(Day 278 to 282)
26.08.2010 - 30.08.2010 35 °C
If you don’t want to rush from dusk till dawn, Luang Phabang is the place for you. The charming city of Luang Prabang (UNESCO World Heritage site), once the capital of Laos is still considered to be its spiritual heart, and has a mix of French/Asian architecture, Buddhist temples and a good atmosphere with plenty of coffee shops where you can watch the world go by.
Luang Phabang is situated on a peninsula formed by the meeting of two rivers, the Mekong and the Khan. It has palm-lined riverbanks, terracotta roofs, golden temples and saffron-robed monks, which in combination makes it a picture postcard town which both Steph and I have enjoyed (except for the rain.)
An early morning wake-up was on the cards to witness tak bat (5.00am - which incidentally nearly got me beaten with a stick – my wife likes her sleep – but once up she was glad to be experiencing this.) Tak Bat is when about a hundred resident monks leave their wat and walk silently down the streets in single-file to collect food offerings. This can be in the form of rice or fruit and comes from the local people. The endless parade of monks, each barefoot and wearing the traditional saffron robe, is truly a mystical sight and this morning ceremony has become an iconic image of Luang Phabang. Devotees, who kneel on bamboo mats (shoes off) as the monks file past, believe that by feeding the monks they are also feeding the souls of departed ancestors and are thus doing good deeds for karmic reward later in life or in the next life.
The rest of our time was spent walking along the river banks, exploring the little town. Some more wats were breezily visited, we have seen our fair share this far, although they do differ from Thailand’s ones, using mosaics and a rich red in their decorations along with the traditional gold, and are very beautiful too.
On 2 of our afternoons in Luang Phabang we seeked higher grounds for sunset views of the town (which by the way seems to be spelt many different ways, Luang or Louang, Phabang or Prabang etc) but both times we were caught out by rain, just minutes after taking a few photos. The first time was from a Temple across the river called Wat Chom Phet and the other from a hill in town Phou Si, which shows great views of the western part of town – which I’d imagine tourists don’t get to see much of, happy as we are to stay on the agreeable peninsula.
As mentioned previously, the architecture in certain places is undoubtedly French influenced, and many schools and administrative buildings are named in French and Lao. This is I guess since the time Laos was a French colony for half a century starting in1893 .The food however is typically Laotian except for the ever present baguettes (heavier than the ones we know) which can be bought as a cheap lunch and pancakes with nutella (Steph’s favourite). We sampled the Laotian food at the street market one night but it was quite greasy so kept to restaurants for the rest of our stay. They have currys and their local versions of stir fried veg/ rices/ noodles with many more styles to try from. Their meats are chicken, beef and duck which they accompany with sticky rice. The traditional way to sample the sticky rice is to make it into a little ball with your hands and dunk it into the sauce, quite a nice texture. Ideally this is accompanied by their infamous local Lao Lao, a very very strong rice whiskey that leaves you gasping for air as we experienced in Pakbeng previously. The guesthouse owners seam to encourage us to have another Lao Lao.
The perfect end of the evening takes you on a stroll through their night market where all sorts of local handicrafts can be purchased.