Laos’ ancient capital attracts international tourists with its peaceful atmosphere influenced by Buddhism. The slow pace of life here changes little throughout time. This relaxed approach can be seen and felt from the daily activities of Luang Prabang’s people in a typical morning.
TOWN OF LUANG PRABANG, 5 A.M
Only those needing sleep could bear to miss the peaceful moments of dawn in Luang Prabang. Life here starts before the sun rises as monks appear on streets to practice the Buddhist alms giving ritual. Monks in saffron robes, walking in the early morning fog, has for a long time been a familiar image in tourism publications. The dawn of Luang Prabang begins with those modest steps.
When the sunlight slants down through the leaves of the trees on the streets, it is time for the monks to return to the pagodas to prepare for daily recitation and fasting rituals. This means having breakfast early prior to commencing their religious training. In Laos, young people often spend 3 years studying and training in a pagoda; therefore, it is not difficult to see novices frolicking in the garden and then bringing books to a quiet place to study seriously. English language has long been universal in pagodas, so guests are very keen on talking to monks, which helps them to understand more about the unique culture and warm-hearted people of Laos, a peaceful country containing many mysteries to Westerners.
As the day begins, tuk-tuks start to break the silence; stalls in the market set-up to sell typical goods such as silver, porcelain, brocade and coffee. Laotian coffee has been famous since the 19th century when French culture was spread over the Indochina. Until now, tourists enjoy traditional drip-brewed black coffee and machine-made Capuccino on the street. It is easy to enjoy a Laotian traditional breakfast including a bowl of vermicelli with grilled meat or kuy teav in a leafy space. Laotian traditional wooden houses with tilting roofs are not very commonplace in this city but ancient brick houses of the colonial period still remain in numbers. It is a charming experience to enjoy food in a colonial house with an open space and a wooden fence. Young girls intermittently sitting on the sedge mat by the roadside assiduously twist floral wires. Flowers are bought to hang on the rear-view mirrors of vehicles, or put around Buddha statues’ necks in the pagoda with much respect.
BOAT DOCK ON NAM OU RIVER, 6A.M
The river starts to swirl as boats part water from the boat dock up to Pak Ou cave where thousands of Buddha statues of all sizes, made of gem, silver, copper and wood are stored. Laotian people have a custom of keeping old statues somewhere when they want to change for a new one, and after hundreds of years, Pak Ou has turned into a unique museum of Buddha statues in the ancient capital of Luang Prabang. In early morning, Xangkong ancient village and Phanom mountainous village prepared to welcome hundreds of tourists to admire the traditional winemaking, brocade weaving and of course, silver jewels and handicrafts made sophisticatedly in Laotian style. It would be such a shame to come to Luang Prabang without buying some twisted silver bracelets embossed with patterns or some silver elephant statues.
ELEPHANT VILLAGE, 7A.M
The morning in the ancient capital is initiated by onerous steps of elephants in Elephant Village, an eco-tourist destination 15km far from the city where travelers can excitedly sit on an armchair as they venture through the forest on swaying elephants. Previously dubbed the Land of A Million Elephants, Laos even now has a large number of elephants. As with Thailand, elephants here are tamed to perform in the circus and carry tourists with friendliness.
Not very far from the center of town is Kuang Si waterfall, bursting with white foam and miniature waterfalls cascading I down curved terraces. Strangely, blocks of rocks become worn into soft curves, over which water flows, creating a white mist like fog. The lake from high above has been full of bustling steps and boisterous laughter since early morning as young Western travelers are very excited about jumping from the cliff high above down to the lake. Not everyone dares to play this risky game, swinging on a rope like Tarzan, then diving in to the water.
Time goes by, and each moment I makes a different impression as tourists take a stroll in Luang Prabang. The dawn is tranquil, the noon is sweltering and the evening is hustling with the night market together with hundreds of restaurants and bars. This tourism city always contains diverse images so that tourists never feel bored.
* Situated in the northern of Laos, Luang Prabang had been the capital city of the Land of A Million Elephants for a long time. Nowadays, Luang Prabang is the capital of a province with the same name which was recognized as the world’s heritage site by UNESCO.
* Currency: Different from Cambodia, the only currency of Laos is Lao Kip (some places in Vientiane or near the border can accept USD, VND or Thai Baht).
* Cuisine: Laotian traditional culinary choices are not really diverse; the most popular foods is grilled meat served with sticky rice. However, in Luang Prabang, you can find many food stalls, restaurants selling food of Vietnam, Thailand, France and Italy. You cannot miss coffee, grilled chicken, grilled Mekong river fish, khausoy – similar to rice noodle soup, with an appealing aroma, papaya salad or tarn maak hung as the local call it, with a sweet and sour taste, mixed from papaya fibers, and strange foods such as eggplant, chili and shrimp paste.
+ The National Museum – ancient Royal Palace displays many valuable antiques, nearby is Xiengthong pagoda or Golden Pagoda – the nicest pagoda featuring religious and art works from the 16th century. Other worthy mentions are Fuji pagoda, Mai pagoda and Visoun pagoda – the religious museum. Some are free tourist attractions and some require tickets.
+ After visiting sights inside the city, you should take a boat to travel on Nam Ou river and get to Pak Ou cave – the storage of thousands of Buddha statues of numerous periods, made of every material and size.
+ Kuang Si, 29km away from Luang Prabang, is an interesting and entertaining place. Tourists coming here can freely take a bath, frolic and see silver water-flows outpouring from cliffs.
* Other notes:
+ Take shoes off when coming to pagodas; pay attention to allowance to take photos in some sites.
+ Do not wear clothes which are too short, exposing your back and belly as you visit pagodas.
+ Laotian people are fond of tranquility and elegance; therefore, you should keep silent when visiting and staying in hotels and motels. Especially, avoid buying wine and beer back home to drink and disturbing the peace in hotels.
Source: Heritage – Vietnam Airlines Inflight Magazine