Sunday, May 26, 2013

Luang Prabang--Beautiful Compact Village

The UNESCO World Heritage portion of Luang Prabang is just as beautiful as it was when I first visited here in 2002. Since then many individual homes have become guest houses, but the downtown area still retains its original look. Most buildings are two story with traditional facades. Most of the shops along the main streets cater to the tourist crowd ranging from restaurants, travel agencies, snack shops, art galleries, trinket shops, and guest houses. There are also several street stalls during the day that sell beautiful fabrics, crafts, and jewelry along with food and drinks.

This is one of my favorite breakfast spots where I get an 18 oz cup of delicious hot Lao coffee along with an egg sandwich for 20000 kip. It is at the day market where you can watch the tuk tuk drivers try to entice the tourists into going to the waterfalls, elephant rides or to the Pak Ou Caves.



Luang Prabang has over 30 Wats or monasteries and every morning about 5:30 am you can see groups of monks walk through the downtown streets and alleys accepting alms from the villagers and occasional tourist. The protocol is for the women villagers to sit and the men to stand while making their offerings into the monks' bowls. They usually offer a handful of sticky rice to each monk. Usually the line of monks from each Wat starts with the oldest monk down to the youngest one. You are not suppose to touch the monks nor are you to photograph them closer than a meter. These processions last for about 45 minutes, and then the monks return to their Wats with rice and other treats for the day. This process is repeated every day.

At some of the spots where tourist congregate, you will find sellers of packaged sticky rice and other treats who are pretty insistent on wanting you to buy from them. If you want to make these offerings to the monks, it is better to get your own bucket of sticky rice from a street stall. For villagers, the giving of alms is their way of making merit. For tourists, they must have their own reasons for participating in this sacred ceremony.



The weather was great when I decided to climb up to the Wat Phu Si which you can barely see from this picture below. it is that golden spire hiding amongst the trees and thrusting into the blue sky. When I got to the top, I could see all around the Luang Prabang area. I then spotted a rain storm slowly moving our way.


Here is the top of Wat Phu Si---funny we have a Mt. Si near my home---along with the Buddha sanctuary.

As I started down, the winds picked up and I began to get drops of water which soon developed in to a downpour. I got to the ticket booth area which was sheltered from the rain.

I met Chu from China at this shelter from the rain so we talked a bit. I turns out that he was a middle school teacher from Chongching area and at 62 was retired. He and a group of four others had bicycled to Luang Prabang from the Chinese border and was planning to take the slow boat to Huay Xai with their bikes as I would do a day later. his English was pretty good and he said that he was an English teacher. Generally you see large groups of Chinese tourists here, but not individual tourists like Chu. He took this picture of me suing the rain storm.

Most days here it rains for about an hour and then clears up and the street merchants unfold their merchandise for the tourist to purchase.

it was a real treat to see the night market during the full moon. The silk and cotton fabrics are beautiful beyond belief. The hill people are selling some very elaborate embroidery that are on clutch bags of various sizes as well as large tapestries that tell a village story with the characters shown. They also have labeled tee shirts for the backpacker crowd that wants to wear them to advertise where they have been. There are lots of jewelry and wood crafts for sale as well.



The Royal Palace is in the center of town and well guarded by the Nagas running down the stairway.

The Luang Prabang Museum is located on the Royal Palace grounds.

The Sunday Market is primarily for villagers.


Sombon, my motor bike driver, and I stopped for a bit of lunch on our way to the Navigation Office. We shared a large BeerLao and some hot soup. At first I thought it was something like intestine soup, but it turned out to be fresh mushroom soup. The flavors and textures were mouth watering and quite spicy.
It turns out that the Navigation Office for the slow boats to Pak Beng and Huay Xai had moved from behind the Royal Palace to about 1/2 hour by motor bike north so I hired Sombon to give me a ride there and back for 50000 kip. While riding there on the back of his bike I began to have thoughts that I might be headed off to the boonies and be robbed. while on the back of the bike, I stuck my passport in one of my zippered pants pockets so if I were going to be robbed, I at least would retain my passport. I was so relieved when we pulled up to this brand new Navigation Office. I went inside and bought a ticket to Pak Beng for 110000 kip. To get further than Pak Beng, I would have to buy that ticket to Huay Xai while in Pak Beng. All of this critical information is missing from the normally reliable Lonely Planet Guide---I am now navigating on my own.


After returning from buying my slow boat ticket, I decided to have Sombon take me on a river cruise for 100000 kip to a nearby village. This village specializes in pottery.


View of Luang Prabang topped by Phu Wat Si with the orange blossomed Tamarind trees.

These are the the type of slow boats I will be taking tomorrow from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng with a stay overnight and then on to Huay Xai with a border crossing on a small river boat to Chiang Khong, Thailand.


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