Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Laos: Timeless Luang Prabang

   Above and left: Theravada Buddhist monks go out at dawn every day to solicit alms from the faithful, such as the seated woman above. Handfuls of sticky rice are thrown into the monks' baskets.
    We were told that the monks don't  eat the rice, so perhaps this done for the sake of tradition and maybe for  tourists.  Most visitors get up early at least once during their time in Luang Prabang to see the procession.

      Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos, which was a kingdom for centuries before being overrun by the Khmer, Siam, Vietnam, China and finally the French, which made it a  colony in the late 1800s.  In 1904, the French built a new palace in Luang Prabang for the king. It's now the Royal Palace Museum.  The capital of today's Laos, a nominally communist country, is Vientiane, which we didn't visit.   The Laos that visitors experience, at least in Luang Prabang, is one of active and spirited commerce in the shops and street markets, active and spirited expressions of religious faith in the number of temples and in the respect with which monks are treated, and a joie de vivre in daily life.
     Here are some snapshots from our time there in December 2012.

Right: Steps leading to the top of Phousi, the sacred hill in the center of old Luang Prabang.  These steps are just across the street from the Royal Palace Museum.  At the top of the hill is That Chomsi, a Buddhist stupa whose golden spires can be seen for miles.

Below: The view from That Chomsi.

The old part of Luang Prabang is a peninsula created where the Khan River flows into the Mekong. The Khan's flow varies greatly with the season.  During the rainy season, a ferry crosses it between the old town and a more rural district on the other side.  Each year during the dry season, the family that operates the ferry builds a bamboo bridge at the same point and charges pedestrians a small fee to cross.  On the other side is, among other things, a restaurant called Dyen Sabai, which consists of a number of bamboo huts overlooking the Kahn River.

Left and below: The bamboo bridge over the Kahn River.

Below:  Dyen Sabai has a lengthy two-for-one cocktail hour, which can make the walk back across the bridge a bit more challenging. This is just one of several huts.

Although Laos is controlled by a communist government, we saw what appeared to be a lot of free enterprise in Luang Prabang, which has three major street markets:  a daytime Hmong market that seems to focus on T-shirts and other mass-produced goods; a morning market that focuses on vegetables, meats, and other food products; and a night market that has a lot of handicrafts as well as T-shirts.  We bought hand-embroidered cloth books for children and some other craft items at the night market.  Below are some photos of commerce in Luang Prabang.

Left: Sausages are sold from a rack in the street.

Below: A young woman in the very early stages of weaving a silk scarf on a loom.  Handwoven silk scarves and other items are sold in the night market and in shops all over town.

Right: A woman pours batter from a kettle to make coconut pancakes at the morning market in Luang Prabang.  They're about the size and shape of madeleines.  Six cost about 25 cents. Piping hot and slightly molten in the center, they're better than Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Below: No crowd at closing time at  the night market, which sets up every night on the main street.

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