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Home » Asia, Featured, ICFJ Reporting Fellowship

Giving alms

13 April 2011 One Comment

A flow of saffron-colored robes fills the streets every morning in this town of gilded temples. The roads line with tourists as the procession of Buddhist monks open their baskets to receive alms from the townspeople of Luang Prabang, most of them women who sit on plastic chairs or who kneel on gravel to offer pinches of sticky rice. The procession happens just outside the door of my hotel room.

The monks march barefooted, in silence, gliding through the streets to fill their baskets.

Tourists snap photos. Some walk alongside the brightly colored procession. Despite the onlookers, there is a solemnity to the scene.

According to legend, the great Buddha smiled when he came upon this peninsula  formed by the confluence of the Mae Kok and Mekong rivers. He rested here during his travels through Southeast Asia.

Atop Phousi hill in the center of town, a great Buddha statue watches over Luang Prabang. The temples coexist in neighborhoods that are being redeveloped as guest houses for tourists. Wats, or temples, are everywhere. So are the monks.

Luang Prabang got its name from a famous portrait of the Buddha. It was home to Lao royalty, and for a while the town was the capital of the Lao kingdom. Vientiane is now the capital of Laos, a reflection of the French influence in the region.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a fusion of centuries old culture and more recent European colonialism.

In some places, it seems time has stood still. All it takes to remind you is a saffron robe floating by.


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One Comment »

  • Mark Melnicoe said:

    Luang Prabang sounds like a colorful, fascinating place. I had heard of it and knew it’s in the north of the country but didn’t realize its significance nor that it’s a World Heritage site. Very interesting stuff here, and I hope to learn more through your writings.

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