I enjoyed walking through the Night Market of Luang Parabang but had to withdraw myself early lest I get tempted to spend. I headed to Th Khem Khong Road, another parallel road to the river but quieter and closer. Then I had a quick dinner of Stir Fry Mushroom Beef (16,000kip) and a strawberry shake (6000 kip) at one of the riverside restos there. Checked the internet and emails nearby then headed back to Levady Guest House for the night’s rest. By 9pm the town quiets down. There’s an 11pm curfew in Luang Prabang.
Levady Guesthouse has a nice big room but I think US12 is still expensive for its facilities (or lack of it). I’m not really comfortable with my ground level corner room as well. The walls are paper thin as I could hear the pipes when toilets are flushed on the upper rooms and even the neighbor’s guitar screeching. Thank god there’s no nocturnal moaning that night or I would have left my radio playing blaring all evening.
I went out early the next morning to check out other accommodations then I remembered about the Morning Alms Ritual of the Buddhist Monks in Luang Prabang. It is a daily ritual for the monks as they are only allowed to eat food for the day given to them in the morning of each day either from this ritual or from family. Monks here in Luang Prabang are revered, so for the alms giver, they have done a good deed and would be an added merit to their faith.
While taking photos of the approaching monks, I was approached by this “alms vendor” and she quickly pointed me to an empty mat she placed beside me. She wanted me to join the ritual I guess. I was interested to actually join in with the locals so I did. She gave me a bowl of sticky rice and a bunch of bananas. She showed me how much sticky rice I would give and a piece of banana to each monk. So I went on my knees on the mat making sure my foot is bent back. It is an insult to point your feet to a person in Buddhist beliefs. The Monks went by pretty fast, I was scooping handfuls of sticky rice and a piece of banana then putting them the monk’s bowl as they pass. I think I gave alms to around 8-10 monks until my supply ran off. After which the lady asked me for 20,000 kip for the sticky rice and the bananas. Okay, I guess this is a tourist thing. I should have felt duped but it was kinda nice to participate on what the locals are doing and it’s just the same if I would buy sticky rice and bananas from stores so I paid her.
I went to my favorite French Baguette stall and bought one as my breakfast and sat on a ledge by the river while studying my map. I went to check the nearby Oudomphone Guesthouse which I found was a real backpacker’s place with communal bathrooms for 60,000 kip. I didn’t like it as much even if it was cheap. If I don’t have any important gears with me It would be ok and I’m looking for rooms with en suite Bathrooms so I could do a little laundry as well.
I walked south east along the main road Th Kitsarat then made a turn at Th Wisunarat to find Thony II Guest House. It’s like a 5-10 minutes walk from the town center into a more residential community. Tucked in a smaller inner road, I found Thony II Guest House. It was a two story building with a non-descript facade. The owners were young and friendly and I asked if there’s a room available. Luckily they will have a vacancy by noon but they were able to show me a room. It was very spacious, a big bed, large windows, a cable tv, aircon with fan and a large en suite bathroom with hot water. All of it for the same price as I was paying at Levady GH. I reserved a room immediately and would come back by lunch time to check in.
Having more time in hand, I decided to check out a few temples on my way back. Just across Thony II are a couple of important temples. Wat Wisunarat or Wat Visoun which is originally built in 1513 and is said to be the oldest operating temple in Luang Prabang. The temple has been witness to a lot of historical events like the invasion of the Black Flag Raiders. The front sloping roof heading sideways is one of the unique features of this temple. Just behind Wat Wisunarat temple is a black spherical stupa known as That Pathum (Lotus Stupa) also locally known as That Makmo (Watermelon Stupa) because of its shape. Construction started on 1503 and was done in 19 months. Reconstructions were done again in 1895 and 1932. The stupa used to house important Haw Buddha images and other sacred items. Now those items are displayed at the Royal Palace Museum.
Another temple just over the fence is Wat Aham, where it houses the town’s most important spirit shrines. The temple is also known as the former residence of the Sangkharat, the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism. There was a lone monk there about his middle age who struck a conversation with the questions “Hi! Where are you from?” I told him where I came from and he thought I was Thai. He said he was Thai and went to the Buddhist faith here in Laos. Shortly I bid my good bye and went to Th Kingkitsarat road behind Phu Si Hills that ran along side Nam Khan River.
The early morning walk along Nam Khan river was pretty pleasant. I found out there are several night hang outs and restaurants there but closed that morning. I also passed by another temple at the foot of the Phu Si Hills, south east side. Wat Pha Phuthabaht was originally constructed in 1395 and said to be a site of a ‘Buddha Footprint’. It’s a pretty nice temple with a Chang Mai influence and also a slight mix of Vietnamese augmentation. From the temple, there’s a nice view of Nam Khan River.
I finally got out of the road along the river and went straight right to Th Sakkarin road. I visited a beautiful temple there known as Wat Sensoukarahm. It is a small Thai style wat built in 1718. It has a beautiful red and gold faced along with golden glowing stupas. There I also met a couple of monks studying under a tree. “Hello! Where are you from?” is how they greeted me again. I guess it’s a common question they would ask falangs (foreigners). I asked and looked at what they were doing. They were studying some English there, perhaps that is why they like talking to foreigners so they could practice their English speaking skills. They told me that they get to study at a nearby university here. I left them to their lessons and went back on the road. It was still mid morning and I already had numerous encounters with local monks and visited a number of temples.
Thony II Guest House of Th Wisunarat 00856-71-254779
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.