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A Spiritual and Shopping Trip to Luang Prabang, Laos

August 16, 2018

Luang Prabang has always been a special place to the author stemming from his time spent there some fifty years ago during the illegal war in Laos and to more modern times. Therefore, The Elephant Story, Sara Story Design and friends recently paid it a visit.

In the past, we had all received Buddhist monk blessings in Thailand, Cambodia and Bhutan whereby a cord was tied around one's wrist or neck. However, the Baci ceremony in Laos is more of an animistic ceremony led by a village elder shaman chanting in Pali Sanskrit to protect one from past spirits. The shaman is joined by other senior villagers who participate in the chanting and ceremony.

Each of the villagers tied a white cord around our wrists and a shot of potent Lao rice whiskey was passed around for all to sample. Two of us chose to go for second shots to strengthen the spirit protection. The center piece of the ceremony was then given to us to take to a monk blessing in a nearby Buddhist temple.

You would probably be shocked to see that the two happy guys walking into the Buddhist temple were the ones who had the double shots of Lao whiskey.

If you look carefully, you will see the flower centerpiece prominently placed on the temple altar as the monks chanted their evening prayers under the watchful eye of the youngest member of our party.

One is instructed to leave the cords on for at least three days. You might ask what one does with them after that? Place them in your Spirit House back home in your garden. Spirit Houses are essential to provide a home for spirits who occupied your land in the past. In our case, they were marauding Comanche Indians to whom we are providing their spirits a refuge.

The shopping phase of our outing focused on ethnic hill tribe Hmong fabrics and designs. When the author first touched down on the landing strip that today services commercial aircraft, the objective was not shopping. The order of that day was to oversee the aviation fuel that was pumped into vintage World War II T-28 trainer planes that had been armed with rockets and bombs and piloted by Hmong pilots for short distance missions. When you can hear the bombs explode, you know it is truly short distance. The small stature of the Hmong pilots required that wooden blocks be attached to the aircraft pedals.

As the U.S. was engaged in an illegal war, one did not have U.S. military planes much less U.S. military personnel. Therefore, the war was fought in absentia with mercenaries and contractors under the direction of the CIA. The Hmong people paid a horrific price for their involvement. Occasionally, the bad guys would pay a visit to our little base in Luang Prabang.

Certainly, Luang Prabang is a kinder, gentler place today. Upon first visit, the author was initially a bit unnerved to monitor a base in a location surrounded by North Vietnamese tanks. Moreover, all of the good guys with guns flew home every evening to safer locations in Vientiane, Laos or Nakorn Phanom, Thailand. However, from that time on the Hmong people have always occupied a special place for those who knew them. In today's world, many of the shops feature traditional Hmong textiles and others have more modern products that display Hmong-based designs.

The Heritage Textile shop carries a wide range of Hmong textiles but also offers other hill tribe fabrics such as the Yao tribal shaman coat in the background. As you can see, the people are still quite small in stature but have huge hearts and compassion. We also went wild at the night market which was filled with Hmong textiles.

Another fascinating development is the application of Hmong designs to modern textiles and home products. You can walk out of the very hip Passa Paa shop in Luang Prabang to see silk screen designs placed on cloth to be used as hand towels for subsequent sale in the shop. Hmong designs are also incorporated into leather home products. You would probably be shocked to learn that a box with fifty-five pounds of purchases was sent home to The Elephant Story.

For the adventuresome crowd seeking entertainment, we would recommend the Motorcycle Club Bar. The owners, our friend, Khun Jason and his partner, Khun Nut, provide generous and provocative drinks as well as entertainment in what is otherwise a pretty sleepy town.

Luang Prabang comes more highly recommended and infinitely safer today than in the past. Where else can you find such wonderful spirituality, shopping and consumable spirits with such fascinating people.


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