Three Days in Luang Prabang: A Conversation with Sharon Smith
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to Laos?
I live in New York City where I teach Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation; give astrological consultations, produce events, make films and take photographs. I recently traveled to Colombia where I taught a Qigong retreat.
I was traveling in Thailand where my one month visa was about to run out. I needed to make a run across the border in order to extend it In the past when I was in that situation, I went to Mae Sai at the Burmese border, walked across, had my passport stamped and came back to Thailand. But this time, I decided to catch a flight to Luang Prabang in Laos because I had heard that it was such a special place. I was not disappointed.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
I was there for three days. Mostly, I was interested in seeing the Buddhist culture there so I spent time visiting the temples, feeding the monks in the early morning, going on a boat trip on the Mekong River to the Pak Ou cave, and walking through the beautiful tropical landscape.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
The most memorable experience was witnessing the line of Buddhist monks coming down from their monasteries in the early morning. Buddhist monks live off of donations and it is considered an act of merit to give food to them. I did this every morning I was there. Local women sell sticky rice to the tourists and other pilgrims who come and people line up to put the food in the monks’ bowls.
The only thing I was disappointed in was the shopping. I thought the shopping would be more like it was in northern Thailand, but the local crafts were minimal and the night market was very small. Even so, I bought some beautiful silk wall hangings in a local village and a traditional long skirt like the ones the Lao women wear.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I had plenty of information before I arrived and felt very well prepared.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Definitely take a tour to the Pak Ou Caves by boat, visit a traditional Lao village, and see the countryside. Don’t be surprised by the local wine, which is bottled with a snake in it!
Wake up before 6 and walk to the main street where you can witness the beautiful procession of monks dressed in orange robes. The food was phenomenal! Definitely eat like a local. These experiences of local the local culture are what makes traveling such a rich experience.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to Luang Prabang?
Buddhist countries are very respectful toward women but it is important to cover up a bit when you visit a temple. Also, women are not supposed to physically touch a Buddhist monk so if you are feeding the monks, just put your food and drink in the bowl without touching the monk.