Good bye (for now) beautiful Luang Prabang, Laos

We spent just over a month living in Luang Prabang.  Our initial intention was to explore Northern Laos slowly, using Luang Prabang as a base.  As it happened, with our lives being ever-changing, in fairly constant flux, Ben spent most of our time in Luang Prabang working long hours on a consulting assignment for the United Nations. 
Being stationary in Luang Prabang for a full month enables us to really experience what it is like to live in LP.   When traveling, there is always the consideration between seeing and doing more versus staying put and getting a better understanding and feel for a place.  Having a month in LP has allowed us to go to this next level. 
While Ben slaves away, I (Peta) am savoring “down time” and enjoy walking across the road at dusk for evening chanting at the two neighborhood Buddhist temples.  My day’s biggest decision is whether to watch the sun set over the Mekong River or to be present for monk chanting and meditation.  Sometimes Ben finishes his daily work in time to join me for these end-of-day rituals.
Long boats and a floating platform (to middle of photo) at sunset on the Mekong River.
Chanting and meditation at dusk.


I enjoy many interactions and conversations with our next door neighbor novices (young “in training” monks to be). Many of the younger boys have limited English and are very shy. I am able however to develop a friendship with Xang.  His name means “elephant” (We have met locals whose Laotian names translated to “chicken”, “hug”, “cloud” and “air”).  Xang is a tall, handsome and athletic 18 year-old.
My friend Xang in the garden of the temple
Xang’s family lives a few hours away by bus in a small farming village.  He invites me to go home with him to meet his family and his village.  I am keen to do this, but we will have to wait until the rainy season, or Buddhist Lent is over, in 3 months, when novices and monks are allowed to travel again. Xang’s English is really good and he tells me of his love for pop music, which he can listen to at night in his room, and his passion for singing.  He has been a novice for 3 years already and is planning to stay in the temple at least until he turns 21, when he will become a monk.  He may choose to disrobe later on to pursue a career in IT or to become a doctor.  For me, having a friendship with Xang satisfies my curiosity on a range of topics relating to Buddhism and what it means to be a monk ~ for example, the fact that novices and monks are not allowed physical contact with lay people.  I have a hard time comprehending that a hug from his mother is prohibited!   It is nice to have so many informal, real conversations, which we both enjoy.  I am surprised to find out that Xang has a Facebook page! Given that novice life is focused around the temple and other novices, it makes sense they might use modern social media to stay in touch with others outside of the temple.
Xang. Handsome and personable. Always happy to chat with me.
Besides the beautiful temples and the monks, the undeniable attribute of LP is the centrality of the Mekong River. The Mekong has been the life blood of many communities that border the Mekong not only in Laos, but Thailand, Viet Nam and Cambodia. The intermittent slow traffic of large boats, “long boats” and canoe type boats, are a reminder of the critical importance of river borne transport and trade. Life in many villages  ebbs and flows with the river, sometimes being cut off from access when the river is too low and conversely flooded when the water level gets too high at the peak of the rainy season.
Catching the sunset over the Mekong River, from Mt. Phousi after climbing up the 100 or so stairs.
View of Luang Prabang from top of Mt. Phousi

We take a long boat along the Mekong River to go to Pak Ou cave (only accessible by boat).

These are the long boats used for most means of public transportation on the Mekong River.
Traveling on the river watching as the mist and clouds lift up off the tops of the Karst limestone mountains.
The Mekong River flows surprisingly rapidly. There are several areas further South of actual rapids.
Pretty relaxing being on a long boat on the Mekong!
Long boats with a bamboo walkway in front, wait for customers.

Pak Ou cave is home to Buddha sculptures of all sizes, many of them very small, many made from wood, placed in crevices and on ledges. This is the site where locals have been bringing older or damaged Buddha sculptures to their final resting place. Pak Ou cave was recorded by French explorers as far back as 1865 as a place of worship and drawings from that era show that the practice of accumulating Buddha sculptures in that cave already existed and goes back to at least 250 years.

A plethora of Buddhist sculptures fill up Pak Ou cave
Ben in front of some of the larger sculptures in the cave.
The sculptures are impressive en masse and very beautiful viewed individually. There are sculptures in the crevices of the rock and lining the ledges of the cave.
Small jade green Buddha, surrounded by gold painted sculptures.
~ ~
Multiple communities line the Mekong River, such as one called the “Whiskey Village”.  
Small village along the river which has an economy of whiskey making and fabric weaving.

This community, has earned a reputation for its potent alcohol. The alcohol has snakes and scorpions in the bottle, a recipe which is said to increases virility.

Bottles and bottles of whiskey with snakes and scorpions inside the bottles.
 Umm…no thanks, we’ll take a pass!
Our time in Luang Prabang is coming to a close.  Ben has taken on a consulting project with the local university to help them stand up a Climate Change Center. To do this, he has to go to the capital city of Vientiane, to meet with NGOs and the World Bank to ascertain the level of international funding for Climate Adaptation in Northern Laos.
A few days before we leave, Adam meets up with us.  He has been traveling solo in Myanmar and then with a Chicago-area friend and fellow chef, in Thailand and now Laos.  He joins us for a few meals (that’s Adam’s unit of count, not days or weeks, but number of meals!) before he moves on to Hanoi, for a few last Vietnamese bites before he returns to the U.S., ending his own 4-month adventure in Southeast Asia. 
For years we have been talking about a trip to Viet Nam with Adam, to impact his culinary trajectory, much as we have in the past by traveling to France together.  We really enjoy the company of our sons as adults as well as being able to contribute occasionally to their professional and personal growth.
Graham and Adam’s last day in Laos. Having lunch on the river. Yummy curry and larp.
Baby apple eggplant in the local market. A very popular ingredient in Laotian food.
Bean sprouts and some kind of small green something? never did find out what they are…
Laotian feu, a version of the Vietnamese Pho soup with noodles in the market. Delicious and packed with green herbs and watercress
Goodbye for now,  beautiful Luang Prabang!
That’s the small plane Lao Skyway, for the short 45 minute flight to the capital city of Vientiane, compared with 10 hours by bus on a windy road through the mountains. $30 a ticket.
View from the plane. Green green and mountainous Laos and of course, the infamous Mekong River weaving a circular design through the green jungle.


Shortest, best plane flight, ever!

4 thoughts on “Good bye (for now) beautiful Luang Prabang, Laos

  1. Alison

    We went to LP for a week and loved it so much we stayed for 2. This brought back some lovely memories.
    Hope we get to connect sometime in the new year.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      It is that kind of place for sure. Having a full month there gave us insight into how it might be to live there for a more extended time. So glad this brought back good memories for you!

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