Enjoying France While in Asia

Luang Prabang is a cute, French-colonial town in northern Laos. The downtown area is teeming with cute coffee shops and quaint restaurants. There is delightfully cheap French food and beautiful Buddhist temples nestled in between French colonial architecture. Outside of the downtown area, you can experience more traditional Laos culture and architecture. But, it was nice for a change to have a sense of Europe while still in Asia.

Honestly, we didn’t do or see a lot while in Luang Prabang. We went to a waterfall, ate A LOT, volunteered a little, walked around downtown LP and learned a bit about the US legacy in Laos. It was a lovely, relaxing experience.

David and my favorite tourist activity is eating. And we’ve eaten a lot of Asian food as of late. It was a welcome reprieve to come to Luang Prabang where French food is more readily available. Although we still ate mostly Laos food because it is least expensive, we did splurge and have a fancy French lunch (100,000 kip or $12 total for both of us) and I had a lox, cream cheese and dill bagel (30,000 kip or $4). Oh, how I relished that bagel, my first since leaving the US. Two months is too too long to be without a bagel.

A main attraction outside LP is Kuang Si Falls, a large waterfall with several cascading pools. The water has a lot of calcium in it, so the color is dramatically blue. It was gorgeous! David jumped off of the waterfall half a dozen times and I dunked my legs in (too cold!).

I met Jaele, a monk in training, at Big Brother Mouse. Big Brother Mouse is a non-profit that provides free books to underprivileged children in Laos and also allows English-speakers to volunteer their time to help English-learners practice. My partner in practice was Jaele, an 18 year old novice who is 2 years from becoming a monk. I learned a lot about monks from Jaele. Hopefully he learned a bit about English from me as well.

I learned that:

  • Monks wear only orange, red, yellow, blue, purple and white – colors you can find in a burning flame. Traditionally, monks wear orange robes (in Thailand and Laos) or red robes (in Cambodia) and wear yellow, blue, or purple bags or shoes (although I’ve seen monks wearing brown shoes as well)
  • Some monks will leave the temples for awhile and live in solitude in the caves outside of Luang Prabang to focus on meditation and cleansing internal suffering. These monks often wear a muted, brownish-orange robe as they feel the bright orange is not reflective of their state.
  • You can become a monk at 20 years of age. Before then, no matter how long studying, you are known as a novice

It was a unique experience speaking with Jaele. I’m intimidated by monks, they seem so separate in their identifying robes. And I’d known that, as a woman, I cannot touch them or their robes without them having to cleanse themselves (I don’t know what that means). So I hadn’t spoken or interacted with a monk (well, novice) until now. It was nice to experience the togetherness of practicing English with Jaele. It made monks seem more down to earth to me, more approachable.

One of the most meaningful experiences we had in LP was going to the UXO (unexploded ordinance) Museum to learn about the “Secret War” where the US dropped millions of bombs on the neutral country of Laos during the Vietnam War. David will write more on this and the continued legacy of the US in Laos in a future post.

Click here for more pictures from our time in Luang Prabang


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