Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

End of Buddhist Lent and Loi Krathong in Luang Prabang – Part I

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.

We loved the Lao Airlines policy of boarding the youngest children first. They actually shepherded us from the back of the waiting room through the crowed already gathered at the gate.

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.

I highly recommend Maison Souvannaphoum because it is within walking distance from the main part of town and has a pool. Most hotels with pools in Luang Prabang are farther away from town. You can get a pretty good rate on http://www.agoda.com.

Really, I can’t tell you enough how happy I am that my husband started carrying a camera for moments like these.

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!

Making “Krathong” offerings to float down the river. See the stacks of cut up banana tree trunks on the left. The use of styrofoam floats have (thankfully) been banned.

Not really even trying to sell their “Krathongs”. Just sitting around casually making them, chatting, holding a newborn baby, and enjoying the evening breeze along the Mekong River.

So colorful by day but can you imagine hundreds of these with their candles and incense sticks lit floating down a dark river in the night?

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.

 The entrance of Wat Mahathat.

Wat Mahathat crisscrossed with paper lanterns. Photo credit to G. (See what I mean about him carrying a camera?)

Lanterns at Wat Xieng Thong. I can’t imagine seeing these places without all the lanterns!

I have a hard time photographing monks because of the stories I’ve read about rude, inappropriate tourists. Still not sure how I feel after taking these but here are some novice monks painting a paper boat.

Wish I could have jumped right in and paint the boat with them! (But then I’d really be an inappropriate tourist as women are not supposed to interact much with monks.)

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).

Golden and oh so peaceful.

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…


Click here for Part II and Part III.

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13 comments on “End of Buddhist Lent and Loi Krathong in Luang Prabang – Part I

  1. wonderlandwanderess
    November 9, 2012

    Gorgeous pictures! Thanks for sharing…

  2. lidipiri
    November 5, 2012

    I absolutely loved this post. Luang Prabang is close to my heart.
    And that photo of you and your baby is just precious!
    Oh, neither are the rest of them!!!

  3. Dani
    November 5, 2012

    love the pictures of the krathongs and that last photo from the night market? Wow I can completely understand why seeing it would be such a “oooh I have to get out there!” moment. Beautiful pictures!

    • Wanderlustress
      November 5, 2012

      The last photo was at a temple called Wat Mai. He stumbled upon it while going through the night market. When I finally did “get out there” the following evening, I found it all to be just stunning.

  4. SK
    November 4, 2012

    LOVE your photos. I’m yearning to go back again one day. Thank you so much for sharing your life in Laos with us : )

  5. travelerlynne
    November 4, 2012

    What a magical time to be there…lanterns all lit up. I was in Luang Prabang in 2010 and just loved it. Want to go back.

    • Wanderlustress
      November 5, 2012

      Laos is addictive. So many people who come to Laos for work end up staying for a very long time. We just met a family finally returning to the UK after 11 years here!

  6. Lydia
    November 4, 2012

    Beautiful photos. I was just there a few months back and I can’t wait to return to Luang Prabang some day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Wanderlustress
      November 4, 2012

      Thanks Lydia! I remember how excited you made me to come to Laos with all of your beautiful posts. I can hardly believe that I am actually here experiencing all this wonderful stuff (after getting over the rough transition). Surreal!

  7. Swim
    November 4, 2012

    Really gorgeous pictures! Your post inspired me to look at Laos for my next long-term trip. Thank you!

    • Wanderlustress
      November 4, 2012

      That’s great! Laos is such a wonderful country, and a must see before the current pace of economic development efforts take over. We are looking forward to more local travel, especially down south. Let me know if you have any questions for planning your trip.

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