One of the most famous sites in Luang Prabang is the dawn call to alms, as local people give their daily offering of rice to the monks. Three years ago, Marilyn was able to witness this spectacle but Alf missed it because he was sick. When we went to observe the call to alms this time, we were horrified that it was largely a tourist attraction. There were no locals giving alms, only seats for tourists and vendors hawking little packs of rice and goodies. Tourists were disrespectful and obstructing the way of the monks with flashing cameras. The monks received so much food that we observed them dumping it in the bins provided – presumably it was recycled to the poor? Sadly, now that the tourists have arrived in big numbers, Luang Prabang is perhaps losing some of its original charm.However, it is still rich in natural beauty and hopefully will remain so.
Another highlight was climbing circa three hundred and fifty steps to the top of Mount Phousy to reach the stupa, Tat Phousy, which was built in 1804. This vantage gives fantastic three-sixty degree views of the city and is a favourite spot to observe the sunset over the Mekong.
On the previous visit, we had visited the striking temple of Wat Xieng Thong and the Royal Palace, now the National Museum, plus many other temples and monuments including the circa 16th century Vat Xieng Thong Temple with its ornate carved and gilded funereal vehicle. We did not revisit those sights, but we explored endlessly the dozens of attractive alleyways, looking for new finds, like coming upon local markets, including the Hmong Market and the Dala Market and watching the sticky rice cakes being put out to dry in the sun. Open this link for hundreds of colorful photos of Luang Prabang.
Sampling the different restaurants, cafes and watering holes was one of our highlights of the visit. Interestingly, we observed that the higher influx of tourists has pushed up standards of quality and hygiene – for example, we were frequently told that fresh salads had been washed in bottled or boiled water. Our last night, we returned to the Tamarind, our favorite restaurant (open links for photos). The manager welcomed us back as returning guests. It’s exceptional Lao cooking with authentic traditional dishes. Since we last visited, it has won a number of international awards and is featured highly in many guidebooks, so reservations are essential. The only downside was sitting outside which was cold – we were wearing sweaters and fleeces, however, it is possible to sit inside but that was no warmer and does not have the atmosphere and charm compared to facing the river which is illuminated in places. In January it is Winter and morning temperatures in Luang Prabang are quite cool until about midday but in the afternoons, it gets pretty hot until sunset. Unless you don’t feel the cold, evenings need a sweater or possibly a light coat.
Overall, Luang Prabang is still very attractive. We observed the fact that public places, including the streets, are squeaky clean and without litter. For younger people, there are amazing adventure activities, kayaking and riding the rapids are popular along with elephant activities but we just settled for some challenging trekking. Compared to more developed tourist countries in South East Asia, Luang Prabang still offers remarkable value for money. Most importantly, the Lao people are quite delightful – it’s the other end of the continuum to the gangs of children hawking souvenirs to tourists outside Angkor Wat in Cambodia.