Luang Prabang: A Village Wakes Up

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It was six in the morning and I sat on the balcony of our simple guesthouse, relishing the slight chill in the air and smooth teak floors under my bare feet. I was watching and listening as the day came to life. I wanted to soak it all in.

A door creaked and the young wife across the street emerged, gingerly carrying something. She placed a protective votive of marigolds wrapped in banana leaves on the windshield of her husband’s white truck; said a prayer and patted the hood to keep him safe for the day.

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Mornings in Luang Prabang engaged all my senses. Neighborhood roosters announced the day while drowsy women swept sidewalks with their fluffy brooms. Yawning shopkeepers opened their doors, and the toddler across the street sucked on her juice cup and giggled as her teenage sister started her scooter to head off to school.

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The sun had just popped over the misty mountains, framed by roof tops and palm trees. Grandmothers stoked breakfast cooking fires, and even the smoke smelled delicious. It reminded me of a camping morning. I felt like Pavlov’s dog anticipating treats to come.


Sleepy backpackers rolled in from an early-morning bus arrival, toting their cumbersome loads, Kelty and North Face strapped both front and back. I wondered, What in the world are they carrying in those massive backpacks? They were looking for a place to stay and I overheard part of their rate negotiation with the proprietor. “We can only afford $5 per person. $10! No, that’s too much.” So they ambled on down the road … with attitude.



The street vendors started their daily parade, selling, everything from fruit juice and sticky rice, to charcoal and rope. My favorite “plant lady” passed by with her bamboo pole laden with a basket balanced on each end, stuffed with staghorn ferns! Who would have guessed those were a door-to-door product?

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Next came the serious, young Buddhist monks clad in saffron on their regular morning trek to receive alms from the faithful.


But my favorite event of the morning was “The Haircut on the Curb.” For most families, the street out front is an extension of their living space, used daily for routine chores. The Shopkeeper Dad next door is dedicated to his two cute sons, regularly comforting them when they fall; feeding them dinner in the evening while Mom minds the cash register. That morning must have been something special because Dad brought big brother out to the curb for a haircut before school. You could sense the love … and Dad seemed to know what he was doing!


Luang Prabang is a very special place – one of my favorite stops on our RTW. I knew I was going to miss the daily rhythm of life … but it will always be with me. I’ve read many other traveler’s accounts of visiting LP several years ago, and how it’s changed – become more commercial and overrun by tourists. I can see that … and I wish I could have seen it then. But I am content.




We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

34 thoughts

  1. Oh my! What beautiful writing, Terri! What gorgeous photos! And such a peaceful, beautiful, morning buzz of life feeling came over me as I was soaked into your experience. Thank you so very much for sharing. This is what travel is all about. This is what education and the experience of a culture is meant to be. Have a beautiful week, both of you. xx

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. Your kind words make me blush. 🙂 I love your phrase “buzz of life.” So true! Mornings in LP were almost surreal – one of those situations where an hour passes and you don’t even realize it. James and I call it “time out of time.” With all of your travel, have you encountered the same feeling somewhere? ~ Terri

    1. Thank you, Tricia. So glad you stopped by. Luang Prabang was one of those wonderful places we discovered when we were researching our second RTW. It just sounded too good to be true! It’s one of those places discovered many years ago by intrepid backpackers, and the rest of us followed. If Laos is ever on your travel radar, it’s a joy to spend time there. All the best, Terri

  2. I totally agree with Liz. It’s beautiful writing, and I enjoy reading it a lot ad feel as if I were there witness the whole thing by myself. Thank you.

    1. Many, many thanks Helen. So glad that you enjoyed it, I’ve really been enjoying your writing about your sisters and parents. I have 3 sisters and they’re my best friends. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

    1. Alison, thanks so much. I thoroughly enjoyed all your excellent posts from LP – like you we stayed way longer than we had originally planned. And I would happily return. (: Are you still in New Zealand or have you moved on to new adventures? ~Terri

      1. The blog is always about 3 to 4 months behind lol. We left NZ late March and travelled around Australia’s Top End. Since early May we’ve been back in Vancouver but leave again in 2 days for WA and then Sweden. So much to blog about, so little time. Sigh.

      2. That sounds like a great trip, Alison – and the perfect time of year to visit lovely Sweden. We spent some time there last fall and can’t wait to return. Where will you be visiting? ~Terri

      3. Don’s son and his wife and family live there so it’s a family visit – they have a bit of land and an old farmhouse that’s their summer play place (lol they call it Southfork) – it’s about a half hour or so from Vastervik which is on the east coast.

  3. Very well said Terri. You really brought LP to life with your words and photos. And you could really see the focus on the haircut. I don’t know if I mentioned to James and you that I’ll be off for a couple of months from blogging. I’ve got several other things to catch up with plus play. So, after Friday’s post on the Grand Canyon trip I’ll be off until September. Have a great summer. –Curt

    1. Curt, thanks so much for the sweet words. LP was one of those places that captured my heart – hook, line, and sinker. I totally LOVE the idea that you’re taking the summer off from blogging to pursue other interests. We’ve been so blindsided by the amount of work required on our new townhouse and I know that we haven’t had the blog presence we strive for. I think it’s fabulous you’re taking the summer off … and I’m totally jealous. Have a glorious summer, know that you will be missed, and we’ll see you in September – didn’t I just sound totally Frankie Valli. 🙂 All the best, Terri

    1. The sweeping is a wonderful ritual, Susan – almost a meditation. And you see it all over the world. I particularly liked observing the tradition in Ubud, Bali where women first sweep and then place a lovely votive offering of flowers and food for the gods. 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Thanks a bunch, Steph. Like you, we have places that have captured our hearts and won’t let go. I loved your post on Ubud, another exceptional place. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. We are on our journey home Terri. We are overnight in Toronto and headed to Calgary with many memories, scads of photos and a love of South America. 🙂

      2. It’s always over too quickly, Sue. We love to do a final wrap-up of a journey over a glass of wine – complete with our journal entries and drawings. 🙂 Do you and Dave have a tradition to wrap up a trip? ~Terri

      3. Usually on our last night , over a beer or glass of wine, we ask each other what was the best thing, what was the worst, what would we do differently. I may have to start taking notes because we often talk about not jamming the schedule so tightly and yet we keep doing it. 🙂

  4. The hi lite of my SE Asia trip was LP. I left my heart there and that was in 2010. I understand it has changed even more, but I could go back. You convey the inner spirit and uniqueness of LP beautifully, Terri. Thanks for taking me back.

    1. You are so welcome, Lynne – totally my pleasure. I’ve talked with several people who visited before us and were disenchanted with their second visit. It seemed that since LP had been “discovered” the place seemed more worldly to them. We had a similar impression on our second trip to Ubud, Bali – I guess it’s tough to recapture the original magic of a place. That said, I too would return to LP in a heartbeat! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Thanks so much Shellecia. Luang Prabang is one of those magical places that stays with you long after you’re gone – like Anguilla! 🙂 So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

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