I had made it a point to research my trip from a very literary perspective – all text and minimal photos. I did not want pictures to act as spoilers and wanted to be surprised everywhere that I landed.
Well, what an amazing surprise Luang Prabang gave. I had assumed that the town would be like the one it is often compared to – the hilly, busy city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. But Luang Prabang turned out to be something right out of the dusty pages of French Colonial Era of the last century. It also had a past life as a royal capital pre-colonization.
It is magical, it is historic, it is so preciously beautiful that my heart laments on not being a painter nor a poet to capture either the vistas that it presents or the feelings that it evokes from within. And it is not just the nature that shrouds this city hidden in the valley of the hills, nor just the intricate wooden French villas, but also the Lao people who reside within. Everywhere my friends and I went, rode, walked – we were greeted with precocious children, toothy old men, shy women all saying a sing-songy “Sabai Dee” (a Hello in Lao). The few young adults that we met spoke great English (on the account of being educated in monasteries) and were not only helpful but insightful into the culture of the Lao people. Our young hotel manager and his friend – two former monks during their teens – now working and studying were a privilege to talk to. A postcard that I bought was a photo of some monks and to my surprise when I showed it to them, they recognized the monks by name! All of a sudden, it added a more personal touch to a photograph of monks receiving their daily morning alms from the locals.
The city – the non-human parts of it – lives and breathes accordingly. On landing, one feels a deep, personal connection – it feels like a city that one can just move to. Welcoming, warm, and wondrous. Leafy streets bordered by wooden, simplistic French-Asian architecture containing artistic and handicraft shops. The music within the city often during sunset hours is the soft chanting of the monks doing their evening prayers in the various temples that dot the city. At night, the skies open up to reveal a sky so brilliantly lit with stars while the buildings glimmer from the lights of lanterns and soft-glow bulbs. It is exquisite.
I know for certain that I have left a part of my heart in Luang Prabang. I only await my return here.