Find Tranquility in Luang Prabang, Laos

Mar 22, 2019

  • Sherry Hutt
  •     0.

In Luang Prabang at 6am the streets belong to the monks in their saffron robes.  Young and old, barefoot, with rice buckets on straps over their shoulders, the monks move swiftly and silently along the sidewalks.  They pause rhythmically to allow alms-givers to reach into their 

6AM alms

baskets of sticky rice and remove handfuls, placed quickly into the monks’ morning collection.  At times a monk stops to take a handful of rice from their bucket and deposit it in a plastic bag, held open wide by waiting children.  In a tradition that spans centuries, the ceremony of giving, receiving and sharing in Luang Prabang is as natural as the cycle of life.

At 5:30am, in anticipation of the monks, prime spots on the sidewalk are claimed by those wishing to take part in the ritual.  The rice maven, with her small baskets of sticky rice on ropes, passes among camera laden tourists, collecting in a half hour enough each day to support her family for weeks.  In an hour, the same tourists will enjoy fresh roast coffee and a croissant in one of the many coffee houses for about US$3.  The rice maven sells contents of her baskets for US$5.

Coffee houses from French era

When the last monk slips behind the temple wall, as though on cue, the rice maven collects her baskets and the streets instantly fill with trucks, vans and tuk-tuks.  The sidewalks become a morning market. Luang Prabang is noisy and alive with sellers and shoppers.

When the last monk slips behind the temple wall, as though on cue, the rice maven collects her baskets and the streets instantly fill with trucks, vans and tuk-tuks.  The sidewalks become a morning market. Luang Prabang is noisy and alive with sellers and shoppers.

Afternoon Luang Prabang
Temples of Luang Prabang

As soon as the vegetable sellers relinquish space on the sidewalk, the venders of cloth and wicker move in.  Behind them the shops begin to open.  The coffee houses are full.  Walking along the main street in

Luang Prabang there are ancient stupa in walled Buddhist temple compounds along one side of the street and French, German and Swiss coffee houses on the other side.

Last to open are the restaurants serving Laotian, French and California fare. At 5 pm the street is closed to vehicle traffic. Every bit of space is taken by a vendor selling prepared food or clothing.  People of Laos do not have kitchen refrigerators.  Their dinners are social events each night.

Dining in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang World Heritage City

Luang Prabang has moved past Lonely Planet trekkers to upscale family holiday seekers from Bangkok, Sydney, Europe and the U.S.  In this World Heritage City, the few remaining Chinese warehouses, from the days of Mekong commerce in the 

nineteenth century, are interspersed with French colonial era buildings, with their airy balconies and wooden railings.  Today the historic structures are restaurants, shops and guest houses.  On the quiet lawn in a hotel courtyard, morning yoga is practiced in view of lush mountains, where fifty years ago Americans dropped massive amounts of bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply-line, in a war that is now history.

In this town at the meeting point of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, repeat visitors take outbound excursions to feed elephants, plant rice, or milk a water buffalo.  Water falls are set in unspoiled scenery.  In town, visitors and locals wander through the garden of the National Palace Museum and Buddhist temples. 

National Palace Laos

Luang Prabang, in spite of its unending street life, is tranquil, safe and relaxed.  An ability to read Sanskrit is not required to feel at home in this place.  US currency is widely accepted.

Since this is not a cruise port stop, so deep into the Mekong waterway, a hotel is required. Avani+, avanihotels.com, is set in the midst of the World Heritage City, with an unobtrusive face to the street.  Inside is the only pool in the city and a yoga bungalow.  The restaurant serves local fare with a nod to California.  Step outside the hotel at 5:30 each morning to meet the rice maven and greet the monks and then join in the street life of vibrant yet tranquil Luang Prabang.

Night Market

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Sherry Hutt

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