Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

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Alms round in Luang Prabang.

"Silent nerves and begging bowl ..."

Stars Die - Porcupine Tree

Laos is a Theravada Buddhism country and one of the good habits of this form of Buddhism is the monks' alms round. As protectors of the people the sangha (the monastic community) receives food from the lay men. People gather in the streets of Luang Prabang to offer food to the monks that walk by in long lines. I'd always wanted to do something like this, so we'd asked Keo to arrange some food to donate. The amazing guy he his, he turned up at our hotel at half past 6 with a bowl and basket of sticky rice and two packs of sweets. Indeed, this meant that we had to get up at 5 in the morning !

We walked to a nearby junction and Paul and I kneeled down among the locals.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Before long, groups of monks appeared that opened their begging bowls to receive food. Paul threw in two little bags of sweets while I added balls of sticky rice. Quite a task since this stuff is so sticky it's quite difficult to get it off your fingers. At one time I think I even had more rice in my hands when I pulled it out of a begging bowl then when it went in. ;-)
Keo would meet us again at nine, giving us some time to relax on the hotel's terrace and enjoy some coffee and breakfast, which today besides French bread and eggs included some slices of ham for the first time ! Excellent, the karma we had gathered was already working! ;-)

Lung Prabang originated as one of the earliest settlements in current Laos and eventually in the 14th century the first Lao kingdom, Lan Xang ('1000 Elephants', referring to the power of the king's army) was formed here.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Even when the administrative capital of Laos was moved to Vientiane, Luang Prabang remained the residence of the kings and they built many beautiful palaces and temples here. At the end of the 19th century, when Laos became a French colony, the French made the royal capital their headquarter and used Vietnamese workers to built their French colonial style buildings. As such the city has a bit of the same colonial-Asian atmosphere as other cities like Hanoi and Phnom Penh also have. In 1995 Luang Prabang, which has more than 50 temples, was placed on Unesco's World Heritage list as a whole.

Keo actually had a day off but he had offered to work for us as a freelance guide, organising a full day program, an offer we most gladly accepted.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
He first took us to the fresh food market, where strange things liked barbecued rat could be purchased. He also pointed out some delicious nibbles called 'khao nom xii meo', little carrot-sized sticks of fried corn powder. I bought a bag which we would eat later that day.

Next up was the Royal Palace Museum, which the French built for the king in 1904, showing a mixture of Lao and French architecture. After the Pathet Lao took over and abolished the monarchy it was preserved as a museum. Some of the private rooms are still in their original state, while displays with all sorts of items have been placed in others. Among these are several displays showing gifts that different countries gave to the king. In a narcistic gesture the US had seemingly given the king a model of their own Apollo moonlander.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Quite distasteful if you ask me. The highlight of the palace was the throne hall with it's beautiful wall mosaics of coloured mirrored glass.
A new temple (Wat Ho Pha Bang) is being built on the palace grounds which will eventually house the Pha Bang, the holy 83 cm high Buddha given to the king of Laos by the Khmer (Cambodian) king in 1359. Until the temple is finished the statue remains in a special room in the palace itself.

We continued to a series of wats (temples) in the same area: Wat Sensoukarahm (with it's marvellous facade), Wat Sop (where Keo had studied as a monk and a lesson of Japanese was taking place while we visited it), the less interesting Wat Sirimungkhun and last but certainly not least Wat Xien Thong. This temple is considered to be the most beautiful wat in Luang Prabang and it was certainly impressive.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
The tiered roof sweeped low to the ground while the inside ceiling was painted with dharma wheels. The back of the temples showed a 'tree of life' mosaic. An excellent spot to have ourselves photographed with the Laos 2009 'tour shirts' I had made for the group.
There's several other buildings on the temple grounds, among which a shrine housing a reclining Buddha and a storage hall for a huge 12 meter high funeral carriage with big golden naga heads. In this same hall Paul, Ad and I pulled a fortune-telling stick from a basket, collected the matching leaflet and had Keo explain us what was in store for us.

At noon, having seen enough culture for one day it was time for some fun. We took the rented van and drove to the Nam Khan river and took a boat from their to the Tat Sae waterfalls.

Alms round in Luang Prabang.
This waterfall consists of multilevel limestone formations under which numerous pools have formed. After we had eaten lunch Ad and Mieke first took a 30 minute ride on an elephant (something Mieke had never done before and would later agree was 'slightly boring') and then we all went for a cool an relaxing swim in the waterfall's pools. Another one of the many highlights of the day.

On our way back to Luang Prabang we stopped shortly at handicraft village Ban Xang Khong, where all sorts of souvenirs were manufactured and sold. This stuff was so nice and cheap that we didn't even dare to bargain. I myself left the town with two lamps made from paper and a new carrier bag (which turned out to be the same as the one we'd given Keo yesterday, but in a different colour).
Back in Luang Prabang we climbed up the exhaustive 339 step stairs of the Phu Si hill, just in time to see the sun setting behind the mountains in the west.

Paul buys a new knife.
We spent some more time enjoying the views over the city and watching planes take off from the airport's runway. Then we walked down at the other side of the hill, passing a group of Buddha statues, each one representing a day of the week. At the foot of this side of the hill lay the Lao Lao Garden restaurant where we had agreed to have dinner with the five of us.

This was supposed to be the night we said goodbye to Keo; he had another group coming and a new guide would join us in two days. We had gathered the substantial tip he deserved in a nice little notebook in which we had all written a personal message. Keo himself had bought us all chopsticks, asking us to remember the day we all had noodle soup at Luang Namtha's day market when we'd use them. He had also bought two small puppets that Mieke wanted so badly after seeming them at Pak Ou.

At the fresh food market.

But the night didn't end here. Keo took us on a lengthy walk to he disco of the Muangsua hotel, one of the few places where dancing was allowed in Luang Prabang. Here we went from one surprise to the next. On the man's toilet a boy that kept the place clean was giving someone else a neck massage ... while he was taking a piss! According to Mieke the girls room had such a large collection of make-up, it was more like a beauty parlour. The music that was played by the live band was a collection of old sixties western music and Thai/Lao pop, the latter of which sounds remarkably much like reggae or ska ... and a weird mixture of folk and line-dancing accompanied it. Mieke tried to get the hang of this with Kam (one of Keo's female friends that had joined us) and slowdanced with Keo, while Paul and I joined our guide for some dance moves when western pop music replaced the band during the breaks.
BBQ-ed rat anybody ...
What an excellent experience !

Just when I was really getting into it the lights went on and the disco closed ... at 23:30 ! Seemingly this is the official curfew for Laos. We officially said goodbye to Keo, hugs and all, and were sad that this was the last time we'd see him (or so we thought ...). Back at the hotel the fence had been closed and the receptionists were asleep, so we had to climb over it to get back in. As you can imagine a marvellous day like this can only be finished with one more Beerlao on the hotel's terrace.

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Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Alms round in Luang Prabang.
Paul buys a new knife.
Paul buys a new knife.
At the fresh food market.
At the fresh food market.
BBQ-ed rat anybody ...
BBQ-ed rat anybody ...
... or do you prefer bamboo worms ?
... or do you prefer bamboo worms ?
Royal Palace Museum.
Royal Palace Museum.
racing boat at the royal palace.
racing boat at the royal palace.
Wat Ho Pha Bang.
Wat Ho Pha Bang.
Wat Sensoukarahm
Wat Sensoukarahm
Monk studying at Wat Sensoukarahm.
Monk studying at Wat Sensoukarahm.
Wat Xien Thong.
Wat Xien Thong.
Funeral carriage at Wat Xien Thong.
Funeral carriage at Wat Xien Thong.
Fortunetelling at Wat Xien Thong.
Fortunetelling at Wat Xien Thong.
Buddhas at Wat Xien Thong.
Buddha's at Wat Xien Thong.
Facade of Wat Xien Thong.
Facade of Wat Xien Thong.
Buddha of Wat Xien Thong.
Buddha of Wat Xien Thong.
Reclining Buddha at Wat Xien Thong.
Reclining Buddha at Wat Xien Thong.
Library of Wat Xien Thong.
Library of Wat Xien Thong.
Tree of Life at Wat Xien Thong.
Tree of Life at Wat Xien Thong.
Travellers at Wat Xien Thong.
Travellers at Wat Xien Thong.
Keo and his crazy bunch at Wat Xie…
Keo and his crazy bunch at Wat Xi…
Lunch at Tat Sea.
Lunch at Tat Sea.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
Tat Sae waterfalls.
Tat Sae waterfalls.
Tat Sea waterfalls.
Tat Sea waterfalls.
Tat Sea waterfalls.
Tat Sea waterfalls.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
Elephant riding at Tat Sae.
I guess where they went ...
I guess where they went ...
Swimming at Tat Sae (see me diving…
Swimming at Tat Sae (see me divin…
Swimming at Tat Sae.
Swimming at Tat Sae.
Papermaking at Ban Xang Khong.
Papermaking at Ban Xang Khong.
Woodcarving at Ban Xang Khong.
Woodcarving at Ban Xang Khong.
Sunset viewed from Phu Si.
Sunset viewed from Phu Si.
Sunset viewed from Phu Si.
Sunset viewed from Phu Si.
View over Luang Prabang from Phu S…
View over Luang Prabang from Phu …
Stupa of Phu Si.
Stupa of Phu Si.
Pussy at Phu Si.
Pussy at Phu Si.
Buddhas of the weekdays at Phu Si.
Buddha's of the weekdays at Phu Si.
Last night with Keo ?
Last night with Keo ?
Mieke trying out the local dance s…
Mieke trying out the local dance …
Mieke trying out the local dance s…
Mieke trying out the local dance …
Mieke trying out the local dance s…
Mieke trying out the local dance …
Fooling around in the disco.
Fooling around in the disco.
Fooling around in the disco.
Fooling around in the disco.
The ladies toilet.
The ladies toilet.
Getting back inside the hotel.
Getting back inside the hotel.
Luang Prabang General Tips & Advice review
Help local Lao kids to read and write
Those who don't venture beyond places like Van Vieng, Vientiane and Luang Prabang will probably not realise that 80% of the people in Laos live in sma… read entire review
Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2