Thursday, July 28, 2011

Luang Prabang and our way to Bangkok

Luang Prabang is a beautiful small city in the north of Laos and the old main capital until the 1500 century. Since 1995 it is UNESCO world heritage and it’s becoming more and more touristic, yet it is a very relaxing and lazy city with a lot of good atmosphere. The authentic Lao daily life is mixed with the well-known touristic scene. Walking around on the morning market at 6 am, sniffing in the smells and impressions of everything or strolling around the evening market with other tourists mixed with locals, eating delicious Lao food right from the market buffet. Or watching the monks and young novices walk by on the street and watch their alms processions at sunrise. This, together with elephant adventure and 2 day trekking in the area and seeing the ethnic villages, made a week in Luang Prabang unforgettable for us!

The time in Luang Prabang we had outside our adventures went to exploring the city, doing some sightseeing, strolling around the markets, eating good food and drinking many good fruit shakes and Beerlao. It is such a nice city to lose your days and just hang around, joining the relaxed atmosphere.

Luang Prabang is known for its many Wats (Buddhist temples) and monks and novices (the young boys studying in the temples) colouring the city partly orange. At sunrise every morning the monks and novices all over Laos will do their alms procession, collecting food offerings from the people in the streets, giving them their blessings. Iris really wanted to see this happening, so on the last day in Luang Prabang she went out on the streets at 5.30 in the morning to watch the procession. It is known that it is becoming a problem that so many tourists don’t respect the holy act of this procession. They don’t consider the monks’ personal space and privacy by taking pictures very close to them and don’t consider the do’s and don’ts in this matter. You should dress appropriate (cover knees and shoulders), put a scarf over your left shoulder, keep a distance (other side of the street), always be lower than the monk when he passes (sit down), don’t put a camera in their faces and don’t give alms yourself unless you really have a personal reason why this feels important (never do it for the pictures). The whole city has posters about this matter to protect the monks and their procession, but still sadly I was witness to that people are not paying attention and not acting in a respectful way. I wonder if they ever think about that this is the daily life of the monks, they do this every morning and never asked for us, the western tourist who just sees another attraction. I kept my distance on the other side of the street and tried to discreet make pictures of the ritual, which was amazing, its silent and holy and the people kneel down, giving their sticky rice and other food into the monks or novices bowl. Poor kids are begging in line and the monks give some of the food they got to the begging kids. It is a ritual unlike anything I have ever seen and very special to witness. But sadly it was a mixed experience because of all the other tourists photographing close-ups, walking next to the procession, giving alms while talking and not wearing a scarf and so on. If you ever go to Laos, it is well worth getting up at 5 am, but please show respect and let the procession be as much as possible what it is supposed to be.

Slow boat trip
Laos is a very remote country and doesn’t have that much paved roads, therefore many people travel with boats over the Mekong river. We heard good stories about the 2-day slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang downstream the Mekong river. We wanted to take this boat upstream towards Huay Xai, which is at the Laos boarder to Thailand. Taking the boat upstream makes the trip even slower, but it’s a beautiful ‘ride’ along the river with the Laos nature and tribes. Each day took about 9 hours, the boats are very basic and the seats are not that great, but it’s an authentic way to travel in Laos and to see a big part of the country. Time went by with reading books, looking at nature and the local life along the river, waving to kids and fishermen and eating snacks. ;-) It were two very relaxing days. Overnight we slept in Pakbeng, a tiny village along the river with guesthouses for guests from the slow boats both ways.

When we arrived in Huay Xai, we were just too late for immigration to Thailand, so had to stay the night. We had planned to take a flight to Bangkok, but now we found it easier to take the night bus the next day, cheaper also. The 13-hour trip was going pretty fast and we both slept a few hours. It didn’t matter, because we wanted to enjoy the time still left as much as we could.

Bangkok was a great city to end our trip, we will tell about it in our next post. Now we are packing up to leave for our flight, flying home after 11 months of wonderful Southeast Asia adventures!


  1. These wonderful photos really have me missing SE Asia and in particular Laos and Thailand.

  2. I can’t wait to get to get to Bangkok! It is soooooo pretty!