has helped to keep him in school. He’s shown in the picture below on the right.We stayed in a spectacular guest house on the edge of the Nam Khan river (there are 2 rivers that run through Laos – the Nam Khan and the mighty Mekong). Teak wood everywhere, high-beamed ceilings and the most incredible view of the temple atop Mount Phu Si. Perfect for our morning meditation with the peace and quiet, as it’s a bit away from the busy main strip where most tourists stay in much more expensive hotels! http://thongbay-guesthouses.com/
The next day, we took another long steep hike (in very hot and humid weather!) to the top of Mount Phusi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phou_si From the top was a breathtaking view of the city and some truly amazing statues.
Most of our days and evenings were spent walking along the main strip of the city. The hotel offered a free ride “downtown” and our tuk-tuk ride back to the guesthouse was only 30,000 Kip (about $5 CAD). Many sights, sounds and smells to take in on our daily walks … the shops, the local markets, and the beautiful smiles of the Lao people going about their daily lives. The food is healthy, fresh and spicy and all the restaurants have free wi-fi 🙂 My favourite restaurants are the ones situated along either of rivers – especially at sunset! There are also many spectacular temples to visit throughout the city. And in the evenings, a fair-sized night market will help you perfect your negotiating skills. My favourite approach is to first ask the price, then offer way, way lower than what they say and have in mind where you want to stop. But remember, sometimes you are only haggling the difference of as little as 25 cents, so don’t take it too seriously 🙂 We spent 4 days here, and that was just perfect to see everything to see without feeling rushed. It’s a wonderful city to just walk, shop, eat, work and enjoy a refreshing BeerLao whenever needed!!!! The early morning market is a bustling place to take in local flavour and colour, and to enjoy the open smiles of beautiful Laotians going about their everyday routine.My travel companion has many friends around the world, and in Luang Prabang we met with the beautiful Asa and her staff at her market store. The best part … it was Chinese New Year and were treated to a tasty homemade feast! Asa, Abbey & Nok with some donated clothes from friends in Thailand We also met with Vong, a young man who works at the airport. He greeted us with a warm smile and hug and we were invited to his home to meet his family and have another authentic Laos home cooked meal! It turns out my friend had sponsored Vong through university, which allowed him to learn English and achieve this great job with Laos Airlines. Most importantly, Vong is now able to take care of his countryside farming family. He is the only person in his direct family to have a good city job, outside of his predestined life as a very poor rice farmer. The best part of the dinner was the ride on motor-scooter to his home 🙂 Our friend Vong (far left) and his family
Although the main part of the city is quite clean and tourist friendly, Laos is the actually the second poorest Asian country outside of Afghanistan. Most Laotians are farmers and many only receive schooling if they join a monastery. It’s highly recommended to take a long boat across the river to the other side to get a sense of how people really live. Don’t take the tourist boat – they cost too much. It’s better to take the larger local ferry – typically around 15,000 Kip ($2.00) or you can negotiate a small long boat for around 20,000 Kip. There are a few very ancient temples on this side that you will see as you walk along the dusty main road. One is very unique – it’s inside a cave, where many Laotian people took cover when the Americans were dropping bombs in this area during the Vietnamese war. I’ll leave you, my readers, and Laos with photos of the sunset on the Mekong. Next stop – Cambodia 🙂 Namaste Photo credit: M.Charbonneau