Luang Prabang

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur next stop was Luang Prabang. I had heard of it before, but I had no idea what I was in for. After having suffered through the car ride back from Phonsavan to the “main road”, we came to realize that the main road was just as small and curvy as the previous road. It took us another full day to cover the 250km from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang. We reached the city in the early afternoon and were greeted by a buzzing city, everybody in a rush to get home (or to the next party, we didn’t ask).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The town is located at the juncture of two rivers: The gigantic Mekong and the not quite as large, but still large Nam Ou. The city was, originally, home to the kings of northern Laos before the kingdom was united and the kings moved to Vientiane. During the French colonization the northern Lao king was supported by the French and officially reigned over Laos (under the assumption that he did what the French wanted him to do, of course). This reinstauration of the king led to the French building one of the ugliest buildings in Luang Prabang: the king’s palace, called Ho Kham. Today it is a museum and is filled with many different memorabilia from the area ranging from the king’s furniture to the local music instruments and of course many different Buddha’s. In the garden is the newly finished home of the holiest Buddha statue of Laos and the protector and name-giver of Luang Prabang: Pha Bang.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOtherwise the city has lots of temples to offer and we couldn’t possibly visit all of them. The most famous ones are obviously the older ones. The oldest temple, and the only temple surviving the Thai invasion of 1880, is Wat Xienthong. It was built in the 16th century and is covered in gold lacquer. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe typical stacked roofs are made out of dark wood and create a beautiful contrast to the golden embellishments on the doors and roofs. The old burial carriage of the kings is also stored there in a side chapel. It is headed by 7 Nagas and completely made of gold. The reliefs show many different mythological creatures, including, to my surprise, a great amount of mermaids.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe moved on to the “new temple” Wat Mai Suwannapumaram, which is only new in comparison to the old temple. It is held in a similar style and was built in the 18th century to house the Pha Bang Buddha statue. The temple is maybe even more glamorous than Wat Xienthong. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoth the temples are still actively used today and, therefore, not all facilities can be visited. The quarters of the monks, for example, are off limits. As a matter of fact we didn’t see a single temple that wasn’t in use during our stay. The monks could be seen everywhere and the entire Lao population seems to be rather religious. We were told repeatedly that every Lao should spend at least 3 months as a monk in their life time, normally they will do so in their early teens. Many Lao will also return to the monastery once they get old and have to depend on someone else to surviveOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. There are a total of about 2000 people currently living as monks or novices in Luang Prabang. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery morning the novices will set out to collect food donations from the local people and, increasingly, the tourists. We rose early one morning to see the procession of the monks. The locals are very divided about tourists watching and participating in this ritual. For one they appreciate the revenue created and the donations made, but they suffer from the interruptions due to noisy tourist crowds or the flash lights photos taken during the ritual. We stood in a small side street and were only a hand full of people sitting on the roOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAad. I’m happy to say that nobody talked, nobody took flash pictures or otherwise interrupted the monks. It was a solemn and dignified atmosphere and impressive to see how many people came out, every morning, to donate to the monks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Of course we visited many more temples, for example the Wat Visounarath with its “watermelon stupa”. But after a while the names blend together and it gets difficult to tell every temple apart. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our final stop in Luang Prabang was Phosy “mountain”. A hill in the middle of Luang Prabang with a stupa at the summit. We climbed up the 238 steps for a different reason though: The view, which allows you to see large parts of the town from a very nice bird’s eye view.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After that we strolled through the city streets along the Mekong and Na Ou river and finally crossed one of the famous, wobbly bamboo bridges to the other side of the town. Heading for the juncture of the two rivers to watch the sun set.


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