There’s something special about the town of Luang Prabang. Almost everybody says so and I have to agree. It has a kind of perfect harmony. It feels ancient and it is. Apparently it’s been here since at least the 8th century BC, although the existing Laos buildings mostly date from the 13th-16th century plus some 19th century French colonial buildings. The old town is UNESCO World Heritage, partly because of this seamless blend of architectural styles. It still feels like a medieval village – a very stylish and luxurious one!
Circled by mountains, the old part of town is perfectly situated on a small peninsula with a natural moat formed by the Mekong River on one side and the Nam Khan River on the other. More than 30 gorgeous Buddhist temples called ’Vats’ run down the centre of the peninsula, with the old wooden houses in streets along the sides and the spiritual centre of Mount Phou Si in the middle.
Hundreds of monks live in the temples and have done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The whole rhythm of this village-town is set by the spiritual practices and customs of the monks. Luang Prabang has a Buddhist heartbeat. Every morning at sunrise, the monks slip silently out of their temples and walk single file along the streets to receive alms (usually ‘sticky rice’ and fruit) from the residents lining their path and waiting with heads bowed. This alms ceremony has happened every morning since at least the 1400s. There’s way too many tourists but there’s still something very moving about witnessing a practice that is 600 years old, even if it means getting out of bed before sunrise.
Luang Prabang is small enough that its easy to stay right there in the old town. We rented a tiny house through AirBnB for a week and felt like we had gone back in time. Our little street opened onto the Main Street at the top and onto the Mekong at the bottom. So perfect. The monks walk right down our street in the mornings.
It’s so easy to settle into the rhythm of life in Luang Prabang. We felt at home straight away with a very affectionate and demanding teenage tabby cat always waiting to greet us and a group of adorable but cheeky little girls coming every day to play on the swing chair in our yard.
There are lots of things to do in Luang Prabang – cooking classes, meditation, crafts and weaving, shows and movies – but mostly eating. The food is fabulous, even better than Vientiane. We had the best Pad Thai either of us have ever had. It was so good we went back and had it again the next day. It’s just a few steps from our house to the main street and French-style bakeries – croissants for breakfast and baguettes for lunch. Then just a few steps in the other direction down to the Mekong for sunset.
Luang Prabang has amazing shops too. I hope I make it back one day to buy something. Everything is so beautifully laid out and everywhere just oozes style. The colours, textures, lighting and fabrics are luscious. So many different ethnic crafts are represented at the night markets and in the gorgeous shops.
There are free refill stations everywhere to fill up your water bottle and tuk tuks on hand to take you wherever you want to go. We didn’t want to go very far because everything is in easy walking distance. We did make the effort to go out to see the Kuang Si waterfall though. I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls so I’m not easily impressed but this one, like everything in Luang Prabang, is just exquisite.
Next to the waterfall is a bear sanctuary run by the awesome freethebears.org started by Mary Hutton, an incredible Australian woman from Perth. I aspire to do something so meaningful. The bears are mostly Moon Bears plus a few Sun Bears. They’re all rescued, mostly from the hideously cruel bear bile farming industry. I just adore bears! They’re my favourite animal next to monkeys. They look so soft and squishy that I just want to hug them. Not a good idea though, I know.
Finally I finished the work contract that has been driving me mad. I had this lovely little office space to knuckle down and get it done. I was having so much trouble with it because, I realised in hindsight, I’d made a poor decision. I thought if I took on work that mostly didn’t need the internet it would be easier to do while travelling. My lesson learned from this is not to take on work I hate – ever again. In my case that’s writing assessments. I hate writing assessments. That’s it. No more.
It’s been a magical week in Luang Prabang and it’s on our ‘want to return someday’ list. It’s got everything for the perfect holiday. Do I want to live here? No. It’s too damned hot.