300 kilometers up the river Mekong from Vientiane in Laos lies the city of Luang Prabang. A UNESCO world heritage city for its numerous functioning temples.
It is an amazingly quaint and chill place with not a huge amount to do. That is the charm, really. It is quiet. Compared with many places in Asia, there is not a lot of thumping and bumping. There is an 11 PM curfew and the streets get quiet late in the evening.
In Laos, as in Thailand, every male becomes a monk for as little as a few weeks, or for several years. For some, it is a way to get, not just a religious, but also a more complete education beyond primary school.
Monks are busy with study and tasks and to keep themselves on the straight and narrow, they eat just once a day. All their calories must come before 11 AM. In this tradition, they get all their food from donations to them by the people in the community.
In Luang Prabang, very early, the townsfolk, either make food the night before or hurry to the market and purchase food. By 5:45 AM every morning, they take a seat on the sidewalk and the monks emerge, from age 9 to 90, saffron ablaze, alms bowls at the ready. They parade along the street, stopping briefly as each person drops a handful of food into the bowl. Usually a small ball of rice, but perhaps some vegetables or bread.
At the end of the 1 km route, one monk has a meal provided and touched by the entire town. They are fed for the day and in return the donors pocket some merit, some spiritual good will to bank for a better life next time.
It’s been going on for centuries. Indeed I wonder how many lifetimes some of them have been doing this.
If you head there, I can highly recommend the Mekong Riverview Hotel. It’s at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers with great views of the river below. Breakfast is included. The owner is a European who’s been there for decades. He started the city park next door and on Monday he hosts a wine night in the park for his guests. He’ll come by every morning and greet you and offer tips on the area. The staff is A-one. Other places that look nice are the Belle Rive and the Victory Palace Hotel.
We had two great meals. Manda de Laos overlooks a UNESCO lily ponds. They’ve been cooking meals there for generations entertaining kings and dignitaries.
The Green Elephant served high quality Lao food with creative cocktails to match.
The Night Market has unique and local crafts and is quite manageable as far as markets go. It provides a nice after dinner stroll to walk off the nice meal.
As far as activities, a boat ride up the river to the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas is a nice 5 hour trip to see a cave with countless buddhas offered over the eons. You can stop at a couple villages along the way. A private boat will cost you around 50 bucks for the day.
There is a waterfall hike that will have to wait until next time for us. And there will be a next time, for the body craves the green and the fresh after existing among the millions here in Bangkok.