Somewhere In… Luang Prabang

Thought I would reflect on our time in Laos, and share with you some photos I took in the Unesco World Heritage listed site of Luang Prabang - an old town with a decidedly modern feel.

A few of the restaurants and cafes there would not be out-of-place in Sydney or New York, beautifully designed with the high-end traveller in mind (and there were plenty of those), straight off a luxury Mekong cruise, or a long-haul flight from Paris.

For us however, the town felt rather staged which is not surprising considering the tourist market it is trying to impress. It is a town for tourists, and whilst it’s lovely restored architecture and glittering temples do hold some charm, unfortunately we didn’t have much meaningful interaction with the local people as to them we were just more falang, traipsing around the streets oooh-ing and aaah-ing and snapping photos with our expensive DSLRs. Which of course we were.

For some time now, I’ve been on what I call Monkwatch. There is something about those orange robes that just scream at me to take their photo. Which of course I am too culturally sensitive and polite to do. Okay, I’m just a chicken and it makes me feel awkward.

I read from an extremely reliable source (Wikitravel!) that the collection of alms (offerings of food from the local people to the monks) has become somewhat of a tourist spectacle. Hoping to capitalise on the tourist dollar, vendors began selling poor-quality food to foreigners who then gave it to the monks for a photo-op (“wait, honey, get me putting it in, okay, you got me?”) and made the monks sick. They wanted to stop the practice in the town, but the government threatened to hire people to wear the monks robes and continue the ceremony without them!

For me that kind of sums up the feel of Luang Prabang – tradition neatly packaged and ready for consumption.

That story didn’t stop me from continuing Monkwatch, but it did me make think twice about shoving a camera in a monks face. Hence, I developed Stealth Monkwatch, where I cowardly snapped photos of the backs of their heads! It’s a win-win: I get my photo, and they don’t get made to feel like fodder for gawking tourists like me.

I like these guys in the photo, they are definitely Cool Monks.

Were it not for their distinct, brightly coloured robes, they would be just a group of young guys chatting on cell phones and hanging off each other. Which of course they are. They are just young guys. Who also happen to be monks.

I wonder if the monastery is like boarding school, somewhere you graduate from, or whether that is their chosen path for life. Whatever the reality for a young monk, they seem to enjoy time with their friends, hanging out in the historic, strangely commercial World Heritage listed town of Luang Prabang.

 

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We’re back in Thailand’s luxurious realms now - the land of chilli and sugar. We’ve secured some lovely digs in Chiang Mai for the next month and the backpacks are stored away in our wardrobe. We have a fridge. We bought a $6 kettle. Oh yeah, baby, we’re living the highlife! I look forward to catching you up on our last few days in Laos, spent on  a ‘slow boat’ on the Mekong, and then of course introducing you to our Chiang Mai hotel which we will call home for the next month or so.

Until then, stay well!

Sarah xxx

Comments

Somewhere In… Luang Prabang — 7 Comments

  1. I am looking forward to your descriptions of wonderful Chiang Mai. I recently returned to Canada and have fallen in love with Chiang Mai.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Great post as usual. It’s said when a place lose their “rawness” and turned into something staged or Disney-ish because they try too hard to attract and please travelers.
    As for your musing about the monk life in the monastery, I learned in my travels in Cambodia a long time ago that in Theravada Buddhism (the tradition practice in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia) it is typical for young men to live a monastic life for a certain period of time (can be several months or few weeks), whether it is their chosen path or not. They call it temporary ordination and they do it to earn spiritual merits for their family. So you’re right, they’re just like any typical boys who love to hang out with their friends.

    I enjoyed the photos, by the way.
    Marisol

    • Thank you for your insights Marisol, that is quite an interesting concept isn’t it? I’m looking forward to exploring the temples here in Chiang Mai and participating in some meditation, which should be interesting! Thanks so much for your comment and positive feedback, it’s much appreciated xx

  3. Excellent pics. I love Monk photos. You should have some amazing monk shooting opportunities in Chiang Mai too. Make sure to not miss the Sunday Market. I’d recommend fasting for a bit before you go so that you have plenty of space in your stomachs to sample many of the goodies. :-)

  4. Monks always make me feel so peaceful and happy – there is something so reassuring about their presence. I will happily resume ‘Monkwatch’ with you when we meet up in India :)