After the Mekong river boat trip, I landed in a small city called Luang Prabang (LPB). I was enchanted. Not only did LPB sport some lovely colonial architecture courtesy of French imperialism, but also good coffee and omg … pastry! And chocolate! After a month of rice, noodles and vegetables, these small additions to my diet really put a smile on my face (and a few pounds on my body, too, but what the hell…)
Luang Prabang turned out to be one of my most favorite cities ever. It’s small enough to bike around easily and large enough to keep delightful surprises coming all day and night. Its great food is cheap and its temples profoundly beautiful and sacred. There are 2000 monks living here, and the people come out to feed them alms every day at dawn, lining up with offerings of rice, fruit, vegetables and flowers. Several times I sat silently behind young monks as they chanted Buddhist mantras in a spectacular wat (temple) at sunset. They also do this daily at about 4 or 5 am, giving the whole city sweet, peaceful vibration.
The night market here is the best I’ve seen. Row upon row of gorgeous handmade textiles, wooden sculptures, paper lanterns and golden paintings impressed me with their quality. The sheer amount of stuff became overwhelming to me. I felt compassion for the women selling night after night in their stalls, nursing their babies and softly yet shrewdly making the best deals they could with tourists from all over the world. They have to set up their stalls every day and then take them down each night. It must be exhausting and I hope that families have a system to share the work.
Most Lao people are not financially wealthy, but they are rich in culture. The photos posted here will give you only a small fraction of the beauty and wisdom that emanates from Luang Prabang, their cultural center.
I have included here a few photos of the small village of Non Khiaw, where I hiked, biked and got a little sick, too. (I think I drank some unclean water. The runs passed after a couple of days.) I needed a break from LPB when masses of Chinese visitors arrived to celebrate their new year. In Non Khiaw I found my very best deal in lodging: a bamboo bungalow for $6 US per night. Food was fabulous in Lao, where you can eat a great meal for $2.50. The impressive mountains, curving green rivers, and smiles of the local folk really lifted my spirits.
Kaung Si waterfalls – gorgeous!
This is a moon bear, who is now thankfully at home at a bear sanctuary. She was rescued from cruel poachers who were milking her bile for the Asian market.
The following photos are from Non Khiaw, a small town about 3 hours by bus from Luang Prabang through the mountains: