Tuesday, August 7, 2012


One of many wats around Luang Prabang, Laos. Great view from the top, reachable by lots of stairs. 
People come to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang for lots of reasons. Some, like Kip, enjoy checking out the countless temples while watching the daily rituals of saffron-robed monks that constantly roam the streets. 

Liz peruses the night market.
Others, like Liz, can spend hours at the morning and night markets when they're not soaking up the beauty of the town and its Parisian cafĂ© culture. And then there's all the Thai-influenced food, cooking classes, sunsets, volunteer opportunities with Big Brother Mouse, and day trips into the mountainous countryside. 

The city is surrounded by two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. Well-preserved, French-colonial architecture mingles with ornate Buddhist wats, the result of two centuries of Buddhism topped off with five decades of French rule that ended only in 1953.

Beyond the city limits, we spent one afternoon at the incredibly beautiful Kuang Si Falls, just 30 km from Luang Prabang. 
The largest falls, complete with its own "do not swimming" area.
We had a photo with us in it, but it had some obnoxious
tourists in the background. We think this is more serene.
To Kip's enjoyment, the waterfall even had a rope swing, which of course he had to go off of with a back flip. The video can be seen here.

After the waterfall and rope swing visit, we headed back to explore the city. The former capital of Laos until the government was relocated to Vientiane in 1560, Luang Prabang is still known as the religious and spiritual center of the country. At virtually every corner, you can see monks of all ages strolling around town, usually carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the baking sun and frequent rains. Subsequently, Liz has really taken to this practice. She now goes everywhere with an umbrella and wonders why more people don't do this back home.

Watching the pre-dawn procession of monks receiving their alms is one of the top things for tourists. Each morning monks of all ages walk the streets with empty baskets. As they walk, residents and visitors alike solemnly place food and other items into their baskets. 

It's quite the spectacle, and many visitors seem to forget the ritual is actually a religious procession, not a circus act for photo-happy tourists to set off flash bulbs in the faces of the monks. There are rumors of stopping the processions due to the bad behavior of some tourists.  That said, it is a beautiful thing to witness, if done respectfully, which we tried our best to do. So, since none of our close up face shots of the monks turned out (kidding) above are a couple of images from the processions we were lucky enough to see (when we actually woke up on time to make it).

Bats for breakfast?
And now, for the markets! Luang Prabang has the most incredible markets we've seen in Asia. And trusts us, we've seen a lot of markets. The morning event kicks off around 5 am, and usually ends by 9. 

Lining both sides of a narrow street, vendors lay out their wares on bamboo-woven mats and blankets. Overflowing baskets of rice, piles of noodles, buckets of live eels, grilled frogs, bats, pythons, bug larvae...if it's edible and in the area, it's probably here. We'll let the photos below speak for themselves.  Or, if you feel like getting nauseous (not from the market sales, but from Liz's shaky camerawork) you can view some videos here, and here.
Live, writhing eels straight from the river...come and get it!
Fresh python for sale. 
Lots of veggies, too.
In addition to the morning market, which again, we think was absolutely amazing, there is also a craft and souvenir market in the evenings. While most Asian markets can be chaotic and filled with screaming hawkers giving visitors the hard sell, Luang Prabang's may be the most tranquil and enjoyable on the continent. Needless to say, Liz went a little nuts, particularly with the purchase of elephant trinkets and coin purses.
Liz...still shopping. 

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