Luang Prabang is undeniably an amazing place. It’s high concentrations of golden temples and beautiful carved pagodas obviously made it an UNESCO protected heritage site and along with the fame, crowds of tourists arrived.
For centuries, Buddhist monks have been fed by the locals in the early morning while they walk in line from their humble rooms to the temple.
Over the years this phenomena got a little out of hand as now tourists seem to just visit the place to feed these poor monks who instead of concentrating on their meditation, seem to have to deal with groups of Chinese visitors flashing their cameras in their face and getting selfies shot by the zealous tour operators that are eager to give them the ultimate “spiritual” experience.
I woke up at 5AM to witness this thing and i walked down the main road just a block away from my room. Even before a single monk appeared, tourists were already lined up waiting for the big moment, with their cameras and phones ready and a basket full of junk food (chocolate bars etc.) to donate to the monks.
I suspect the poor monks can’t avoid this as it’s rapidly become the main reason why foreigners come to visit and spend big money in fancy accomodations and expensive meals.
Infact Luang Prabang is famous for being quite expensive even though in recent years, it started to be affordable for low budget travellers as well, and it’s definitely got a funky vibe that seems to attract backpackers too!
It’s one of those places where you can spend more for a coffee with French croissant than for a local meal for two!
Everywhere i walked in town i’ve been asked for money, tickets and donations, whether it was a public toilet or a stair leading to the top of the hill. I couldn’t believe when i saw a free photo exibithion taking place, moreover real silver prints as well!
All the locals i met in Laos so far seem to be very simple and genuine people always ready to smile and to have a chat in their broken English: here in Luang Prabang i had the feeling that they have enough of white people hanging around with their cameras, but i guess this is the price to pay when a place is such a unique and exotic destination.
However i had to struggle a bit in order to find a “cheap” room and walking to the very end of town, but just around the corner from the old quarter, i found what i call “The Bluesman room” in a simple wooden guesthouse that offered old school accomodation for 10USD a night!
Plus, my window was right on the quieter side of the river, where life still goes slow!
Despite the drawbacks of heavy tourism, the city is really worth visiting: it’s a small sleepy town, lying at the intersection of two main rivers, dotted with palm trees, bouganvilleas, French style wooden villas and of course, Buddhist temples everywhere.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong in loving Buddhaland, as long as you remember what the real deal is!