Early To Rise

By Jane Mountain | March 6, 2014

10,956 km so far.

Today we continued to act like real cycle tourists.

We got up early. Noooooo!

Even on our rest day, our best option was to set the alarm for seven, so we could at least see some of Luang Prabang before the sun began to bake our brains into useless lumps of mush.

So far, Luang Prabang is winning our hearts. It’s wall-to-wall colonial charm, with French-influenced architecture, waterfalls of greenery on every street, and the mighty Mekong flowing by.

ramshackle house in laos

A backstreet house, Luang Prabang.

It also must be the cleanest city in Asia (aside from Singapore, of course). It’s the first place we’ve been in months where it is not standard practice to just throw your rubbish on the street.

There is a special market square here lined with 25 smoothie, sandwich, and crepe stalls. Each has its own menu, and each sells exactly the same thing as the stall next door. With all the ladies waving menus and shouting happily as you walk by, it’s pretty tough to choose which one to visit.

For breakfast, we enjoyed tofu sandwiches on Lao French bread, with tasty fruit smoothies on the side. I could get used to this.

Wat Walking

The city is awash in wats, so we decided to spend the cool of the early morning climbing Phousi Hill to explore the several wats within the grounds.

golden wat in luang prabang

Wat in the morning sun, Luang Prabang.

At the entrance to the park, a small group of women were selling offerings to the temples. They had small bouquets of marigolds wrapped in banana leaf vases. They also had tiny twittering birds in bamboo cages. For roughly $3 you can buy a cage of two birds to release at the top of the hill.

I assume the women go and catch the self-same birds to sell to the next tourists who come along.

Here are a few many many pictures of wats.

wat pahouk in luang prabang

Wat Pahouk is less flashy than the others, and therefore my favorite wat in town.

The stuff around the wats was as interesting as the buildings themselves.

There were dozens of Buddha carvings and statues all around the hillside. There was also Buddha’s footprint, which was about the size of an elephant’s foot. No wonder people listened to him when he spoke.

The views from the top of the hill were gorgeous, and we were not the only ones who’d made the effort to climb up and enjoy them.

monk in laos

A moment of quiet contemplation, Phousi Hill.

Down the other side of the hill, we stumbled across a monk school, where Stephen started curiously poking his head in doors and windows, trying to get a better look at what the monks were studying.

Monks at school, Luang Prabang.

Monks at school, Luang Prabang.

Soon, a young monk approached him and started to make conversation.

Stephen chatting with our new friend, Luang Prabang.

Stephen chatting with our new friend, Luang Prabang.

We ended up sitting with him for 15 minutes or so, enjoying the chance to quiz him about his life, his decision to become a monk, and what he was learning in school.

As we’d learned when we’d met Noy in Lee Village, many young men become monks as a way of getting an inexpensive and good education. Eventually, they will leave the monastery, get a job in an office, and get married and have children.

It makes me sad to think that young women in Laos don’t have the same opportunity.

The monk we met today, who is 17, left his small village three years ago, because he didn’t want to spend his life farming as his father and grandfather had done. Once he’s finished monastery school, he hopes to go to university in a different country.

He was raised in a farming village in the mountains, near the place we came across the border a few days ago. For three years, since he came to Luang Prabang, he has not been able to visit his family. Speaking about his family was hard for him; he clearly missed them very much.

wat in luang prabang laos

The wat at the foot of Phousi Hill.

It’s hard to imagine a life where the matter of a few hundred kilometers could keep a family apart for that length of time.

This year, during the holiday month of May, he is planning to visit his village and his family. I doubt he’s prepared for how different everything will look now that he’s been away in the world and grown from being a boy into a man.

Night Market Buffet

One of the not-to-be-missed features of the city is the night market. I’m not talking about the gorgeous, tidy market filled with hundreds of handicrafts, though it is a souvenir shopper’s dream.

I’m talking about the food market (of course).

Turn down a dark alleyway off of the main market street and you find a vegan paradise. OK, first you have to walk by all the meat buffet stalls, but once you’ve safely navigated the sights and smells of cooked animals, you’ll stumble upon four or five stalls filled with vegan delights.

The food is piled high on platters, which are stacked on a tiered display table. A woman hands you a plate, saying “10,000 kip”. Then, the only limits are the size of your plate and your ability to balance food on it.

Veggie delights in Luang Prabang.

Veggie delights in Luang Prabang.

Even for our hungry cyclist appetites, these plates are generous.

After our months of rice and greens, we are relishing the chance to have a variety of vegetables, tofu, noodles, and rice, all in one sitting. We’re not sure why there are so many more kinds of veggies available in Laos (is it that the farming season is further along here?) but we are not complaining.

The food is fresh, tasty, and filling. We’ll probably eat here again tomorrow.  


  1. Comment by Patti

    Patti March 10, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Beautiful photos! I really like seeing the monks in school. If only students here saw the value in education the way those students do.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane March 13, 2014 at 3:15 am

      We do see a lot of monks sitting around staring at their smartphones, so I don’t think ALL of them are so appreciative, but it’s certainly taken more seriously when it’s not always available.

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