Every morning around dawn, the monks of Luang Prabang walk the street accepting alms from believers (and increasingly from tourists.) Apparently they have been doing this for a long, long time, but it has been becoming more and more of a tourist spectacle and the monks are thinking about stopping. (Though apparently the Lao government threatened to have laypeople perform the ritual for tourists if the monks stopped.)
We woke up early to see the ceremony. I, along with dozens of other tourists, brought my camera. There were signs up all over town asking photographers to maintain a respectful distance, and not to use flash – not to many people were paying attention to that, but I tried my best to stay well clear, and I used only available light.
The whole thing, aside from being pretty, was fairly upsetting. We felt like we had become part of something exploitative and cheap, which was especially disappointing since it is clear that this is a very important observance for believers.
Later, we’ll be on the night train to Bangkok.
We spent most of today in cooking school here in Luang Prabang. It was a really spectacular experience – we made five dishes, learned two others, and had two great meals. (All for $30 each, how’s that for a bargain?) (Patsy reminds me that the day included a trip to the market (which was only semi-covered) during a torrential rainstorm. During this, my camera’s memory card crapped out, making me fear that a day of shooting had been lost (I recovered the images eventually))
It was a good way to cap off a visit to Luang Prabang after a few days of walking and hiking. We finished the day with (yet another) trip to the night craft market and some crepes.
Today we hired a tuk-tuk to take us on a ride out to a gorgeous waterfall about 35km outside of town. Along the way we stopped at a Hmong village where people were selling stitchery and other crafts. The waterfall itself has many levels, but the path looked very treacherous so we didn’t go up too high past the base of the falls.
Luang Prabang, in Northern Laos, is a remarkable little town. It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, for good reason – the streets are piratically paved with monastaries and temples, monks are everywhere, and the town is surrounded on three sides by beautiful rivers (and hills/mountains.) And somehow, despite all the obvious tourist appeal, the town remains relatively non-commercial and genuine-feeling. I love it here. (Doesn’t hurt that it’s a LOT less hot than Bangkok or Siem Reap.)