Luang Prabang – charismatic city of the monks
Luang Prabang is located between the Mekong and the Khan river with lush vegetation on the slim peninsula. In its centre stands a small mountain called Phousi hill (a bit of a strange name if you are an English speaking person). The hill is topped with a beautiful golden stupa.
The city is marked by Buddhist tradition. There are over thirty temples, most intricately adorned, housing several hundred monks, who enrich the town with their orange-robed presence. Every morning the people of Luang Prabang line the streets to offer food and pay respect to the monks. The monks form a procession through town to receive alms, between 5.30 to 6 am, making for one of the biggest tourist attraction in town.
Luang Prabang is a city that we came to visit for only a few days but got captured by its charm, extending our stay to over two weeks. With an urban layout that is easy to navigate, the main streets lined with restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops, travel agents, massage parlours and hostels, it is a backpackers heaven. That is not to say that Luang Prabang does solely provide all the spoils for the budget traveler. There are luxury hotels but these are pleasantly fitting into the city’s architecture – you won’t find high rise hotels or mega resorts.
Once, Luang Prabang was the royal capital of the first Lao kingdom called Lan Xang (kingdom of Million Elephants). The capital moved to Vientiane in 1545 but Luang Prabang has all the remaining treasures of its religious and traditional culture.
Due to its unique architecture and cultural life, Luang Prabang was awarded World Heritage Site status in 1995.
Take a walk and spot the monks in the city:
Monks have colourful cotton bags…
…and usually brown, yellow or black umbrellas.
The wise monk protects himself not only from rain but from sunlight.
The alms giving ceremony in the morning is truly a unique sight. We rented a hotel in the centre for a few nights to be able to watch the monks from a distance. Many signs ask visitors to be respectful, not to approach the monks from the front, touch or stand in their way, nor to disturb the procession by any close interference, yet we have seen tourists flash cameras into the monk’s faces. I wonder how long the monks will be able to keep up the tradition. I have not seen it in any other city or Asian country.
Monks flood the streets in neat lines with their metal bowls to receive food from locals.
It looks so beautiful, like an orange pearl necklace.
I photoshopped some of my monk pics and especially like how these turned out! I was worried about the last monk getting any food…
Giving alms is at 5.30. In the morning! Would monks not get more food from more people if they adjusted the strict monk schedule to city waking hours? Just saying.
Watch the monk procession. At any day time you like :)
Luang Prabang’s architecture is very picturesque and the city has a cosy feel due to the lack of modern house complexes. The prevalent architecture is one of pretty wooden traditional houses, elegant French colonial administrative buildings and charming temple sites.
The city’s religious structures and monasteries are culturally the most significant architectural feature. You will see tired roof and pillared porticoes with ornate embellishments, wood carving, wall painting, lacquer work and glass mosaics.
Luang Prabang grew from a cluster of villages with no clearly defined urban core. Each village is centred around its own Wat, named after the village. To this day Luang Prabang’s residents use village names to identify locations rather than street names.
One of the busiest streets of Luang Prabang.
After a hard time given by Siamese, Burmese, Vietnamese and Chinese neighbours, the Luang Prabang kingdom accepted French protection in 1887. It remained under French rule until after WWII. The revolution in the 70s brought communist collectivism and exodus of businesspeople and its intelligentsia, turning the city into a ghost town. Since the 90s Laos has opened up to tourism. French villas have been restored, most turned into guesthouses, hotels and restaurants.
French writing on yellow post boxes.
If time ever stood still – Luang Prabang is the place.
Cafés. This one is called L’elephant. Sadly there are no more wild elephants around which are used for heavy work (pulling logs, serving tourists).
One of our favourite restaurants. Tamnak Lao. They serve the best papaya shakes in the city. I have listed all of our restaurant picks in LP and Vientiane and typical Lao dishes for you.
Hotels. Read about prices and locations of our hotels in Laos.
The beauty of Laos lies in its village character enveloped in lavish vegetation.
Luang Prabang is also a remarkably clean city. (Because there are many Japanese tourists – is my theory – haha!)
The toilets are surprisingly clean for a developing country and not smelly at all! One of the pleasant changes after the shocking filthiness of public restrooms in China. Signs at our hotel remind employees to keep hygiene standards.
My impression is that Japan is supporting Laos through many successful projects. You will see numerous signs and plaques informing about grants and donations from Japan.
From the people of Japan, says the white sticker on the bus.
Japan is sort of a quality guarantee in Laos, just like we have seen in Thailand.
Luang Prabang is a tiny oasis and the people are incredibly friendly and at peace. Stay tuned for more paradise posts from Laos!