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Visiting Luang Prabang: its slow pace, quiet scenes, and spirituality make the northern Laos town a refreshing destination

The view of the mountains welcomed us as we disembarked from the plane at the Luang Prabang International Airport.

The small town in northern Laos is slowly becoming a popular tourist destination, and on our visit, we learned why many are enchanted and enthralled by it. 

Once designated as the royal capital of the country till 1975, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. With Wat or temples placed side by side with buildings constructed in traditional Lao and European colonial styles, Luang Prabang’s well-preserved architecture reflect the fusion of traditional and colonial cultures.

Buddhism at its core

We woke up early the next day, eager to explore the Pak Ou caves, one of Luang Prabang’s popular sites thanks to the thousands of images of Buddha placed by devotees. 

It was a two-hour scenic boat ride going up stream the Mekong River, interrupted by scenes of the Lao people fishing and doing their daily chores along the banks of the river.

One of the most respected holy sites in Laos and a pilgrim site for locals, it was my first time to see a place filled with old and damaged Buddha images, which reflected how much the Lao people revered Buddha. As we were exploring, a group came in and started praying, their voices not lost to the thousands of Buddha listening.

Back in town, we took our time visiting two of the many temples in the area, the Wat Vissounarath which was the oldest temple built in 1515 and can be identified through the watermelon- shaped stupa in the compound, and the Wat Xiengthong that housed the funeral vehicle of the royalty and the bones of King Sisavangvong. 

There were less than a dozen tourists when we arrived but it doesn’t mean that the temples were not worth visiting. Lesser tourists meant more time observing and learning about the role Buddhism played in the history and lives of the Lao people.

What made our Luang Prabang experience complete was observing the tradition of tak bat or morning alms.  Although it required us to wake up before sunrise, so does every faithful Lao who prepared sticky rice for the monks in exchange for merit. 

The practice was done in meditative silence, the saffron-clad monks walked in line while the devotees, with their knees bent, gave a handful of rice to each monk who passed by. I thought it was a beautiful custom, made more significant when I saw the monks giving away some of the rice they received to the children kneeling along their path.

The tourists were reminded however, to respect this tradition by showing reverence to the monks and participating only if it has a special meaning for them.

Luang Prabang’s natural wonders

Found at the centre of town is the 100-m high Mount Phou Si, with its golden stupa visible from all corners of  Luang Prabang.  It was a moderate climb for an inactive person like me and we found ourselves on top in twenty minutes.  As we tried to catch our breath, we were mesmerized by the 360 view of the town which was still unmarred by tall buildings and pollution.  When the sun started setting, the brown waters of the Mekong River sparkled from the sun's rays and the mountains were bathed in different layers of light, painting an almost unrealistic picture.

Also not to be missed is the Kuang Si falls which is less than an hour away via tuktuk. Visitors are treated to turquoise pool of waters that beckon for them to swim especially during a very hot day.

A welcome respite

Luang Prabang, Laos may not yet be a popular destination for Filipinos but it may become one soon. The slow pace of the town allowed us to breath, appreciate the simple things in life and learn about other people’s customs and traditions. 

Just like its Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Luang Prabang, Laos has a lot to offer to those seeking to experience a culture different from ours. — LA, GMA News

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