Our first trip to Lao got off to kind of a rocky start. Getting to Southeast Asia from the East Coast of the U.S. makes for a long day when everything goes smoothly and can be a bit of an ordeal when something goes wrong. On occasion we have scheduled overnight stops in route to SE-Asia on the U.S. West Coast, Tokyo and Hong Kong but now we tend to try and get it all over with in one day and just schedule a day to relax on our first day there.
On this particular trip we were changing planes in Tokyo and traveling on to Bangkok, where we had booked an airport hotel before a flight to Luang Prabang the next morning but our flight from the U.S. was 3 hours late so even though we had an ample layover in our schedule, we missed our connection in Tokyo.
JAL put us up in a decent hotel near by the airport but the earliest flight out of Narita put us into Bangkok too late to make the only flight of the day to Luang Prabang so we basically lost a day in transit.
We had hoped to have one day in Luang Prabang to get our legs back under us but we had to hit the ground running. After arriving in Bangkok in mid-afternoon, we spent the night near the BKK airport. Our late morning flight to Luang Prabang put us there at around 2:00 pm and were off on an abbreviated city tour almost as soon as we landed. We were a bit blurry-eyed but happy.
We were met at the airport by Chanh Peang, our most excellent guide who worked with Northern Travel Lao. He took us to our hotel where we reunited with 3 friends from Australia that we knew from previous travels. Our group of 5 stayed at the Lotus Villa in the old part of the city a short 2 blocks off of the Mekong River. It is a small French colonial style hotel with all rooms opening onto or overlooking a well kept garden/court yard. The hotel provides a casual atmosphere and very good service and has the added bonus of being directly on the route the monks take every morning on their rounds collecting alms.
After checking in we were off on our city tour visiting 2 of the more than 30 Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang. Since our hotel was in the old section of town, there were multiple temples within a couple blocks of us. The temples we saw were nice but did not show the opulence (or wealth) of Buddhist temples we had seen in some other countries. We were told that one we visited was the former home of the “Emerald Buddha”, which now resides in Bangkok. (It wasn’t the last time we were told we were in a temple that had once housed the Emerald Buddha.)
From there we were off to walk the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi. The walk up the stairs really isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. In fact, we even saw some young atheletes in training running up and down the steps.
Once we reached the top we enjoyed spectacular views of the town of Luang Prabang, the mountains in the distance, the Mekong River on one side and the Nam Khan River on the other. Also at the top of Mount Phousi is the Wat Chom Si with its golden stupa, a local icon.
Since our hotel room door opened onto one of the streets that the monks walked collecting alms, we joined the daily ritual the next and then every morning we were in Luang Prabang. Aound 4:30 am we could hear drums coming from within a nearby temple courtyard waking the monks and calling them to prayer. Then around 6:00 am, someone in the neighborhood would ring a bell to alert the citizens that the monks were on the way. Soon, mostly ladies but also a few men from the neighborhood would set up along side the road with pots of sticky rice and other edibles. As the monks would pass, they would roll a small ball of rice in their palm and then drop it into the bowl of each monk. It was a very reverent and respectful scene that we tried hard not to interrupt with our presence.
Click here for a video that begins on top of Mount Phousi and shows scenes from a couple days touring temples around the city as well as the local monks collecting alms one rainy morning.