Chilling out in Luang Prabang

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December, 2009

You know a place is good when the entire city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With lofty expectations to fill, Luang Prabang does not disappoint.

What nearly every traveler you meet will tell you is that the thing they love Luang Prabang Night Market Laosmost about Luang Prabang is how “chilled out” it is. With misty morning streets and avenues made explicitly for relaxing, the pace of life is real slow in sleepy Luang Prabang. While the action heats up on day trips out of town to thundering falls, elephant rides, and an intricate network of caves, this town nestled between two rivers is content to simply sit back and let the world move at a different pace. All the monks are kind of a plus as well.

A traditional Buddhist haven, there are an overwhelming number of wats and monks scattered all over the town, the most popular of which are located atop the Phu Si promontory in the center of town. There is an admission fee for Westerners to get to the very top, though you can ascend from the “backside” of the hill and visit some smaller temples (including looking at the Buddha’s “footprint” free of charge. There are actually a surprising number of temples scattered around Phu Si, and it takes longer to properly explore than you would imagine.

Another popular activity in Luang Prabang is to rise early and take part in Luang Prabang Night Market Laosthe giving of alms to the monks at around 6am. Controversy surrounds whether it is right to label this ceremony a tourist attraction or not. Each morning, lines of saffron clad monks make their way down the main street and silently accept offerings of rice and fruit from the devout, where they will then combine their haul to make their one meal of the day. While this is common practice in all Buddhist countries, due to the high concentration of monks in Luang Prabang it is a sight unto itself. Many temples and signs around town simply ask that you take part as a respectful observer of this age-old tradition, as opposed to being a nosy tourist with an expensive camera (ie. don’t ask a monk to pose until you get just the right shot).

Aside from the ubiquitous monks and temples, the rest of the action in town is dominated by the sprawling night market. Each evening, red tents are Luang Prabang Night Market Laoserected on the main streets through town, and pedestrians and artisans haggle over everything from scarves to wooden boxes  to painted fans. This place is the epicenter of Laos gift and souvenir shopping. This is also an amazing place to grab dinner, as many street vendors serve all you can eat buffet plates down little side streets, and what by daytime was an abandoned alleyway is each evening converted into a gluttonous gauntlet of roasting meat and fish. Highly recommended.

As a whole, Luang Prabang is a fantastic place to base yourself for action-packed day trips out of town, or simply kick back in the misty morning with a cup of tradtional Lao tea and watch the monks and world pass by.

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