Love in Luang Prabang
16 August 2015
Luang Prabang swept me off the feet with its unexpected blend of stunning pagodas and romantic colonial architecture; the colourful cacophony of market streets where silks and silver are sold next to croaking frogs and roasted fish; the devoted monks in the Buddhist temples and the timeless villages.
We rose early to observe the morning ritual of monks walking through the streets at sunrise to collect alms, known in Laos as Tak Bat. It is a beautiful ritual and a must-see experience for travelers to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, home to nearly 80 Buddhist temples. Trying as much not to disrupt the ritual, we watched in awe as hundreds of monks clad in mustered-coloured robes stroll past the locals offering flowers, incense and sticky rice in reverence.
After the monks have passed through, we visited the morning market and brushed elbows with the locals buying fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and spices from vendors who displayed an enticing array of products from their bamboo mats on the sidewalk. Looking at all the food products made us really hungry and we readily grabbed a baguette from one of the street stalls, a sign that French influence is still very much a strong presence in Laos.
Just less than an hour away, travelers could go hiking and explore the caves and waterfalls in the jungles surrounding Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is situated at the confluence of Mekong and Nam Khan River, and taking a local boat cruise is certainly the most rewarding way to discover the life along the rivers. We took a long boat and cruised along Mekong River, observing the daily activities of fishermen, how they throw their nets so elegantly and rely on the water for their livelihood. Two hours upstream, we disembarked to visit the famous Pak Ou Caves. The limestone cave is impressive and laden with thousands of gold-lacquered Buddha status, ranging in size from the size of a human palm to the height of a human. We took our time to explore the reverent scene scented with burning incents and overlooking the impressive Mekong landscape.
In the afternoon, a scenic fifty-minute drive out of the city took us through the mountainous farmland to the famous Kuang Si waterfall. Upon reaching, we plunged off the rope swing at its biggest pool and swam in the mineral-rich turquoise waters, which was a refreshing welcome to counter the humidity. The water tumbled down a large drop and cascades gently into several cool, clear pools. Feeling adventurous, we trekked to the top of the falls via a steep track where we explored the source of the waterfall – a spring – on a makeshift raft. Integrated into the landscape is a Bear Sanctuary where we could see these bears up close and support efforts to stop their mistreatment.
On the drive back into Luang Prabang, we passed by several Hmong and Khmu hill-tribes along the way, where we made pit stops to learn about their unique culture. As the sun sets behind the majestic mountains of Laos, we ended our day with a hike up Phousi Hill to enjoy a spectacular panorama view across the city of Luang Prabang and its many temples. As we watched the last ray of light disappeared behind the mountains, I secretly counted my blessing to be able to experience such a beautiful city during my lifetime.