Finding “Kamma” in Luang Prabang

BBC + Rosewood Hotels & Resorts · April 1, 2017

The uniquely Lao philosophy of doing good permeates life in the city.

Wandering through yet another immaculately kept temple in Luang Prabang town, the air heavy with the scent of a thousand frangipani trees, it’s easy to lose yourself in the soothing spiritualism that is embodied in this ancient town. Bo peng yang (no problem) is the mantra of Laos, a modern-day interpretation of the Theravada Buddhist belief of kamma: do good and live peacefully, for you reap what you sow, in this life and the next. It’s taken quite literally in Luang Prabang where traffic is scarce, cafés spill onto pavements and a smile and a sabaidee (hello) are always returned.

Luang Prabang has an impressive 32 temples, many of which are home to Laos’ iconic saffron-robed monks who come from around the country to study, pray and meditate. All Lao boys of adolescent age spend at least three months as novice monks in a temple; some stay for years. They forsake money and possessions and eat only in the morning, relying on alms-givers; a practice which accumulates kamma for all involved. Orange-clothed monks with their shaved heads, sun umbrellas and simple black rubber slippers are a familiar yet unforgettable sight in this spiritual town.

Rise early before the sun to see sai bat, the morning alms, where hundreds of monks stream out of the temples to collect alms from the faithful kneeling in the road. Keep a respectful distance before following on to the temples. Wat Xieng Thong is particularly beautiful at this time, when the early sun glimmers on its exquisite glass mosaic tree, etched gold ceiling and reclining Buddha. Built in 1560, this is one of the town’s most spiritual places. Wat Mai is also unmissable with its ornate five-tiered roof and intricate gold-etched walls, columns and ceilings. Adjoining the popular night market and Royal Palace Museum, it dates back to the early 19th century.

If sunrise is not your time, climb the 300 well-worn stone steps up to Luang Prabang’s most revered temple, Wat That Chomsi, which sits atop Mount Phousi. The views over the town and river are best enjoyed with a magnificent mountain sunset. Descend the other side towards the river and stop for a chat with one of the resident novice monks; they love to practise their English.

If it’s your own interpretation of kamma you seek, discover your inner spirituality with Meditation, a permanent photography exhibition at Wat Khili – part of a 23-year project by photographer Hans Georg Berger that showcases how intrinsical meditation is to the monks through a series of black-and-white images of them meditating in the forest around Luang Prabang. Set in this ancient temple at the heart of the peninsula, and recently restored by the Buddhist Heritage Project, Wat Khili includes a 200-year-old manuscript library, a wonderful insight into Lao Buddhist history for those who speak and read the native tongue, and with some translated to English, it is also a fascinating historical archive for visitors to view.

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Written By: BBC + Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

4.1.17

Locations: Luang Prabang

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