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The next morning, we got up at 5 a.m. to watch the much-photographed daily ritual of monks walking the streets to receive food alms from local people. (If you do an online image search for “Luang Prabang monks,” a picture of this will most likely come up.) Starting at dawn, the monks from each of the 30+ wats walk through town in their bright orange robes, receiving food in the silver urns that hang from their necks like sling bags. What they receive is what they will eat for the day. It’s quite a procession.

Most guidebooks suggest that tourists maintain a respectful distance, although you can make an offering if you want to. Some people participate, but most either stand and watch, or, more annoyingly, get in the monks’ faces with their cameras. Mel and I are not particularly spiritual, so we observed from across the street as a few groups passed. And then I took a photo as discreetly as I could.

The monks seemed to walk in order of seniority, with the oldest leading the way. Some of the boys at the end looked very young – 11 or 12, maybe – and very sleepy. Hell, I was sleepy and I wasn’t marching around at 6 a.m.

It was over in a matter of minutes.

It was too early to go back to the hotel to have breakfast, so we took a stroll through the morning market, which was already full of shoppers and very lively. Along with the standard fresh fruits and vegetables for sale, there were also many items we had never seen before.

silkworm larvae and round, brown things – mushrooms, maybe?

chicken legs akimbo

colorful mushrooms and roasted rats

bats and cucumbers

meat in the backseat

blood bouillon cubes!

I didn’t think it was possible, but I swear the day was turning out to be hotter than the day before. By around noon, the sun made us feel like vampires – oh, the burning! No wonder most of the locals disappear around midday, although we did see a few young girls riding their bicycles around town wearing jeans, which really blew my mind. Talk about acclimation.

hot dogs

cat on a hot satin cushion

Later that night we bought devil dolls, a Buddha and a small handbag at the night market.

The purse, made by a Hmong woman out of recycled fabrics, was the exact shape of a single roll of toilet paper. We speculated it was meant to carry around for those trips to the public restroom. The awesome dolls came from a different Hmong woman – a grandma sitting by herself with a dozen handstitched dolls unlike any others we’d seen at the night market. They were crude, but hilarious. All the other vendors at the market were producing classic Hmong patterns in traditional genres, but this granny was obviously following her own creative muse. We bought almost everything she had while the women around her watched in shock and awe.

A few more photos from our last days in Luang Prabang:

happy mutt

classroom at the UNESCO/New Zealand-funded arts school at Wat Xieng Muan

tiny Wat Pa Huak on the lower slope of Phu Si hill

beautiful bodhi tree

The next morning, the day of our departure, we went to a very popular tourist cafe close to the hotel that was oddly, disconcertingly Western. On the menu: smoothies, muffins, Italian syrup sodas, pizza and quiche, among other things. I broke down and ordered a bagel sandwich (I know, I know) and the most delicious mint-tea shaved-ice concoction. Oh, man.

I don’t know where they imported the ingredients for the sandwich, but it tasted exactly like they do in California. It was bizarre.

In that same cafe, I recognized a woman I’d sat next to in a restaurant in Santa Monica the week before the trip. Even more bizarre.

And then we had to leave.

So long, Laos, it was really nice knowing you.

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