Laos > Luang Prabang
LUANG PRABANG, 03 Oct 2009
Luang Prabang was founded in the mid-14th century as a royal capital (which lasted until 1975 when the monarchy was abolished, but it remains a spiritual centre till now), and is sited on a promontory formed by the Khan River and the Mekong. As the road which I call the ‘Riverwalk’ bends right to make a huge U-turn at the tip of this promontory, the Khan empties itself into the Mekong.
A short distance away, right at the tip of the road’s U-turn, a large marble plaque commemorates the close relationship between Laos and France in preserving Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site (WHS). Ever the Francophile!
Next to the plaque, the Unesco WHS office building. Note the WHS logo sculpture, and yup, another French building.
At the noticeboard in the compound, a map of Luang Prabang shows WHS-designated properties, which include virtually all the buildings in the promontory, and then some.
I enter a lane and see a grand entrance.
This is ancient Wat Xieng Thong, built about 1560, the grand-daddy of all Luang Prabang wats. Note the distinctive 2-tier roof. The roof of the front porch forms the 3rd tier. This is a classic Luang Prabang design. The Mekong is just on the other side of the wat, and is easily accessible by steps for visitors arriving by boats.
Across the road, a shop sells ‘saa’ – paper sheets made by hand from mulberry bark – another Luang Prabang cultural item, but also found in Thailand especially Chiangmai area. Great for lanterns!
Then we find food, yes food we used to chomp on when we were kids in Kelantan – a thick pancake made of glutinous rice flour and grated coconut flesh, roasted over coconut husk fire (we call it ‘bae-ko’ in Kelantanese). See how useful coconuts are.
We are so excited about this find, that a proper picture is in order. Another link between Kelantanese and Indochinese (say, Champa)?
Wat Xi Boun Heuang (mid-18th century), where the monks are getting a huge boat lantern ready for tomorrow night’s display. Note the houses where the monks live.
The missus can’t resist lending a hand. The older monk speaks pretty decent English.
Next to it, the monks of 15th century Wat Sop Sickharam are also working on their version of the boat lantern. All these boats are meant to celebrate the annual end-of-Lent (called ‘Ork Phansa’) – which officially marks the end of the rainy season and to remind the farmers to begin harvesting and preparing the land for the next season. It falls tomorrow night when the moon is full.
Meanwhile the youngsters are lounging in the shade.
A hundred metres on, golden Wat Sensoukharam, built early 18th century, gleams in the bright sunlight.
The golden stupa is very prominent.
It has a 4-tier roof.
Close-up of impressive ornaments atop the roof spine.
It’s famous for its maroon walls with richly-decorated windows and gold stencils of holy figurines.
Just outside the awesome wat, life goes on … slowly but surely. (Some say ‘Lao PDR’ stands for ‘Lao, Please Don’t Rush!’ )
Another great catch – a classic Mercedes-Benz of the 60s. Dad’s friend owned this particular model, and I have fond memories of having the occasional rides as a small kid. Can anybody positively identify this Merc’s model?
The Luang Prabang Primary School. With the high roof, the classrooms should be spacious and airy.
And I’m puzzled, why aren’t these kids at school?
[TO BE CONTINUED …]