Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang lies in a high valley surrounded by mountains, at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers.
Inhabited for thousands of years, it was the royal capital of Laos until 1975.
Luang Prabang is best known for its unique architecture and for its many Buddhist temples, many dating back to the 1300’s, some gilded in gold with amazing ornate interiors.
The architecture is a mixture of the French colonial era with Asian Laotian influences.
Many of the beautiful old buildings are now shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses, and are kept in great repair.
The Royal Palace, now a museum that is open to the public, has walls that are decorated with amazing glass mosaics made from Japanese glass, embedded into red fresco plaster.
The temples in Laos are different from those you might find in any other place around Asia.
Many of the columns and walls of the temples in Luang Prabang are covered in gold stencils, stamped onto a red or black background.
The stencils do not look like paintings, being a bit crude around the edges, but the effect of the ornamentation is absolutely stunning.
There are temples that you should not miss if you plan to visit Luang Prabang.
All temples are welcoming to tourists and some charge a small entry fee.
Every evening at sunset, the main street of the town is transformed into a long and bustling night market.
There are still good crafts and handmade weaving made into scarves and Lao skirts to find in this market.
There are also wood carving, embroidery and hand made souvenirs that are not mass produced.
We landed in Luang Prabang via a short 1.5 hour flight from Bangkok.
When we landed, we were baffled by the heavy smog that surrounds this remote and non-industrial area.
In our minds, the air should have been clear.
At first, we thought that maybe it was a morning mist, since we arrived in the morning, but it was clear that this was not the case.
Upon inquiry, our hotel manager told us that the smoke in the air is a result of burning the fields, that the farmers all around the area still practice.
It is a worldwide agricultural practice called “Slash and burn.”
After the harvest, the farmers do not have heavy machinery to till the land and turn over the remaining stems and stalks of the sweet potatoes, potatoes, wheat, barley, etc.
Their hilly and mountainous land also does not allow for the use of heavy machinery.
So instead, they burn the fields until only ashes remain.
The ashes also become good fertilizer for the soil, when it is time to plant again.
“The government of Laos is aware of the pollution problem that this form of agriculture creates, but the farmers are poor and hardworking, and besides, it only lasts for three months of the year….”
said our hotel manager apologetically.
For me, the amount of smoke in the air was alarming.
We had booked ten days in Luang Prabang, and I was concerned about what this could do to our lungs and overall well-being.
Almost immediately, we started coughing, but the rest of the thousands of tourists around the city seemed unperturbed.
Every day, we toured some of the many temples, visited the sites, attended a theater and concert, sat in good cafes and bakeries, walked the night market and shopped for beautiful handmade woven scarves and embroidered skirts for me.
The Royal Palace is an amazing site.
It is not permitted to take photos inside the Palace, but in the gold gilded Wat Xieng Thong temple, dating back to the 16th century, you can see and photograph the same amazing glass mosaics that are used on the interior walls of the Royal Palace.
Luang Prabang District has a population of approximately 47,378 inhabitants consisting of 12 different ethnic groups, and the historical protected zone has about 24,000 inhabitants.
The Mekong river flows south along the west side of the city, and the Nam Khan River flows from the east.
The Mekong River is very wide, and wooden longboats are used for transportation and to ferry tourists.
Two bamboo bridges are built on the Nam Khan River, connecting the center of Luang Prabang with its suburbs.
These are pedestrian-only bridges that are very scenic. The bridges are seasonal.
They are erected after the rainy season and are taken down before the next rainy season.
There is a small fee to cross the bamboo bridges, and we had a fabulous time exploring the workshops on the other side.
Luang Prabang is one of the oldest towns in Laos, created, preserved and developed more than 1200 years ago.
The whole town is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, admired for its outstanding example of an architectural ensemble built over the centuries combining the sophisticated architecture of religious buildings, vernacular buildings, and colonial buildings.
Sadly, the history of Laos is not all beautiful Buddhist temples and gorgeous architecture.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of the world.
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2.5 million tons of bombs on Laos, during 580,000 bombing raids.
That equals to a plane-full of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for NINE YEARS.
Considering that Laos was not even part of the Vietnam war, it is truly heart wrenching.
These peace loving rural farmers and fishermen, had to suffer to such a degree, only because it was suspected that the Vietnamese army was moving through their land to battle the Americans.
There are still millions of unexploded landmines, bombs and artillery shells all around Laos.
The locals use them to build houses and their children live with the scars of this deadly war.
In my heart, I believe that the USA needs to pay reparation to replenish and repair the damage previously inflicted on this country.
As a US citizen, I will gladly pay for this cause through my taxes.
The infrastructure is still badly damaged.
The roads need paving, and the country really needs help.
But as Jules pointed out, Laos is a communist republic.
Officially, it is called a people’s democratic republic, but in actuality, Laos is a one-party communist state.
The current ruling party is called the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP).
It has a 61-member Central Committee, under the leadership of an 11-member politbureau, that makes all the major decisions.
The LPRP vets all candidates for election to the National Assembly, whose members elect the president and the prime minister.
As long as it is not really a democratic country, I have no hopes of seeing the USA supporting the recovery of the country, for fears that the money might not go to rebuilding, but will be controlled and spent as the ruling party see fit….
From Luang Prabang with healing light and love,