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LUANG PRABANG LAOS (PHOTOS)

August 4, 2011

Louang Prabang (A Poem)
by Csimpson

We arrive.
We’re charmed by
Winding alleys,
Brick sidewalks,
Vivid orange monks robes,
The finely tuned hum of
Buddha
Fills the air.
I love it here.

Luscious silks.
Fine patterns.
Ancient clatter of wooden loom.
Warm smiles.
I get ripped off.
Then later,
At 5am.
Darkness.
Deep, powerful sleep.
Nearby a dog begins to bark.
Twenty minutes pass without silence render
Tigthtening stomach,
Reawaken cramps and churnings from
Last night’s bad food.
I want to kill the dog.
I hate it here.

Which is Louang Prabang?
The one I love? Or the one I hate?
My mind knows better.

Sound

Before the sun.
Before the roosters even.
A barking dog pierces sleep’s sweet kiss
With thin, rusty, hollow bark.
Lonely, stupid bark.
Sharp echoes fading away
Like my chance for rest.
Bloodshot eyes staring toward ceiling.
Exhausted, I picture her.
Barking while her tired,
Scruffy white gnarled bone of a body,
And her saggy worn tits,
Shake with effort.
More barking.
My teeth clench.
Is the owner deaf?
The neighbors wake, talk angrily.
I take solace in their sympathy with my fury.
Plot my revenge.

Suddenly silence.
Anger subsides.
Sleep drifts back.

Then barking.
Wicked, wicked dog.
She continues.
Anger surges again.

I watch it now.
And wonder.
If the incessant barking
Were instead the
Chanting of monks,
Rusty ring of morning gongs,
Hollow thud of prayer drum,
Robbing me of my precious sleep,
Would I be angry now?

She barks again.
This time no anger.

 

LUANG PRABANG IS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOTS IN LAOS.

Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until King Phothisarat moved the administrative seat to Vientiane in 1545. Regardless, it has continued to overlook Vientiane as the destination of choice with its amalgamation of crumbling French architecture, glistening temples and extensive natural beauty.and former royal palaces to over 33 Wats (temples).

A BIT OF HISTORY

History

Muang Sua was the old name of Luang Prabang following its conquest in 698 A.D. by a Tai prince, Khun Lo, who seized his opportunity when Nan-chao was engaged elsewhere. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom, who is associated with the Lao legend of the creation of the world, which the Lao share with the Shan and other peoples of the region. Khun Lo established a dynasty whose fifteen rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for the better part of a century.

In the second half of the 8th century, Nan-chao intervened frequently in the affairs of the principalities of the middle Mekong Valley, resulting in the occupation of Muang Sua in 709. Nan-chao princes or administrators replaced the aristocracy of Tai overlords. Dates of the occupation are not known, but it probably ended well before the northward expansion of the Khmer empire under Indravarman I (r. 877-89) and extended as far as the territories of Sipsong Panna on the upper Mekong.

In the meantime, the Khmers founded an outpost at Xay Fong near Vientiane, and Champa expanded again in southern Laos, maintaining its presence on the banks of the Mekong until 1070. Chanthaphanit, the local ruler of Xay Fong, moved north to Muang Sua and was accepted peacefully as ruler after the departure of the Nan-chao administrators. Chanthaphanit and his son had long reigns, during which the town became known by the Tai name Xieng Dong Xieng Thong. The dynasty eventually became involved in the squabbles of a number of principalities. Khun Chuang, a warlike ruler who may have been a Kammu (alternate spellings include Khamu and Khmu) tribesman, extended his territory as a result of the warring of these principalities and probably ruled from 1128 to 1169. Under Khun Chuang, a single family ruled over a far-flung territory and reinstituted the Siamese administrative system of the 7th century. At some point, Theravada Buddhism was subsumed by Mahayana Buddhism.

Xieng Dong Xieng Thong experienced a brief period of Khmer suzerainty under Jayavarman VII from 1185 to 1191. By 1180 the Sipsong Panna had regained their independence from the Khmers, however, and in 1238 an internal uprising in the Khmer outpost of Sukhothai expelled the Khmer overlords. Xieng Dong Xieng Thong in 1353 became the capital of Lan Xang. The capital was moved in 1560 by King Setthathirath I to Vientiane, which remains the capital today.

In 1707, Lan Xang fell apart and Luang Prabang became the capital of the independent Luang Prabang kingdom. When France annexed Laos, the French recognized Luang Prabang as the royal residence of Laos. Eventually, the ruler of Luang Prabang became synonymous with the figurehead of the French Protectorate of Laos. When Laos achieved independence, the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong, became the head of state for the Kingdom of Laos.

During World War II the Japanese occupied the city although it remained under nominal Vichy French control. On March 9, 1945, independence was declared for Laos, and Luang Prabang was the capital. After the Japanese surrender, Colonel Hans Imfeld, commissioner of the French Republic, entered Luang Prabang on 25 August 1945 with a party of Franco-Laotian guerrillas and received assurances from the king that the protectorate was still in force.

Luang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom (Lan Xang – land of the million elephants) from 1353 onwards. The city owes its present name to the “Pha Bang”, a revered Buddha image (now in the Royal Palace Museum) which was brought to the city by King Visoun during the golden age of Lan Xang in the early 1500s.

The fragmentation of the Lao kingdom at the end of the 16th century saw Luang Prabang become a militarily weak independent city state paying tribute to the surrounding kingdoms. Ultimately the 1887 sacking of the city by the Chinese Haw lead the Luang Prabang monarchy to accept the protection of the French, whose influence led to the construction of the many fine colonial villas that sit harmoniously alongside the traditional Lao architecture.

The city fell into decline in the latter half of the twentieth century following the reluctant withdrawal of the French and the 1975 revolution which brought an end to the Luang Prabang monarchy, although the relative poverty of newly-independent Laos perhaps helped save Luang Prabang from the ravages of 20th century city planning.

The reopening of Laos to tourism in 1989 resulted in a remarkable turnaround in the city’s fortunes, as crumbling timber houses and colonial mansions were sensitively restored and transformed into immaculate guesthouses and boutique hotels. In 1995 the city was placed on UNESCOs world heritage list.

Muang Sua was the old name of Luang Prabang following its conquest in 698 A.D. by a Tai prince, Khun Lo, who seized his opportunity when Nan-chao was engaged elsewhere. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom, who is associated with the Lao legend of the creation of the world, which the Lao share with the Shan and other peoples of the region. Khun Lo established a dynasty whose fifteen rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for the better part of a century.

Alms ceremony— Monks at dawn collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers.Each temple takes a different route around town, making sure that there is a steady flow and pace as the monks receive their alms (food donations).

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

MONKS COLLECTING ALMS

Night market — The night market features vendors selling all the typical foods, and Lao arts and crafts.

NIGHT MARKET

NIGHT MARKET

NIGHT MARKETNIGHT MARKET

NIGHT MARKET

FRESH BAGUETTES

COLORFUL PARASOLS AT THE NIGHT MARKET

Haw Kham — The former royal palace. There’s also sometimes local drama or dance performances in the adjacent theatre.

ROYAL PALACE The old royal palace is a fascinating place. The main building, which was built in 1904, was taken over by the government after the 1975 revolution and opened as a museum in 1995. You walk through various huge reception rooms then through the throne room to the royal apartments which are virtually untouched since lived in by the king and queen. Also on the grounds is a beautiful new pavilion with a green and gold façade. Inside, the ornate room is completely red and gold with shimmering red mosaics and in the center is the Vor Prabang, which once yearly carries the statue of the Prabang Buddha next door to Wat Mai, the largest temple in town, during Lao New Year.ROYAL PALACE MUSEUMBuilt as a residence for King Sisavang Vong and his family in 1904 by the French, like Wat Xieng Thong the palace was built on the riverfront, to be in direct view of arriving official visitors. Displaying traditional Laos motifs fused with French beaux-art styles, many of the rooms have been preserved since the day of the revolution when the royal family was forced into exile by the Pathet Lao.Locals believe the palace to be haunted by ghosts and few will venture inside after dark. Inside, the walls feature murals and paintings depicting typical Laos life.

Vor Prabang, which once yearly carries the statue of the Prabang Buddha next door to Wat Mai, the largest temple in town, during Lao New Year.

DETAIL OF THE WINDOW                                                                                                                                              DETAIL

PILLARS CARVED AND COVERED IN GOLD LEAF

MOUNT PHOUSI

Rising from the center of town and forming something of a defining feature, Mount Phousi has temples scattered on all sides of its slopes and a panoramic view of the entire town from its summit. That Chomsi Stupa, built in 1804, is its crowning glory. Taking the path to the northeast, you will pass Wat Tham Phousi, which has a large-bellied Buddha, Kaccayana. Wat Phra Bat Nua, farther down, has a yard-long footprint of the Buddha. Be prepared for the 355 steps to get there.


View of Wat Chom Si on the summit of Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang.
WAT CHOM SI MOUNT PHOUSI LUANG PRABANG

VIEW OF THE ROYAL PALACE FROM THE TOP OF MOUNT PHOUSI

VIEW OF THE MEKONG RIVER FROM THE TOP OF MOUNT PHOUSI

BUDDHA STATUE  WAT THAM PHU SI

BUDDHA STATUE WAT THAM PHU SI

BUDDHA STATUE WAT THAM PHU SI

BUDDHA STATUE WAT THAM PHU SI

BUDDHA STATUES BUDDHA STATUE WAT THAM PHU SI

WAT THAM PHU SI

RECLINING BUDDHA STATUE WAT THAM PHU SI

BUDDHA'S FOOT PRINT - This Wat features a 3 meters long "footprint" of the Buddha. Such Buddha "footprints" are found in all Southeast Asian Buddhist countries. Usually they are richly decorated ornaments with the approximate outline of a footprint. They are supposed to express that the teachings of the Buddha have reached, and are respected, here.

NOVICES AT THE BUDDHIST MONASTERYPERFORMERS OF THE RAMAYAMA LUANG PRABANG

PERFORMERS OF THE RAMAYAMA LUANG PRABANG

PERFORMERS OF THE RAMAYAMA LUANG PRABANG

PERFORMERS OF THE RAMAYAMA LUANG PRABANG

PAK OU CAVES

Pak Ou Caves are 25 km from Luang Prabang. They are a magnificent group of caves that are only accessible by boat. The caves are noted for their impressive Lao style Buddha sculptures assembled over the centuries by local people and pilgrims. Hundreds of mostly wooden Buddhist figures are laid out over the floors and wall shelves. They take many different positions, including meditation, teaching, peace, rain, and nirvana.

ARRIVING AT THE PAK OU CAVES BY LONG BOATBUDDHA STATUES PAK OU CAVES

BUDDHA STATUES PAK OU CAVES

BUDDHA STATUES PAK OU CAVES

BUDDHA STATUES WITH A VIEW TO THE MEKONG RIVER

PHOTOS BY:

LEONARD EPSTEIN

JANELLE BURGESS


 
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