Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of the former Kingdom of Laos and is located in northern Laos, where the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers meet. It’s full of Buddhist temples and monks, making for a very lovely landscape. We had a couple days there, which were slightly dampened when one of our camera lenses stopped working. Otherwise, we enjoyed wandering from temple to temple and of course, sampling the delicious food along the way, which will be covered in the next post.
There are a wide range of accommodation options in Luang Prabang, including very cheap hostels and very expensive resorts. We opted for something in the middle, and were happy with B&B Guesthouse on Th Phommath. There’s a cute German cafe across the street with good breakfast and we rented bikes for a couple bucks a day, which is a great way to get around the city.
We started out at one of the markets, where we sampled several delicious fruits, including our favorite: mangosteens. Mangosteens are difficult to find in the US, and if you can find them they are expensive and not very ripe. We discovered them in Vancouver, where they are more available and affordable than in New York.
A beautiful dark purple outer shell encloses four or five pieces of soft, fleshy white fruit, in the shape of garlic cloves surrounding a lage pit in the middle. It has a mildly tropical taste and is quite juicy, but you need to eat about four or five to feel like you’ve actually had something remotely filling because they are quite small. We’d never had mangosteens ripe enough to peel with our hands; we’ve always had to use a knife to get through the hard outer shell. But these were soft and pliant–divine!
We started our temple tour at Wat Mai Souvannapoumaram (Wat means a monastery temple), which featured a beautiful gold mural, an emerald buddha, and long boats that the monks use for festivals. We continued to bike along the city streets, next stopping at Wat Sirimungkhun, which had a fantastic bell tower with a large drum inside it and a large gold buddha.
The nice thing about Luang Prabang is that it’s small and pretty hard to get lost. And even if you’re not sure where you are, there’s likely to be an interesting temple to wander into, which is how we found Wat Sop, which featured a small temple, but also seemed to be a monastery for young monks.
There were rice cakes drying in the sun, presumably to feed the student monks. Buddhist monks are not allowed to have money and therefore rely on donations from the people in the city to give them simple food. At dawn, the monks walk the city streets with bowls collecting alms of rice.
The largest, most famous temple in Luang Prabang is Wat Xieng Thong, a large complex with multiple buildings and pavilions. Unfortunately, the main temple was being refurbished, but we were still able to get inside. We also visited the funerary pavilion, which was chick full of processional items, and small pavilion housing a reclining Buddha. The mosaics and paintings were detailed and gorgeous; you could easily spend hours here.
Another popular attraction in Luang Prabang is to walk up a hill called Phu Si, which has a large stupa at the top called That Chomsi, as well as a great view of the city. It’s also the starting point for the annual Laos New Year procession in mid-April.
We also visited the Royal Palace Museum, which is an interesting insight into local history, before and after communism. The palace was built in 1904 as a home for King Sisavang Vong and his family and is full of interesting furniture, musical instruments, traditional costumes, and gifts given to the king from various countries throughout the years. You must be dressed appropriately (no shorts), but a sarong will be given if necessary. Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed in the complex so I can’t share any here! But a highlight was seeing the royal collection of classic cars in the adjacent garage, as well as a photography exhibit on monks.