Our last day in Luang Prabang was a short one since we were supposed to fly out for Cambodia in the afternoon (more on that later). So we got ourselves up early in order to catch the morning tak bat alms ceremony in the center of town. This ceremony is performed every morning at sunrise by the monks at the center of town. I don’t know the actual count, but I’d say around 100 monks, dressed in their bright orange robes, ages ranging from young boys to grandpas, walk in a single file line down the street accepting sticky rice from worshipers. This rice is not eaten by the monks, but offered to the Buddha when they return to the wat. It’s a unique experience to see and one worth waking up before sunrise for. If you do go to observe, don’t be a douche; respect the locals worshiping. It’s poor taste to get in the way of the procession to take flash photos, and in my opinion if you’re not going to actually participate you should keep back a bit.
After the tak bat alms ceremony, we walked over to the Royal Palace Museum which is located where the Night Market is held. The Royal Palace cost 30K kip to enter and houses an impressive display of royal thrones, garments, Buddhas, and swords. Outside the palace, you can see the 83 cm-tall gold-alloy Buddha statue, which supposedly is what the city is named after. Sadly, no photos are allowed once you get into the palace, so I’ll just need to describe to you some of the highlights.
The interior architecture is made up of a lavish Japanese glass mosaic that is truly impressive. The bedrooms, throne halls, and reception rooms are all view-able throughout the palace. Be sure to look at the paintings of the story of Prince Wetsantara as you walk down the hallways; its actually a very interesting fable and the story is broken up into a dozen paintings or so. Also, one thing to check out is the reception room with all the gifts from other countries to the king. Most countries gave a precious artifact or something that represented their country (for instance jade bowls, swords, jewelry, things of that nature). Then you get to the US display. What did they give Laos? A shitty model of the lunar module that looked like a 12-year-old put together. Now, that’s what we thought when we first saw it – my buddy and I were laughing in the museum about it. It wasn’t until we looked it up after that we found out that the model itself wasn’t the gift. Unlabeled was an actual piece of moon rock that was offered as a gift. Well done US.
After that, we made our way back to Le Bel Air to check out and headed to the airport. On a trip as ambitious as ours, we would have been really lucky if we didn’t hit any travel snags, and in general we didn’t. But inevitably, if you do do a trip like ours, something will come up and in our case it was a 6-hour delay at the Luang Prabang airport. Annoyingly, our Vietnam Airlines flight was delayed due to mechanical issues coming out of Hanoi so we were stuck in the airport for half the day. If we had known it was as delayed as it was, we would have just stayed in Luang Prabang for the afternoon. But instead we were bored out of our minds in the tiny Luang Prabang airport and missed some valuable sightseeing time in Cambodia. Vietnam Airlines did try to accommodate the passengers by providing food, but the “hamburger” they gave us was…well…pretty gross. We did eventually make it to Siem Riep, Cambodia, although late at night, for the final leg of our journey.