Gordon: Like a number of other travellers we have met we made an effort to be in Luang Prabang for Christmas. This small city is certainly the most popular destination for foreign tourists in Laos. And for good reason, as Luang Prabang is a charming town on the Mekong River with a laid back vibe. It has UNESCO world heritage status for its fusion of traditional Lao architecture, including an amazing density of Buddhist temples, and 19th and 20th century colonial architecture. No doubt partly because of the UNESCO designation, and accompanying funding, the town has avoided many of the less attractive features of other cities in the region. It is truly like being in a comfortable colonial town of the mid-20th century.
Another factor in the state of preservation of Luang Prabang is that it was not bombed in the Vietnam War. As a Royalist rather than a Pathet Lao centre, it avoided the destruction from above meted out to most cities in Northern Laos. This came as a surprise to me. Although I was only in my early teens, I, and everyone, knew that President Nixon was lying when he said that American forces were not bombing Cambodia. However, I had no idea that missions were regularly flown hundreds of kilometres into Laos to bomb cities.
We are relaxing and spending four nights in Luang Prabang in a very nice guesthouse metres from the Mekong River. The days have a pleasant rhythm of watching the almsgiving ceremony at dawn, eating breakfast overlooking the Mekong, walking around town and taking in a few sights during the day, and wandering through the night market in the evening.
The almsgiving ceremony is a feature of daily life throughout the country, but in Luang Prabang it has become a must see (and perhaps participate) event for tourists. Starting before dawn, the monks from the various and numerous wats troupe through town with their begging bowls to receive gifts of sticky rice and other food from members of the public. Those giving alms earn merit through their offerings. The ceremony is conducted in silence, and away from the throngs of tourists, and in the cool, early morning, it has a quiet dignity that has us going back to observe each morning.