Luang Prabang

Wat paphai novices

We’re now in Luang Prabang, the ancient mountain capital of the Kingdom of Laos. Nowadays it’s not the capital, and Laos is no longer a kingdom, but a People’s Democratic Republic. But the history of the city is everywhere you look. We arrived last night, hunting for accommodation near the Mekong, which flows on the west side of the town. Upriver is the border with Thailand, and further the head of the river in the Chinese Himalayas, and downriver is another border with Thailand, and eventually Vietnam and Mekong Delta. The city is filled with temples, up to 700 years old, and many, many monks – some of whom look as old as the temples.

All over the city you see monks, and novices. Not just around temples, but dozens walking along the streets going to and from their lessons, and even wading, knee deep, through the river to get home. At first, it comes as a huge surprise to see so many, and we’re constantly grabbing our camera out of our bag to take another monk-shot, but by the end of the day we’ve finally realised that there are so many opportunities to see them, and to talk with them.

Mekong sunset

Although it is smokey in the hills here too, every cloud has a silver lining – or rather an orange lining. As the sun gets within an hour of setting it starts to turn orange, and then deep red, up to half an hour before it finally sets. It makes for an idyllic end-of-day, to sit on a terrace looking down on the Mekong far below, with the red sun reflected back up towards us.

Luang Prabang high street

The other thing that is obvious about Luang Prabang are the French influences, from the old colonial power. As well as overhearing French tourists for the first time, its also odd to see people sitting down at cafes with baguettes and croissants. But all of this in a setting which seems more like a remote Chinese city, because of the absence of cars and heavy traffic.