The universal greeting here in Laos seems to always be delivered with a smile that can melt the gruffest exterior and fill you with a warm glow that will last through the day. Luang Prabang, the former capital of the kingdom of Laos and a UNESCO world heritage site, offers a magical spot to immerse yourself in the rich heritage of this country and culture.
As you gaze to the horizon, you see mountains shrouded in mist and slow muddy rivers that surround this city of approximately 56,000 in north central Laos. But the defining image of Luang Prabang are temple complexes called Wats. In fact Luang Prabang, literally means “Royal Buddha Image” and while most outsiders would not realize it, the “city” actually comprises more than a score of villages. Each Wat is supported by a single village, a community of households devoted to its upkeep and the support of a monastery filled with novices, monks and the lead abbot.
I could post a hundred images and only scratch the surface but here are a few from my walk today.
As you can imagine, that beauty attracts many many tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace that I am among their ranks. The guest houses, coffee shops, restaurants, and markets here offer conveniences and services that I fully appreciate. But I’ve found that the true heart of Luang Prabang is just around the corner.
You should enjoy the markets offering crafts, souvenirs and street food, but it was down a small alleyway that I ran across stands selling items few tourists would even glance at that were filled with locals doing their daily shopping. It is here that I take a deep breath and soak in the scene.
The morning tradition of alms giving that my friend Tony portrayed in his blog post can remind you of Disney world waiting for the parade as tour buses bring in crowds jostling to get a better spot for a picture. Walk two blocks and you will see grandmothers sweeping the streets and setting out their lone stools to humbly wait to offer small amounts of sticky rice for the monks’ sustenance later in the day. It is here that you feel a tradition that carries the weight of history and reverence. It is here you stand silently and appreciate the blessing of being present.
These experiences have led me to seek out opportunities to step off the tourist track and meet individually with former novices to talk about life in a Wat, take a cooking class with Tony from a local chef to learn how to prepare traditional dishes and volunteer to teach English with students honing their skills. More on those experiences in my next post.