Luang Prabang: Attractions

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham

June 20 – 23, 2009

Photo set on Flickr

Attractions

We spent much of our second morning in town searching for another guesthouse as the one we booked had a little too much late night partying going on for our liking. After we settled down at the new place and a long breakfast later, we finally began our sightseeing at Wat Xieng Thong around noon.

Wat Xieng Thong is said to be the most important temple complex in Luang Prabang, famous for the decoration of glass and stone mosaics of Buddhist imagery on the temples’ walls.  There were only two other visitors at the complex, so we pretty much at the place to ourselves.

Although Luang Prabang is short on must-see sights, its has many beautiful wats, most of them still in used. Often the monks are praying inside the temples, resting under shades, playing simple games like throwing slippers, or simply chatting with each other. Without other foreigner around, I felt like I was an intruder who was disrupting the monks’ daily lives, but they did not seem to mind my presence much.

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
Royal Chamber, Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
Taken at noon, awful light. The back wall of the main temple of Wat Xieng Thong. The tree depicted on the wall was the pipal tree Siddhārtha Gautama had his Enlightenment.
Taken at noon under awful light. The back wall of the main temple of Wat Xieng Thong. The tree depicted on the wall was the pipal tree Siddhārtha Gautama had his Enlightenment
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, just beside the Royal Palace Museum. The monks were having their evening prayers inside the temple.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, just next to the Royal Palace Museum. All wats except Wat Xieng Thong were free. The monks were having their evening prayers inside the temple.
Overlooking Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill. The hill was short to offer a good look over town, and the cloud blocked a clear sunset.
Overlooking Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill. We didn’t get a view of a clear sunset because of a piece of low-laying cloud
The Night Market. Most stalls sold the same stuffs, ranging from silk scarfs to scorpion liquor.
The Night Market. Most stalls sold the same cheap souvenirs, ranging from silk scarfs to scorpion liquor

Excursions

On the third day we joined a one-day package tour that included a slow boat ride to Pak Ou Caves in the morning and an excursion to Kuang Si Falls in the afternoon.

The Mekong is truly the source of life for the people living along the riverside.  Our slow boat passed by fishermen, villagers and farmers – all of their livelihood are interconnected to the muddy water flowing in front of them.  Add in the unexpectedly photogenic landscape along the way, the slow boat ride showed me a quintessential side of Laos – albeit in a very limited sense.

There was no escaping from it – joining tour means signing ourselves up for mind-numbing stops at some tourist traps, and this time was no exception.  We made a stop at a riverside village that had become almost completely dependent on tourism.  Everyone in the village seemed to work for a souvenir shop of some kind.  Even the washroom required a small fee to use.  The stop was not a total lost – the kids in the village were not shy of the camera and allowed me to take some photos.

After a two hours boat ride from Luang Prabang, we arrived the Pak Ou Caves.  I don’t understand why every guidebook recommends this place. I had seen similar Buddhist figurines all over Luang Prabang, without traveling all the way to a dried up limestone cave.

The downstream ride back to Luang Prabang took only half the time.  After a quick lunch, we rode a chicken bus to Kuang Si Falls, 29 km south of Luang Prabang.  The falls were a pleasant surprise, and the middle section looks a little similar to Huanglong in Sichuan, China, a place I have wanted to go for a long time.

Vendor at the souvenir village.
Vendor at the souvenir village
The Lower Pak Ou Cave. I dont understand the point of this cave. The limestone cave is dried up, and all the buddhist sculptures are moved to the cave, instead of being carved within the cave.
The Lower Pak Ou Cave
The upper falls of Kuang Si.
The upper falls of Kuang Si Falls
We bought a coconut from this lady outside of Kuang Si Falls. The fruit has an awful taste, like a mixture between salt water and acid.
We bought a coconut from this lady outside of Kuang Si Falls. The fruit had an awful taste, like a mixture between salt water and acid

Morning Alms

Morning Alms, Luang Prabang
Morning Alms, Luang Prabang

Each morning at around six, all of the monks in Luang Prabang would encircle their temple complex once and collect rice from the local faithfuls. We participated in a really quiet morning as only three middle-aged ladies and a young girl were waiting along the main road.  Better still, we were joined by just two other travellers, so there wouldn’t be the awkward scene where the spectators outnumbered the participants.  The only annoyance was a tout who insisted us to buy some rice from her, and it took some effort to ignore her and made her to leave us alone.

I have read somewhere that this ceremony is demanded to continue by the ruling party as a tourist drawing event even after several food poisoning cases of the monks, but I hope that’s not the case.

Impression

Everything worked out perfectly on this short four-day trip.  The weather, despite being in the rainy season, was sunny throughout.  The people were very laid-back and friendly, unmoved by their town’s new found status as a tourist magnet, and seemed to go on with their daily lives largely unaffected by the impact of tourism.  Many locals were happy to be photography subjects.  The food was delicious and the service was good everywhere (except for a dinner at a popular Laotian restaurant).  Best of all, there were very few travellers in town, so we often had the town all to ourselves.

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