Baci Ceremony

We participated in a very moving ceremony known as Su Khouan (Calling of the Soul), at the Amantaka just before sunset. We were met by one of the village elders accompanied by five older ladies who were all seated on the ground around a Pah Khouan (a beautiful vertical tower of offering trays). After paying our respects, we touched the Pah Khouan as the mo pohn (village elder) chanted a mantra calling upon the wandering Khouan to return and inhabit our bodies. “The Khouan are 32 spirits believed to watch over the human body’s 32 organs which are thought to constitute a person’s spiritual essence”. When he finished the invocation, he placed some symbolic food into our upturned hands and then took a white cotton thread from the Pha Khouan and tied it around each of our wrists to bind the Khouan in place. Two other women also tied a thread. Afterwards, he chanted a shorter version of the invocation to strengthen the power of the blessings. The ceremony ended with all of us touching the Pah Khouan again.

Tip: If you want your wishes to come true, keep the strings tied around your wrist(s) for at least three days but it’s best to let them fall off naturally. If you want to remove them after three days, untie the strings instead of cutting them as the good wishes might be severed.

Exterior View - Luang Prabang Wats,Luang Prabang, Laos

 - Courtesy Laos Tourism

Luang Prabang Wats

The town of Luang Prabang is famous for its more than thirty wats (temples) that are scattered throughout the town, happily coexisting besides schools, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Many of them have small dormitories for the many young monks studying in Luang Prabang, which makes them feel full of life.

The most historically important—and oldest—temple is Wat Xiengthong at the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula. Its most ancient structures hail from 1560 and each building of the compound boasts stunning decorative details (don’t miss the Tree of Life mosaic on the back of the Ordination Hall). The elaborate gilded pagoda on the top of the central temple indicates that Xienthong was a temple supported by the royal family. Another important (but lesser visited) temple is Wat Sene, across the street from Bat Vat Sene. Its Thai-style façade is a gorgeous patchwork of red and gold. The third-most important Buddhist site locals will steer you towards is That Chomsi on top of Mount Phou Si.

Exterior View - Mount Phou Si,Luang Prabang, Laos

Mount Phou Si

Luang Prabang centers around this steep hill, which is topped by gilded Wat Chom Si, one of the town’s main Buddhist Temples. It’s tiny on the inside but the gilded stupa can be seen from afar, including the terraces of La Résidence and Kiridara. The mount can be scaled via two steep staircases. The one that starts in town (across the street from the Royal Palace) has slightly fewer steps than the one on the Nam Khan river side, though views from a top the latter are more stunning. Sunrise and sunset are the best (and busiest) times to go. Seeing as this is right in the center of Luang Prabang, you will never have Mount Phou Si all to yourself but the mix of visitors and locals on pilgrimage, including many of the town’s young monks, is fun.

Statue at Pak Ou Caves, Luang Prabang, Laos - Courtesy Laos Tourism

Pak Ou Caves

The staff at the Amantaka suggested we be on the boat that would take us to the Pak Ou Caves at 8 a.m., which seemed early, but we were told the later it gets masses of other tourists start arriving. We were also told to dress warmly as mornings are chilly, especially on the river.

Once on board, we were served a delicious breakfast and then we moved towards the bow to a platform area with cushions and thick white shawls where we lolled about for the really pretty 1½ hour trip up the Mekong. An entertaining sight to see along the way is the passengers in “speed boats” wearing crash helmets and life preservers as it’s a fast but dangerous way to get up the river due to rocks and floating logs. Once at the Pak Ou Caves, you walk up steps in the limestone cliff to the first cave which is filled with Buddha statues dating from the 16th century. There used to be about 4,000 of them but many disintegrated due to age or have been stolen. For us, the higher, empty cave was way too far to consider.

TIP: Request the nicer of Amantaka’s two boats, Muayai, which is only chartered to one party (from 1 person up to 10).

Editors' Picks
Exterior View - Royal Palace Museum,Luang Prabang, Laos

Royal Palace Museum

The old royal palace is a fascinating place. The main building, which was built in 1904, was taken over by the government after the 1975 revolution and opened as a museum in 1995. You walk through various huge reception rooms then through the throne room to the royal apartments which are virtually untouched since lived in by the king and queen. Also on the grounds is a beautiful new pavilion with a green and gold façade. Inside, the ornate room is completely red and gold with shimmering red mosaics and in the center is the Vor Prabang, which once yearly carries the statue of the Prabang Buddha next door to Wat Mai, the largest temple in town, during Lao New Year.

Tak Bat

Every morning around 5.30 to 6 a.m. is the Tak Bat, where the monks and novices of the 30-plus temples accept alms (sticky rice) from the locals. It’s still cold, dark and quiet and then suddenly, all one hears is the sound of walking and they appear out of the fog in single file. It’s a beautiful and humbling sight.

Indagare Tip: While a lot of vendors will offer you baskets of sticky rice to buy and present to the monks, it’s best to just stand back and observe Tak Bat as a tourist. First of all, the quality of the sticky rice varies (some monks have gotten sick from badly made rice brought by tourists) and this daily tradition is really one specific to Luang Prabang locals. Also, while photography is not forbidden, be respectful of the procession. Do not use your flash and don’t walk up too close to the monks. Their daily ritual is already one of the most observed and documented in Luang Prabang.

A good spot to witness the procession is close to the 3 Nagas hotel, as the main stretch of Sisavangvung is crammed with camera-toting tourists. After seeing the saffron-colored procession, have a coffee at Le Benetton. Afterwards, it’s a great time to visit the local fresh market, which is in full gear by that time.

Apparel at Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre,Luang Prabang, Laos

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre

There are some thirty ethnic tribes in Laos, a surprising number considering the country is about the size of the state of Michigan. The traditional arts, crafts and daily life of some of the larger tribes are on view at this excellent small cultural center at the edge of town. It’s a wonderful introduction to the colorful, woven textiles you will see at many of the shops in town. There’s also a good boutique and its Le Patio Café is run by the people behind acclaimed L’Elephant and Coconut Garden restaurants. Interested clients can sign up for weaving workshops. The Centre is close to the Night Market and open until 6 p.m.

Interiors at Victoria Xiengthong Palace, Luang Prabang, Laos

Wat Xieng Thong

One of the oldest (1560) and most important temples in the country, Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple) sits at the tip of town, where the Khan River meets the Mekong. The various temples in the complex are decorated with intricate and colorful mirrored mosaics inside and out. One of the buildings was a royal funeral chapel with a huge golden funeral chariot built in the form of several bodies of parallel naga with fangs and long tongues curling out. It’s very dramatic.

Editors' Picks
Aerial View-Waterfalls ,Luang Prabang, Laos-Courtesy Laos Tourism


The Kuang Si and Tad Se waterfalls are in every guide book and while spectacular natural sites, they can be touristy during peak times (late afternoon is the best time to visit). The turquoise water, which gushes down a mountainside, is beautiful and swimming in the pools can be nice when the timing is right.

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Indagare employees walking up stiars

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