Luang Prabang is the Buddhist spiritual heart of Laos; it is also, apparently, at or near the center of the tourist industry in the country. In several blocks of the peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers those of European ancestry outnumber Asians of any country, not just Lao locals. Young Buddhist novices are everywhere, as are, in even greater numbers, people speaking English, French, and German. You can get Belgian beer here, as well as Belgian chocolate, an exquisite croissant or a fine baquette. And excellent coffee. The famous “Beaujolais Nouveau”, widely advertised here, was quickly available after its third week in November release in France. One only hopes that the Buddhist traditions that underlie the historical importance of Luang Prabang will not be overwhelmed by traveling vulgarians deaf to the spiritual rhythms that still pulse at the core of this very beautiful city.
Reclining Buddha of Haw Tai Pha Soi-nyaat at Wat Xieng Thong. This statue is said to date from the 16th century, and its sinewy repose is very beautifully wrought.
The view from breakfast on the Nam Khan our first morning in Luang Prabang. We later started eating continental type breakfasts at a French café with wonderful baguettes and croissant.
Little girl, from one of the ethnic minority groups, I believe, from whom I bought several pieces of silk at the night market. She was quite good at selling, without being overtly aggressive, pulling out piece after piece of cloth until something caught my fancy, confident she would have something I liked. She maintained a winning smile until I trained the camera on her (after her consent), when she quickly composed her features into the serious pose shown above.
Wat Phahouak, an unrestored wat across from the Luang Prabang Museum, at the bottom of Phou Si. It was one of my favorite sites in the city, still ungroomed for tourist consumption, with an intriguing and lovely, if faded, mural on the wall, and the Buddha pictured above that for my friend Charlie evinced an especially deep and convincing serenity.
A group of young Buddhist novices. Such groups were ubiquitous in the city, although we met these fellows on our way to a village on the other side of the Nam Kahn. They stopped us to ask us our names, were amused when Charlie told him his, posed for pictures, and teased each other. I suspect their status as novices – as for many of the hordes of such youngsters one finds in Luang Prabang – is more akin to being a parochial school boy than to being a monk. Although well behaved, polite, and friendly in that endearingly Lao way, their behavior toward each other is often more teenage boy than monk-to-be.