We had never considered Laos as a country contender for our worldwide adventure until we met a couple in Cartagena, Columbia. This wasn’t the usual type of couple you tend to meet on the road enjoying extended travel. They were old enough to have kids our age but yet they somehow figured out how to live the dream. Every year they would buy a Round-the-World ticket and take off for new adventures. Instead of constantly moving from place to place though, they would find house sitting gigs here and there for several weeks at a time. Their favorite place, hands down, was Laos and they were very convincing. I think the word they used to describe it was mystical. They painted a picture of a quiet town, right along the Mekong River where monks would ceremoniously proceed down the street every morning at sunrise. We came to know this place as Luang Prabang.
Except, it wasn’t as peaceful as we had hoped. In fact, it was overrun with tourists. Don’t get me wrong, Luang Prabang is lovely and would be a wonderful place to vacation. But on this trip we’ve found the spots with too many tourists (especially those that exist purely off of the influx of foreign funds) tends to lose local flavor, favor the whims of visitors, and jack up the prices. (There are good things that come along at tourist spots though too like signs in English and other travelers to befriend.)
But over our few days in town, we found a little of what the Cartagena couple loves about this place. First there was our host, Vong, a Laotian native who had left the country during tumultuous times. He returned after decades to retire in Luang Prabang and building the Villa Chitdara 2 Guest House was a passion. We got to know him better when he invited us for beers out by the river’s edge. He also shared with us his morning routine.
Every day at 6am, Vong would line up with other locals to give alms to the city’s Buddhist monk population. There were more than 300 monks in our tiny area of the old city. There was pageantry in the process, but it certainly wasn’t for our sake. It was clear that Vong participated in this ritual out of a sense of stewardship and a deep faith that he tried to share with us. He even let Nellu take his spot along the procession line.
We were both were sincerely touched.