Southeast Asia’s Enchanted Kingdom
I have always been beguiled by Laos: a country rich with colonial history, a flourishing Buddhist culture, and modernity. All three intersect in Luang Prabang, one of my most favorite destinations in Southeast Asia where the entire town has been declared a World Heritage Site.
One Christmas a few years back, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in Luang Prabang. Dusk had arrived early the previous evening and the dawn was mixed with misty rain and smoke filled air. I got up early that morning and rode my rented bike through the dark streets and lanes of the town. There were no cars present and I happily meandered through town, following the procession of monks out on their morning alms rounds. What an utterly magical experience this was! In the remoter parts of town there were no tourists present and I had the mysticism of the moment to myself. I was transported by the humility of the monks and the calm chant of the head monk as he stopped by the road to offer a blessing to the people donating food for the day. At one point I passed a woman cooking outside on her open hearth as she received her blessings from the monks. In that warm mist, as the sun began to rise one cannot help but feel a spirit of calm and transcendence.
Later on in the day, after a boat ride up the Mekong River I went to a small riverside restaurant to have a simply delicious French lunch. Under the shade of the swaying trees I enjoyed watching modern day Luang Prabang. Many bicycles and scooters rumbled by, while at the bar sat a well-dressed English man. He was wearing a pressed linen suit and was reading the European press. I imagined him out of a Graham Greene novel, and was fascinated by him in this most idyllic of towns. Not dissimilar to my experience this morning, I was lost for that moment in an era long gone.
That night I stayed at a wonderful old colonial home that had been converted into a small hotel. I sat on a teak wood balcony watching the parade of people down on the street and I marveled at the joy of travel and the capacity travel has to form and transform your world.
The next day I departed on a journey that took me to a secluded beach on an island in the Mekong River deep in the Southern part of the country and to a high plateau for unforgettable views of the Southeast Asian plains reaching as far as Cambodia.
However, a dream for me, to this day is to rent a home in Luang Prabang and get lost in that world, just like the English man at the bar, for a moment…however long that lasts!