Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Jewel on the Mekong

See the locations on Luang Prabang Google Map

Suddenly there is an orange gleaming in the morning mist. A line of monks in their saffron robes turns around the corner. From the temple, where they live, into the main road. A line of Lao women is waiting, kneeling on mats, with baskets filled of hot sticky rice, bananas, candies. It's short after six o'clock in the morning. It's the daily procession of hundreds of monks through the streets of Luang Prabang. The women are ready to gain merits. Merits are important in Buddhism. Monks earn merits through meditation, chanting and more rituals. One way for women to earn merits is cooking and serving food to the monks, giving alms to them. When the monks pass by, the women take the food out of their baskets and put it into the bowls of the men.

The monks on their way

It's a magical moment in a mystic town.

And it's a moment of pity, when the monks and women are surrounded by hordes of tourists with their cameras. What happens too often now.

Luang Prabang is awakening. One of Southeast Asia's best preserved old cities makes faster and faster steps into the modern era. Tourism is a hope for the poor country of Laos. And also a danger. More and more tourists are looking for the unhurried charm of the traditional tranquility. They can still find it in this former royal city on a peninsula, formed by the Nam Khan, a river coming out of the misty mountains and joining the Mekong, the stream that is one of the wonders of Asias nature itself.

Luang Prabang has been a spiritual centre for hundreds of years. It became the royal capital in the 14th century, for six centuries, until the abolition of the monarchy in 1975. The first Lao Kingdom, The Lan Xang (Million Elephants), was founded in 1353 by the Khmer-supported conqueror Fa-Ngnum. He made Theravada Buddhism the state religion (see history). He got from the Khmer monarchy as gift a golden Buddha image, the Phra Bang, which gave the town the name. Today still around thousand monks and novices are living here. More than 30 temples, the so called wats or vats, have survived, dating from the fifteenth century onwards. In the morning you may wake up and hear chants, bells, gongs and drums sound harmoniously across the town. You wake up in a town of old Indochina, that still looks as it used to look during the colonial time, when the French were the rulers. A combination of Lao, Indochinese and French styles. Temples as well as shophouses from the early 20th century and older wood houses. Since 1995 Luang Prabang is a Unesco World Heritage site. Strict construction rules are followed. Thats why you discover an unique old asian town.

Haw Pha Bang

L'Eléphant Restaurant

But inside the buildings there are changes. More an more families leave the old town, because they transform their old houses into guesthouses and hotels. There is a limit of this development in view: Some days there could be not enough families left for giving nutrition to the monks. Then the existence of the old temples will be in danger. The impact of the tourism on the city has been described by the New York Times lately. This led to a broad discussion, that you can follow on

The view from Mount Phousi, picture by annamatic3000

See a series of fotos by New York Times and read 36 hours in Luang Prabang.

The Royal Palace is now a museum. Read the article by Gary Walsh from the Australian, whats best here and elsewhere in Luang Prabang. Find a nice description also by Jeffrey.

Picture by

Royal Ballet Theatre: The Royal Ballet troupe performed Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, the Lao version of the sacred poem, the Ramayana, in the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. 1975 the theatre was banned. 2002 the theatre was reestablished. See scenes from the Lao Ramayana, Lao folk dances and tribal dances. The performance starts from 6pm and entry is from 8 to 20 USD.

Picture by Lorna87. See more pictures by Esther Kalandjai


Exploring Luang Prabang See picture by Mariko

Sakkarine Road.

Ban Phanom Village

Luang Say Mekong Cruise: On the Pakou Boats, a 34 meter long barge


Festivals Find a calendar of festivals in Laos here.
Hmong New Year: See a photostory by AdVenture into Laos.

Read background articles:
Stemming the Tide by Travel+Leisure
Unce upon a Sleepy by Fah Thai Magazine
Le tourisme au Laos ; bénédiction ou calamité? - Article by Alain Devalpo


Shailendra Singh said...
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Loïc BROHARD said...

Very interesting information on Luang Prabang.
See my set of photos of Laos @

Tou and David said...

Press release on Saffron Coffee in Luang Prabang:

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