Luang Prabang is a city of about 50,000 people in Northern Laos, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It is roughly 100 miles from the Thai border and 150 miles from the Chinese and Vietnamese borders. Luang Prabang is known for its many temples, or wats, and every morning hundreds of monks walk through the streets collecting alms. The old centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As we planned our trip, everyone we spoke to suggested that we would want to spend more time there than expected. So we set aside two weeks to enjoy the location.
Luang Prabang does not disappoint. It is truly a beautiful place. Our guest house is squeezed between three wats; all magnificent, the oldest of which is from the 16th century. The wats occupy both the landscape and the soundscape. At 4 in the morning and at 4 in the afternoon, the monastery next door sounds its drums.
The drums sound like this:
Listen to Luang Prabang drums.wav by User 666885694 #np on #SoundCloud
Chanting follows the drumming, like this:
Listen to LP chant.wav by User 666885694 #np on #SoundCloud
The drumming is recorded literally outside our bedroom window. The chants are from a wat a few blocks away.
Yesterday afternoon, Ida and I went for an evening stroll in our neighbourhood to catch the sunset. We walked down some steps to the Mekong river and met a group of boat-taxi pilots. They single-handedly maneuvre these 40-foot boats up and down the river. Not an easy task. The stairs bear the scars of numerous taxi-boat encounters.
Our daily routine consists of excursions in Luang Prabang, schooling and daily tasks- exercise, food and everything else. We’ve learned that encouraging Saga and Ida to plan our schedules has been really helpful for getting their buy-in. (It’s interesting… after learning participatory mehodologies in grad school for international development, we’re finding that the same participatory methodologies work for managing a household).
Here’s a copy of Sunday’s schedule (any guesses for what is the favorite book these days?):
Luang Prabang has a beautiful butterfly conservatory, waterfall and bear rescue sanctuary nearby. We went there today with a friendly retired British couple. At the conservatory we learned about local butterfly species, their predators, and some of the survival techniques that the butterflies have developed over the years.
Here’s a picture of a butterfly chrysalis that is perfectly camouflaged (look at the slightly darker green “leaf” at the top left that has some light brown marks on its surface; it’s a chrysalis):
The conservatory also had some little fish that eat the dry skin off our feet. In fact, these fish are all over SE Asia; we saw them in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Here’s a picture of the fish at work on Ida’s feet and the look on Ida’s face as the fish toiled away.
The conservatory is run by a Dutch couple. They have built a remarkable public education/ conservation space. They are not without a good sense of humor (probably required to be successful). See below for their explanation of how the local water’s copper nitrate would affect a person’s shoe:
Uphill from the butterflies is a bear sanctuary. The girls learned about the forest ecosystem and the role that animals big and small play in it. And of course the moon bears, rescued from Vietnam, where they had been used to provide bile for herbal medicine.