The old town center of Luang Prabang is reminiscent of an old southeast Asian kingdom that entirely embraced Buddhism and eventually married a French colonial hand. Its charm relies on this distinct blend, a Laotian heritage that is a cut among the rest.
Before we visited the temples, we woke up early in the morning, before sunrise to witness a venerable tradition of Tak Bat. In Luang Prabang, this ceremony happens before sunrise on the streets of the old town. Tak Bat is the ritual of collecting food by Buddhist monks from people who lined up in the streets of Luang Prabang. Monks clad in shades of saffron and orange, walk in line with their alms bowl in front. Tak Bat mostly happen at Sakkaline and Kamal Road.
A ritual done in silence, people who wish to give alms in a form of food, flowers or incense, sit in line on the sidewalks and wait for the monks to pass by. People on the other hand, can watch from across the street in silence. Tourists are encouraged to maintain a respectful distance from the monks or the alms-giver so as not to disrupt the ceremony.
Tourists can also experience Tak Bat as alms givers but they are reminded to perform the ceremony not for photo ops but for the truest of intentions.
Mt. Phou Si
After Wat Xieng Thong and the Royal Palace Museum, you can climb Mt. Phousi for an awesome 360 degree view of Luang Prabang. The main entrance to the steps leading up to Mt. Phousi is just across the Royal Palace Museum near Haw Pha Bang. The stairways is about 328 steps. Another entrance is at Phousi Road. Stairways consist of 355 steps. Entrance to That Phu Si is LAK 20,000. It is a popular spot to view the sunrise and sunset.
Story of Mt. Phousi
After an afternoon visit to the Royal Palace Museum, we crossed Sisavangvong Road to climb Mt. Phousi. The skyline of Luang Prabang is dominated by the wat on top of Mt. Phousi, 150 meters above the street. The steps to zigzag to the top. The path is protected from the sun by the shades of trees.
Stairway from Sisavangvong Road
There’s a temple at the top of Mt. Phousi. That Chomsi is well lit at night. It is small Buddhist temple on a narrow platform with a golden stupa. The golden pagoda of That Chomsi glistens at daytime, most specially when it is struck by the rays of the sun. Phou Si means sacred hill.
South View: Luang Prabang Old Town
North View: Mekong River and Sunset
It only takes a few minutes to reach the top of Mt. Phou Si. The view is really amazing. At one side is the wonderful view of the Mekong River snaking its way through mountains in silhouette. On the other side is a bird’s eye view of Luang Prabang.
At the next block to the Royal Palace Museum is Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham. Wat Mai means new temple, but it was built in 1780 and is said to be one of the largest and beautifully decorated temples in Luang Prabang. Just like Wat Xieng Thong it was spared from destruction by the Chinese raid of 1887. At one point in history, it was the home of the Phra Bang. The Buddha image was then moved to the Royal Palace Museum. It is said that every Lao New Year, the Phra Bang is brought to Wat Mai thru a procession for ceremonial cleansing.
Wat Mai. photo credit: justgola.com
The unique feature of Wat Mai is its roof structure. The sim is large, consisting of 5 roofs decorated with nagas. The roof almost reaches the ground. Each side of the wat had a veranda painted in white.
Entrance to Wat Mai is LAK 10,000.
Chilling out at Utopia
After a full day of exploring the old town, we decided to visit Utopia to chill and hang out. It is located at Kingkitsarath Road which is a block away from Mt Phou Si’s southern entrance.
A view of Nam Khan River
Utopia is a restaurant-bar that has a bamboo-wooden deck with an overlooking view of Nam Khan River. Instead of tables and chairs, you can choose to lie down in a floor cushions or pillows. At the bamboo deck, you can choose to read books, sleep, or gaze far with a bottle of Lao beer in hand.
Beer Lao to call it a day
At the bamboo deck
The place is usually packed right before sundown. Utopia is a full service bar and restaurant. Plenty of food choices. We settled for pizza and beer.