Thousands of visitors come to Luang Prabang each year; they climb Mount Phousi, have a drink along the Mekong, take photos of the gorgeous mountains, and pass by the former Royal Palace. But many travelers leave without truly understanding the cultural history of these places. Most of Luang Prabangâ€™s famous sites have their own folklore, and each name has a hidden story.
Established in 2014, the Garavek Theater - named after the mythical bird that the Lao khene supposedly imitates â€“ aims to both educate and entertain visitors to this World Heritage City about the cultural stories behind its picturesque attractions.
I thought it was important to give visitors a sense of place and an appreciation that the townâ€™s landmarks are not only naturally beautiful, but also have important cultural value,"Â says Nicholas Gibson, Garavekâ€™s founder.
The small theater, right in the center of the old city, is a modest building, with a hardworking staff of only four. The small interior seats around 30 people, and maintains an intimate, traditional atmosphere. This rustic and authentic feeling is reinforced by the absence of microphones and an elaborate painting behind the performers, is the only set. The painting, commissioned from the same artist who restored Wat Xieng Thong, is reminiscent of a temple wall and allows the audience to look up and recognize images from the stories that they are hearing throughout the show. The front row is within armâ€™s reach of the performers: a young storyteller with a flair for drama, and a 75-year old khene maestro, whose day job is selling candy by cycling around the village playing his instrument. The seasoned musician, Keo Udon, loves sharing Lao musical traditions with travelers who have never heard it before. â€śEspecially the foreign ladies,â€ť he jokes with a twinkle in his eye.
The one-hour show covers some of the main stories behind the places and names familiar to all visitors to Luang Prabang: Mount Phousi, Phu Tao and Phu Nang, the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, and Fa Ngum. The ten stories are interspersed with khene music and the audience is posed a traditional Lao riddle to ponder throughout the show.
â€śMy personal favorite stories are those of Mount Phousi and Fa Ngum,â€ť explains Siphai, the young solo storyteller who puts his excellent English skills and theatrical talents to use every night performing for guests. â€śI just love while these stories are being told and I can look out and see that the audience is happy too.â€ť
Although Luang Prabang is typically described as Laosâ€™ timeless city, enterprises like this one are continuing to breathe new life into the rich history of this ancient place.
Â Garavek Theater
ShowÂ schedules: 6:30-7:30pm daily,
50,000 Kip entrance
Phone: +856 20 96777300