Temples & Monks

Monks and temples form a large part of what Luang Prabang is all about, and I was up at dawn on my second day here to see the monks receive food in the traditional alms-giving ceremony.

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As soon as I got near the street corner where the monks were passing by, I was surrounded by locals wanting to sell me boiled rice to give to the monks. I very quickly realised I had to choose between handing out food and taking photos. I chose the latter, though I must admit I felt a bit sorry for the hungry monks.

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The alms-giving is a communal effort in the sense that each person gives each monk only one handful of rice. It seemed to me that there were more tourists than alms-givers about at this hour of the day. For the rest of the day, you don’t see these huge numbers of monks around, but often you see two or three monks walking down the street.

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I’ve seen about ten of the temples here in Luang Prabang so far. My favourite one is the Wat Xiang Thong.

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It was built five years before Shakespeare was born, and I was particularly struck by the gold leaf inlays (though they were obviously not from Shakespeare’s time).

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I also liked the Red Chapel, which is actually pink.

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It was covered with delightful mosaics, showing Lao folk tale themes.

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But there’s more to Luang Prabang than monks and temples. I’ve mentioned the markets earlier, but I just want to add that the town has this relaxed feel about it. There are chairs set up along the Mekong River at certain places, where you can just sit and watch the river flow by. As I’m a more of an active type, I tried out the bamboo bridge instead. It’s 60 US cents to cross. Well, after sunset it’s free.

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Well, I’ve been looking into taking a slow boat down the Mekong River to the Thai border, and today I finally decided to go for it and bought tickets for this 2-day trip. I bumped into this Dutch girl at one of the temples, and she told me she has just arrived by slow boat from Thaliand. So far, everybody I’ve spoken to about it has said that the river is “too low” right now and there’s smog everywhere. Well, this Dutch girl’s report changed all that and I went straight to the ticket office.

Someone will come and pick me up early tomorrow morning, and I’ve bought a bag of food for the first 9-hour leg of the slow boat ride.

Well, I’m finishing with a picture of the sunset over Luang Prabang from the top of Phousi Mountain. This was yesterday evening, and even though the sun looks quite pale in this picture, it was actually this dark orange colour – just like a monk’s robe. They say it’s the smog, but that didn’t stop us on the mountain top from admiring the setting sun.

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