Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang has been high on my list of places to go ever since I had to skip it due to time constraints on my last trip to South East Asia in 2006.  I had heard so many great things about it during and since that trip. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is known as the laid back cultural capital in the north of Laos.  We only planned to stay there two nights on this trip, but we ended up loving it so much that we nearly stayed a week!

When we arrived in town, we took a taxi to the Vangsavath Hotel where I had booked a room on booking.com.  It’s a family run hotel with beautiful rooms and grounds and due to it being low season, the price was really cheap.  It’s always nice to get a good clean hotel room after spending a few days in the jungle.  The hotel was run a by young man name Porn, and his mother.  They were both extremely friendly and really went out their way to make our stay memorable.  The hotel probably had 30 rooms but again, due to it being low season, we were the only guests there for our entire stay.  It sort of felt like having an entire mansion and staff to ourselves.

Another good benefit of the hotel was that they provided us with free bicycles.  Since the city is basically flat, and filled with sights to see, bikes were the perfect way to get around.  On our first morning, we got up at dawn to see the famous tradition of giving alms to the monks.  There are temples or wats scattered all around Luang Prabang, and every morning at sunrise, the monks get up and walk around the town where the villagers give them alms, usually rice, but sometimes other things to eat or money.  It was interesting to see but we were a bit disappointed to see how far it was exploited for tourists.  Although in the old days, this was actually the only food that the monks had, nowadays the monks are well fed and they end up either throwing out most of the rice ( which is sold to tourists by countless wandering vendors) or giving the rice to other poorer people that really need it (rare but nice to see).  Many of the tourists felt no qualms about jumping in front of the monks to get their picture taken and just generally spoiling the peaceful atmosphere.  Later, when we got a chance to spend some 1-on-1 time with a monk, we learned that most of them don’t even want to do it anymore, but the government has said that if is such a tourist draw that if they don’t do it, they’ll just get normal people to wear orange robes and walk around the streets.  Lame.  We went back to the hotel to rest for a bit, then climbed the large hill in the center of town (Phu Si) to see a great sunset view over the river and the city.

The next day, I wanted to try and arrange a bit more personal experience with a monk.  Porn told me about a temple that is out of the main part of the city, but not too far, where I would be able to meet some monks and have a good conversation.  Mandy went back into town to do some shopping and I rode to the wat.  I hesitantly parked my bike outside the quiet temple and wandered in.  A few monks were sitting in the shade giving me inquisitive looks and then one waved and called me over to sit with him under a tree.  I spent the next hour chatting with this seventeen year old monk, learning about his culture and the Lao version of Buddhism.   He said he only saw about one tourist per month.  He also let me know that since the monks are usually extremely poor villagers before they become monks, they actually prefer when they get money in their alms bowls as this is the only way that they can actually afford to get an education.  He really valued being able to practice english with me and I really valued learning about his culture.  He went into his room and got a tattered english language Lao Buddhism manual and explained some of the diagrams and symbols to me.  He invited me to come back that evening for mediation and a prayer session so after meeting up with Mandy later in the day to check out the beautiful Royal Palace Museum, we did come back.  It was really long and we didn’t understand much, but it was peaceful and gave is a good chance to do some thinking.

I had been asking Porn about whether ant egg omelets really existed in Laos (I had seen them on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, but never actually in Laos), so on our fourth morning he went to four different markets until he found ant eggs.  The woman who cooked our breakfasts, who normally just wore casual clothes, came out dressed in a chef outfit and hat and cooked me up one ant egg omelet (Amanda, perhaps wisely, stuck with the normal chicken egg variety).  The texture was a bit…odd… but really not bad!  Then we went back into town and hired a boat to take us to cave down the Mekong that contained 4000 Buddha statues!  On the way back we stopped by “whiskey village”  where they make a special kind of lao lao whiskey.  The vendor lady took some shots with us and we ended up buying a few bottles of the sweeter black sticky-rice variety, which we then drank on the boat ride back.  When we got back to town, we were a bit sleep from the heat and the whiskey but we stopped by an awesome French bakery called Benneton for some homemade ice cream and lunch.  Then we rode back to the hotel and took naps while it started to pour rain outside.  When it finally stopped we went to a funky bar called Utopia on the Mekong that is decorated with old bomb casings and colored lights.  We stretched out on cushions overlooking the water, ate dinner and drank some Dark Beer Lao.

On our final day in Luang Prabang, we decided to go to the Elephant Village.  There are several tour operators in town offering elephant rides, and although this one is the most expensive, we thought it was worth it because they actually rehabilitate logging elephants and they take great care of them.  We each got a chance to act like a Mahout (elephant rider) and ride on top of the elephant’s head.  We learned some basic commands for how to steer them and then we took off for a ride down through the river!  We give them baths and scrubbed their heads with brushes, then we got to stand up on their heads and dive into the water!  On some command that the mahouts gave, all of the elephants started raising their trunks and repeatedly splashing the water while we were on top.  It was hilarious!   We went to a little waterfall where we could jump into little turquoise pools, then we went back to the swimming pool for a while at the Elephant Village.  After a while, we went back to our hotel where we cleaned up then went out to the night market to check out the huge variety products made by all of the various ethnic minority tribes in the surrounding villages.  Finally we went to bar called Hive, where they put on an Ethnic Fashion show.  It sounds cheesy but it was actually really well done.  It’s sort of like a living museum where they have 95 different costumes from the various tribes and local students wear them around the stage.  They make great wages and everyones seems to have a great time.

Luang Prabang totally exceeded our (already high) expectations.  It’s a great town to explore and despite all of the great sights to see, the real beauty is in exploring all of the little cafe’s, bakeries, side streets, and out of the way temples.  It was also out last stop in South East Asia (after one night transit in Bangkok) before heading to the Bhutan in the Himalayas!

+Gallery
  • Mekong Riverweed Snack
  • Dried Buffalo Skin Sauce
  • Lao Carnival
  • Stick Meat for Sale
  • Candles Light the Food When the Power Goes Out
  • Mercedes and Monks
  • Collecting Alms
  • Collecting Alms
  • Collecting Alms
  • Giving Extra Alms to Needy Boy
  • Collecting Alms
  • Royal Palace Wat
  • Dragon in Front of Wat
  • Contemplating the Wat
  • Golden Wat Interior
  • Contemplating the Buddha
  • Golden Buddhas on the Wall
  • Mindful Quotes
  • Adam is Excited to See the National Museum
  • View Over Luang Prabang from Phu Si Hill
  • Laotian Kids Looking Over the City
  • Naga at Night
  • Naga Eating the Moon
  • Ant Eggs!
  • Preparing the Ant Egg Omelet
  • Ant Egg Omelet
  • Adam is Loving It!
  • Lao Fisherman on the Mekong
  • Cave with 4000 Buddhas
  • Buddha Cave and RIver View
  • Cave with 4000 Buddhas
  • Cave with 4000 Buddhas
  • Amanda Excited to Go to Whiskey Village
  • Preparing the Whiskey in Old Jugs
  • The Finished Whiskeys
  • Amanda Climbing the Elephant
  • Nice Elephant
  • Adam Laughing at Elephant
  • Riding the Elephants Toward the River
  • Adam the Mahout
  • Riding the Elephants Through the Village
  • Feeding Time!
  • Feeding Bananas to the Elephant
  • Bathing the Elephants
  • Adam Jumping Off Elephant Head
  • Standing on Elephants
  • Amanda Jumping Off Elephant Head
  • Chilling in the Pool at Elephant Village
  • Ethnic Fashion Show
  • Traditional Laos Minority Costume
  • Luang Prabang Night Market
  • Vangsavath Hotel
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Posted: June 27, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Laos

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