22 July 2018

Did Buddha Sleep Here?

In a way, Luang Prabang reminds me of Florence:  It's not very big, with only four major streets, all of which run the length of the peninsula.  This means that if you're on a bike, no place is more than a few minutes from anyplace else.  

Another thing the onetime capital of Laos has in common with the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance is that it's full of artistic and cultural treasures.  Not surprisingly, both cities are UNESCO World Heritage sites and attract visitors from far and wide.

One difference to me, though, is that I felt the presence of those travelers much more in Florence than I do here.  Granted, there aren't as many tourists here as there were in Venice, in part because this isn't the peak tourist season in most of Southeast Asia and, perhaps, because Luang Prabang isn't quite as well-known as Florence. But visitors here don't seem to fill up the narrow streets and to simply "take over" as they do in the Italian city.  So, everything seems so much less pressured here:  the "vibe", if you will, is actually quite calm.

I was mulling this comparison on my way to a shop that rents bikes when I bumped into Heiko and Pamela, two German tourists.  The shop wanted our passports as a "deposit"; we all agreed that we don't hand our passports to anyone who isn't a border control agent of a country we are entering.  As far as I know, no such international boundary exists around that shop.

So I suggested that we take a walk down a street called "Utopia" (really!) I had walked it yesterday, and I seemed to recall seeing a rental shop or two. Whether they would demand our passports, I didn't know.

As we were walking, Heiko articulated exactly what I had been thinking about Luang Prabang. "It's interesting, but so peaceful," he said.  "People don't seem to get upset or impatient."

We wondered whether it might have something to do with all of those monks and meditations in Luang Prabang.  Everywhere you turn, you see the monks, some of whom look too young for puberty, in their saffron robes.  And those temples are all over the city.

The cycling was really good, especially after we crossed this wooden bridge 

leading out of the city and into the countryside.

It was calm there, too, but that wasn't a surprise given what we've experienced here. Why, there's even a place in the city that's decorated in gold and red felt as if it were bluer than the Blue Mosque:

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, referred to as simply the Wat Mai, is so calm that, behind the Buddha that stands over everything, I found this:

No wonder this city can "slow your pulse," as the editors Lonely Planet claim.

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