Luang Prabang is a magnificent city. The historic center lies on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and another river. It is filled to the brim with magnificent Buddhist temples. In the center of the peninsula is a hill named Phousy, like a cat. The view from the top of the mound is lovely. Tourists crowd the city center, but miraculously only keep to a half kilometer stretch of the main road. It is easy to get away from the craziness by walking for ten minutes and turning into a side street.
Residing at the many monasteries are even more monks. Every morning, monks set out in single file processions down the streets to collect alms. Local people sit and kneel with a bowl of rice and offer a bit to each passing monk in exchange of a blessing. It is a neat system that has been around for hundreds of years. However, once you add hundreds of tourists into the mix, the whole situation looks a bit different.
There is nothing wrong with going out to see the monks collecting alms. The basic rules are: dress decently, do not be intrusive, keep your distance, don’t use flash when taking pictures, and in be generally respectful. Unfortunately, many people act as if they were in Disneyland. They stick cameras into the monks’ faces. They pose with monks as if they were Mickey Mouse. Look at the pictures and see the woman in the gray sweatshirt who forgot to put on pants.
Luckily, after seven in the morning, the tourists go back to whence they came and the city becomes serenely quiet. The sun is rising and illuminating the monasteries from the front, which generally face eastward. It is simply a beautiful place.
We’ve spent our days in Luang Prabang walking around the city and admiring the monasteries. We met up with Steve and Melanie, whom we had met a few days earlier in the prior town. They are really funny and we had a great time hanging out. While the city can be annoying with the tourists, it is also stunningly beautiful and it is easy to get away from the crowds.