A Guide to Saffron City of Laos: Luang Prabang

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The 1995 UNESCO report that announced Luang Prabang that a World Heritage site described the city as the best-preserved traditional city in SE Asia. It was recently voted the world’s best destination for its third consecutive season by Wanderlust magazine, even although Laos was judged the ideal destination nation by The New York Times.

Cradled in its own mountainous eyrie, the city’s place is as magnificent as its temples are resplendent. Such as an earl’s evaporating finery, Luang Prabang’s somnolent roads slumber on, mostly unchanged since its early imperial capital days.

Besides leaky drains, Luang Prabang, whose title means ‘Golden Buddha Capital’, reveals few defects. Annually a large number of tourists visit Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai (which is also known as “แวะเที่ยวหลวงพระบางจากเชียงใหม่” in Thai language). Tourists are often reluctant to depart the bicycle-paced cradle of Lao culture and frequently tarry more than intended.

The appeal stems partially from the terrain, as the one-time royal chair of Laos sits at the intersection of the Mekong with one of its tributaries and is surrounded by an amphitheater of limestone peaks. It has its own mountain in town, which climbs steeply up behind the primary road.

At sunrise scores of saffron-robed, alms-hungry monks record from the monasteries to the roads in a ritual which has become emblematic of the town’s identity. The orange at the monks’ robes is highlighted by the soft light at a scene framed with russet monastery roofs, palm trees, and whitewashed historic home.

In one hour, the monks have finished their rounds and melted in their monasteries. Though this ritual could be observed throughout southeast Asia, it is especially striking in Luang Prabang due to the density of temples along with also the concentration of monks: from a population of 15,000 inhabitants, there are more than 500 monks.

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