Things To Do in Luang Prabang: The Land of Wishes

Making a Wish for a Second Life in Laos:

Outside of temples and padogas across Southeast Asia, there are cages full of tiny birds. If you buy a bird and release it, this symbolic gift of freedom is believed, by some, to bring good luck or to ensure a wish will come true.

I asked a guide in Vietnam about this and she said that, for her, the practice is symbolic of animal cruelty rather than luck. But, pointing at a group of fish swimming lazily in a pool outside of a temple, she said: “These are wishes that I can believe in.”

Temple Smoke
Wishes are carried in many ways, including on incense smoke, or with the freeing of fish.

The massive fish in question were purchased in a market where they were destined to be dinner in the very near future. Instead, released in the waters of the temple with a wish from their benefactors, they grew large with their freedom and fat with the gifts of food from temple visitors.

Only one week later, on a boat cruise on the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, I was presented with the opportunity to make a wish while freeing a fish.

The Mekong River in Luang Prabang
The Mekong River in Luang Prabang.

I was glad that I had asked the question about the fish in Vietnam and, therefore, understood the Luang Prabang ritual. When our captain asked us to write a wish on bamboo leaves that would be released along with three fish purchased from the Luang Prabang morning market that day, I was ready.

Making a wish
Making a wish on a bamboo leaf to be released with three fish granted a “second life.”

It was, our captain explained, a second life for the fish.

Releasing the fish along with all of our wishes bundled in bamboo leaves.
Reflecting on the Mekong
Dreaming on the Mekong River in Luang Prabang.

The timing was good not only because I had clarity on the meaning behind the release of the fish, but also because my five-month journey through Southeast Asia is coming to an end. Any time an adventure comes to an end, there is a mandatory period of reflection.

Monks on the Mekong
Monks leaving a temple and getting ready to cross the Mekong on a bamboo bridge.

And Luang Prabang is an ideal place for such reflection. This city of temples houses more than 1,000 apprentice monks who are often seen walking to school or maintaining one of the temples.

At dawn, the city reverberates with the sound of gongs and chanting, signaling that its time for the giving and collecting of alms, a practice that brings monks and their apprentices into the neighborhoods to collect food and offerings from the people who line the street waiting to provide this daily gift to their local temple.

The giving and collecting of alms in Luang Prabang.

Surrounded by this spirituality, the peaceful mountains of northern Laos, and the calm rustle of the Mekong River before the rains come, I have come to two realizations with surprise and with relief.

The first is that I am actually ready to go home. This is a new feeling for me and, I think, it is closely related to the second thing.

The second realization is that, for the first time since my partner, Jeff, died, I feel like myself again.

It was a long journey to get here.

I still miss Jeff very much, but I see the world once more for what it can give rather than for what it can take away.

And so, as I look toward home, a wish for a second life seems particularly powerful right about now.

Making a wish
Sealing the end of my Southeast Asia journey with a wish.

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4 Comments on “Things To Do in Luang Prabang: The Land of Wishes”

  1. Pingback: The Last in a Year of Firsts | The Lens of Jen

  2. Your blog has made my cry and laugh and made my heart swell…I cannot wait to place my feet where you have been and share your joy… thank you…

  3. Thank you for opening yourself to everything and anything and for taking it all in with wonder and joy. Come home safely to us before you take off on your next adventure; we can’t wait to hold you and see the sparkle in your eyes.

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