A Long Day in Luang Prabang

When Jonny, our Lao tour guide, first talked about waking up before 4am to watch the monks’ alms giving procession, he said that it was an optional activity. I have no idea if I will ever be back in the country of Laos with a chance to experience this tradition, so we made it a priority to wake up and learn… and so began a very long day in the town of Luang Prabang.

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Locals lined the main street in preparation for the Alms Giving Ceremony with baskets of rice and other foods, while tourists like us hung back out of the way. Eventually the monks came in a quiet single file line, each holding their own pot. As they passed by, people dropped spoonfuls of food into the pots. There were some children along the route waiting with large handkerchiefs spread out on the ground, and some of the monks took food out of their pots to give to the children. This ceremony happens every single day as the sun rises, and about 200 monks participate. Jonny suggested that we just observe rather than participate, as there are very strict rules about how to make an offering and we would likely learn more by watching the locals. It was a nice way to begin the day, and we followed it with a nap.

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After our nap and a small breakfast, we made our way to the Heuan Chan Heritage House. This small museum is set up to model what a traditional Lao household would have looked like about 100 years ago. There was only one other couple touring the house the same time we were, so we were able to really take it in.

Our next stop was at the Luang Prabang National Museum. No photos allowed inside, so you will have to take my word that this museum housed in a former royal palace was especially grand. Lots of artwork, historical artifacts, and religious relics adorn every corner. The walls themselves are part of the display- some gilded in gold, some decorated with murals. We didn’t get to linger here quite as long as we would have liked since we had to meet up with Jonny and our group, but what we did see was awesome.

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Jonny and our driver took us out to a fabulous community of artisans known as Ock Pop Tok. We began the visit with a tour, learning all about silk and textiles. We even got to observe the weavers hard at work. There are classes you can take weave your own textiles, which would have been so fun if we had the time.

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Instead, we used the free time we had there after the tour to wander and enjoy the beautiful grounds. They had a shop, a cafe, and a stunning treehouse where we shared some drinks and chats with our tourmates, all with a view of the Mekong River. We also purchased a scarf in the shop that was made by one of the onsite weavers. The mission of the community is to empower women through traditional skills, and it felt good to contribute to this cause.

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Soon it was back into the van and off to Kuang Si Waterfall, where we were free to explore. A visit there begins by visiting the rescued bears who live there. The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center is operated by an organization called Free the Bears. They rescue black bears from terrible circumstances and give them the chance to live much happier lives here by the waterfalls.

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The waterfalls themselves are expansive, with three different pools and three distinct sets of falls along the trail. We stopped for a long, refreshing swim in the middle pool before making our way to the true highlight- a view of the main falls from the bridge. If you want to continue along the trail and go up to the top you can, but we had swum for so long we didn’t think we had time. We left the park and enjoyed lunch right outside while waiting for our tourmates.

After our long day of touring, the evening was low key and wonderful. We walked down the main street of town to the bamboo bridge, which helps people get to the other side of the river. As the river gets higher during the rainy season, they let the water wash the bridge away and set up rafts to get people back and forth. And when rainy season ends and the river gets low again, they rebuild the bridge, year after year. It is a cool looking bridge and I’m glad we got to cross it. Bamboo is a much stronger building material than I realized.

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We had cocktails and dinner at a restaurant on the other side of the river called Dyen Sabai. This open-air establishment had traditional low tables, where you sit on the floor surrounded by pillows. We arrived pretty early for dinnertime and were able to get one of the best tables right up against the railing. As we enjoyed happy hour drinks and a delicious dinner presented in a clay pot, we watched darkness fall over the river and the bamboo bridge.

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On our way back to the hotel after dinner, we wandered through the night market one more time. We had already made some purchases when we arrived in town the night before, so this trip was more of a leisurely stroll. It was a long and lovely day in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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