Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
The day of the 11th full moon marks the end of the Buddhist lent three month retreat and is a highly celebrated occasion in Laos. This year it fell on October 31st which traditionally is Halloween for us Americans but I made an executive decision for our family to not miss this special local tradition and planned a trip to experience the festivities in the amazing UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang in the norther part of Laos.
The kids rebelled against their hot and scratchy Halloween costumes which I ordered by mail anyway, so why fight it? I know in my mind that missing out on Halloween is not a big deal whatsoever but my guilty mommy-heart felt like I wasn’t doing enough to keep up with American customs while living overseas. Well that guilt melted away pretty quickly once we arrived in peaceful, laid-back, and picturesque Luang Prabang.
Even before we left Vientiane, the excitement for an adventure started to build up for all of us.
Despite all the excitement though, I’ve learned that traveling with kids can come with a lot of angst and stress about new surroundings and the unfamiliar, which is why I decided to book a hotel with a swimming pool – something they love to do no matter where we are and it helps them to quickly feel happy and at ease in a new place. So even though I was pretty antsy to start exploring the town, we headed straight to the pool for a swim and some lunch.
The mere fact that Luang Prabang has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site tells you that it will be an amazing place, but there is very little that will tell you how truly special and magical it would be to visit during the end of Buddhist lent festivities. The whole town was alive with excitement and festivity preparations by the locals, at times making us tourists feel like an after thought. Not to criticize the customer service standards by any means. If anything it felt privileged just to be present and witness their traditions. At a riverside cafe one afternoon, the waitress would go back to making the offering floats (“Krathong”) in between servicing our food, while others prepared a seating area for the monks who will later come in the evening to bless them while candle and incense-lit offerings float down the river behind them. It was all so exciting to watch and feel their anticipation!
In addition to the activity of making floats, the entire town was festooned with paper lanterns ranging from the very simple to huge ornate ones. There were also large colorfully decorated and painted paper boats that had either candles or small kerosene bottles set inside ready to light up the festivities of the evening.
That evening we had a sunset dinner along the Mekong River and guess what, that was pretty spectacular too. Sitting under large canopy trees while boats sputtered by on the river, feeling the cool mountain breeze in one of the most beautiful settings in the world…not even two tired cranky little kids could ruin the magic of it (at least not for a few moments anyway).
Needless to say, our senses were overwhelmed (in a good way) and we were all tired at the end of our first day. After the kids fell asleep, I encouraged my husband to go out and explore the night market and I was glad (though envious) that he went…because he brought back this picture of Wat Mai all lit up in lanterns and it made me so excited for the next day that I could barely fall asleep…