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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

25 November 2018

Monkish day

Collecting alms

Collecting alms

22 November 2018

We started the day at 6:15am, watching the procession of orange robes monks walk down the street, stopping to collect alms from seated townsfolk (usually women) in the form of little balls of sticky rice. By the time they’ve walked the whole route I guess they’ve got enough rice for a day’s eating. Some of the very young monks looked to be getting the odd sweeties in their bags as well!

This is a daily ritual in Luang Prabang, and judging by all the notices posted in various spots around town, some tourists are bloody obnoxious when it comes to respectfully observing it. “Please do not use flash photography” and “Please do not make physical contact with the monks” being two of the requests. We were a bit lucky; our guest house is on the other side of the Nam Khan river from the centre of Luang Prabang and there were no other tourists to watch the procession from the Wat near us.

The bamboo bridge, 100% bamboo and string

The bamboo bridge, 100% bamboo and string

It was actually a bit chancy choosing this guesthouse. The nearest proper bridge over the river is a km upstream, meaning a 30 minute walk into town every day. But there is a bamboo bridge that a local family builds every year (in the wet season the river is too high) and Mr Phone Praseuth our host was happy to inform us that they finished building it the day we arrived. Well… almost finished. The first time we crossed we had to do without a handrail on one side and a bit of a scramble down the river bank from the bottom of the steps to the start of the bridge. But at least it worked!

Another monk I’ll remember is the only lady monk we saw in Laos. Looking very cool in burgundy robes, shaven head and aviator sunglasses. We chatted briefly with her at Wat Chomphet on the other side of the Mekong, where we had gone for a change of scene from the busy town. Nice – if hot – walk through woods and villages, the highlight being a visit to a cave at one of the wats that went surprisingly deep down into the ground.

Night market, many elephant trousers

Night market, many elephant trousers

We made sure we were back in town for 4pm, because by another bit of luck we were here for the full moon, which meant that monks at every wat in town were ready to beat their drums and clash their cymbals. It made a great noise, and later on after dark melodic chanting could be heard from all the temple halls.

I rather like Luang Prabang. It’s super-super-touristy on the surface, for certain. But it hasn’t become cynical with it, and there’s a very active spiritual tradition that isn’t going anywhere. You can step away from the tourist strip very easily to find good local eats, and I’m sure if you took the trouble to get out of the city and further into Laos you’d find a completely untouched country.

Luang Prabang's main street

Luang Prabang’s main street


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