As the spiritual centre of Laos, Luang Prabang is home to many of the country’s most revered and beautiful temples. More accurately, these are temple-monastery complexes called ‘wats’, and they are the heart of regional Buddhist practice and education. Situated throughout the town and in the surrounding countryside, the wats are home to monks and novices from around the country and each forms the core of the neighbourhood surrounding it. You might notice that many of the neighbourhoods or villages–‘ban’ is the term for these–are in fact named for their wats.
The dozens of wats within the city — and the many more just outside of it — offer fascinating insights into the culture of the the city and the country. Historically, each lay at the centre of its village; within Luang Prabang city, as each ban grew over the centuries, these merged into a single community while retaining their own special identities. Each wat today remains the centre of many daily ceremonies and rituals, some private, others public, that are woven into the fabric of everyday life of those who live around it. More than being sites for worship, these are places of giving, sharing, celebrating, and, above all, learning.
You’ll see monks and novices of all ages around Luang Prabang. Many of the younger novices join wats not only to earn merit for themselves and their families, but also to receive a good, free general education (one that often includes study in English language). Unless you’re here for a festival, there are two great ways to observe the practices of monks and novices: wake early enough to witness the daily giving of alms, or Sai Bat , or visit a wat for yourself (be sure to dress and behave appropriately.