For our final full day in Luang Prabang, Karel and I meandered through the old town and visited one of the ancient temples.
We stopped for a cooling drink on a terrace overlooking the river and watched people crossing a rickety-looking bamboo bridge (which gets washed away every year during rainy season), two young monks skipping stones on the water, and a jubilant parade of vehicles, all festooned with large tree branches, zooming through the neighborhood.
After sunset, we walked to the night market, which was just open, and found a stall on one of the less-busy side streets that appeared to have the authentic, hand-woven silks and cottons I was looking for. The Luang Prabang night market is famous for the hill tribe people who sell their wares there: there are three main ethnic groups, and a couple of smaller ones, each with their own styles and patterns, and each making and embroidering gorgeous fabrics by hand. I selected several items, and the haggling began. Karel did a great job as my foil, playing along when I suggested that we go to dinner to “think about” her “final” offer before buying. Rather than risk losing the sale, she compromised a bit more, and everyone was satisfied. I could have played a lot harder, but I don’t try to get the lowest possible price. These villagers are hard-working and poor, and they rarely try to over-charge. We walked away with textiles that a museum would be proud to display, for a fraction of what they would cost in Europe or the States.
For dinner that night we found a restaurant offering a show of traditional Lao dances. There were three dancers, three musicians, and two waiters, which we had all to ourselves.
Our adventures in Luang Prabang weren’t over. For our final morning there, the group ventured out before dawn and positioned themselves across from one of the main temples to observe the daily morning ritual of offering food to the monks. There are thousands of Buddhist monks and novices inhabiting the hundreds of temples in Luang Prabang. They are allowed two meals per day, which are provided by the townspeople. This is not begging! The food (rice and bananas) is specially prepared and offered; the monks collect it.
It was fun watching the town awaken, but other tourists were arriving, and many had clearly not bothered to read the guidebooks’ advisories about noninterference in the sacred ritual. Karel and I began to worry that it was going to turn into a circus. We decided to take a chance on a nearby sidestreet. There were still tourists there, but most were in a group and their guide was lecturing them on the correct protocols, which was encouraging.
Our gamble paid off; the monks appeared in small groups at first light, and collected offerings from the shopkeepers and citizens in relative peace. After a while, most of the tourists left, but there were still groups of monks working their way along the streets until it was nearly time for sunrise.
And so, once again we witnessed people greeting the day with a prayerful act of giving.
This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013