For a quick overview of Laos provided by the BBC, click here
Before we started researching for this trip I have to admit that I did not know much about Laos and probably could not have named any major cities. We arrived into Luang Prabang about 7:30pm flying Air Laos - which was not a bad flight, but anytime you fly an airline that does not publish it's safety records and one that the US state department does not suggest it's employees use, you get a little nervous.
This is a small town, about 60,000, and such a change from the general chaos of Vietnam. We may end up staying longer than planned since it seems like such a relaxing place to hang out for a few days. We've been delinquent in our entries because the internet is incredibly slow in Laos and, truth be told, we've been having such a good time here that it's been hard to spend any time in front of a computer. We ended up spending over a week in Luang Prabang with one side trip up north. It's our favorite place so far and might remain so...we'll see!
There are over 30 wats (Buddhist temples) and 700 resident monks in this small, charming town. Although we're not Buddhist, we've been drinking in the beauty, tranquility and welcoming spirit of this religion. Apart from visiting the many wats, we've also gotten up at 6am to offer alms of rice to the monks on several occasions and have loved going to the evening prayers/chants (some might say we've even become monk-chanting-groupies).
Giving of alms is a tradition that involves the monks walking the streets in procession, collecting alms (mostly food - candy or sticky rice) from locals and tourists like us. The monks use this food for their 2 meals: breakfast and just before noon (no evening meal). We did find out from one monk that if the collection was not so good they are able to supplement it with other food.
We've gotten a chance to meet several novice monks since arriving here as many of them are eager to practice English and very patient in answering our questions about the life and rituals in the Sangha. John has been collecting email addresses and is going to have a hard time keeping up with all of his new monk pen-pals!
We also had a competition to see how many novice monks we could fit in a boat - actually these guys helped us figure out how to get across the river for a fair price!
In addition to the Bhuddist pursuits, we really enjoyed the fact that great massages are on offer for $5, decent bottles of vino go for <$10 and we finally found a guest house that was super comfortable (had to switch 3 times before this happened due to noise/lack of blankets/obnoxious foreigners staying up all night, etc.). In any case, we LOVE it here and are sure to come back someday as we miss it already.