Some photographs that I think deserve a mention…..
Litter management, Laos style……
A street vendor
Some photographs that I think deserve a mention…..
Litter management, Laos style……
A street vendor
It was our last day. We were to leave at 3.00 pm. Having packed our bags we went down to our last breakfast with Bruce, he was not going to leave until the next day.
Breakfast over and having vacated our room, we set off for our last visit to town.
it was obviously wash day at the temple…… it was Monday after all!
The road of the night market looks very different in the day. It is quite a wide road. Tuk tuk’s sit patiently and colourfully waiting for customers.
We decided to investigate the far end of the road where the old colonial buildings are. It is also the location of the specialist and more up market shops and restaurants.
Some side streets….
We had a lovely morning looking at textiles and paintings.
I have also to report one or two more costly investments……. Laos is generally very light on the purse to visit. Food is very cheap and eating out amazingly good value.
For our final meal we went to the Bamboo Tree, a restaurant recommended by Yael, one of the Western Australia trip members. It was excellent and we had a wonderful final repast.
Suitably fed and watered, we took a tuk tuk back to the hotel.
There was just a bit of time to take a few photographs of the hotel gardens and the view across the river of the gardens on the other side of the river, in the sunshine……..
It was time to go. A great and colourful holiday was over……
One of the highlights of Luang Prebang is the morning Sai Baat, the ritual arms giving that takes place before dawn each morning. In Luang Prebang itself, 400 monks process from the Wat or temple to collect food from the waiting people. To attend this we were going to have to leave the hotel at 4.30. On hearing there was a mini session of this alms giving taking place around the corner from us, Denise and I decided to go for the smaller, more intimate experience!
We left our room at 5.45 am and headed along the lane to the main road where we had been told the monks would come at round 6.00. What we, of course, had not taken into account was that at 6 o’clock it was pitch dark! 😳 Nevertheless, not to be found wanting, we took up our position at what we thought must be the temple. Sure enough there in the gloom we could just make out the outline of two women, seated on stools waiting for the monks arrival. Well we rather assumed that was what they were doing, given there was not much else going on. Apart from the occasional dog going past and the even more occasional early morning tuk tuk. We stood there in the quiet for several minutes before we heard the rustle of more people joining those already seated. Further along the road another cluster of would be alms givers were gathering. The monks were not going to go hungry this morning!
Just after 6.00 about five monks approached from the right. We were standing, trying to look inconspicuous (why had I taken it into my head to wear white trousers!?!) on the opposite side of the road. The monks silently bent to take the offerings and then, standing to the left of the assembled almsgivers chanted for a short time. It was a lovely moment in the light of the building behind them.
During the lull in proceedings we decided to cross the road to stand in a side street near where the other group of almsgivers were seated. Within a few minutes more monks processed past, each silently bending to take the food and then moving off, taking the turning opposite us and heading off down the road. There was no chanting this time. Just, perhaps, 20 saffron robed figures walking off into the dark.
Amazing. It was not the major event of the town promenade, but we felt we had a private viewing of an age old event. It felt quite special.
Arriving back at the hotel, Denise returned to bed for an hour and I took up my ipad to write, as a dedicated scribbler. It is the best time of the day to do my blog as the Wi-fi, somewhat up and down at best, is more likely to work.
We met our remaining travellers at breakfast. Young Sarah was off to spend a morning with elephants and we were taking Bruce, keen photographer, off to town for a bit of sightseeing.
Luang Prebang used to be the royal capital of Laos. Once again it sits at the confluence of two rivers – the much mentioned Mekong and the Nam Khan which runs passed our hotel. The city was pronounced a World Heritage location in 1995 because of its beautifully preserved colonial buildings. It had a monarchy until this was dissolved in 1975, the last King and Queen being held prisoner in a cave in the north east of the country until they died in the early 1980’s. Like Cambodia it has had to pay homage to both Vietnam and Siam and was later under the authority of the French whose legacy, in addition to the old buildings, would seem to be wonderful French bread!!
It is a very clean and bustling place, without the tension that seemed to be associated with – say – Pnom Penh in Cambodia. It has some wonderful architecture and Buddhist temples.
Our first stop was the local market. Very different from the night market, this is where the locals shop. There were pink eggs…..
There were raw innards……
….and innards cooked
There was local algae……..
……and religious offerings.
There were little old ladies……
And cheeky boys
It was great fun!!
Leaving the market behind we first found the palace, now a museum. The lilies in the pond were beautiful
It had a temple in the grounds of some magnitude.
We then headed up the steps to the Stuppa which can be seen for miles around as it towers over the town. There were a lot of steps up to the top and an equal amount of camaraderie amongst the clamberers as we made slow progress up to the top.
When we got there, there was a stall selling little finches in tiny cages. It is thought to be lucky to set these little birds free. We wanted to free them all! In the end we set four free. They were so pleased to escape their minuscule baskets, not above nipping those trying to set the free!!
Having looked down on views of the city from every angle,
we walked back down the steps and rewarded ourselves with a snack and a beer. After this, the afternoon turned out to be a many templed affair, I can hear Keith groan!
At the day of this road we came to the confluence of the two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Kamh and decided to have a beer and watch the river traffic.
Our thorough investigation of the religious houses of Luang Prebang, culminated in visiting the oldest temple in the city dated 1650.
It was exceptional in its decoration. Unfortunately by this time I was running out of charge, which has saved the world and my blog from a lot of photographs, but I managed one or two of what I thought to be the really special bits. This temple used to be used by the royal family until 1975 and they had endowed some special pieces. I particularly liked the Tree of Life and a collage showing rural life. Of course it had its usual gold trappings too…….
Eventually templed out, we took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, where we had agreed to meet Sarah to go to eat after a bit of retail therapy in the night market. 😳 The previous night had been a sort of reconnaissance mission!
We set out again on the hotel’s courtesy bus around 6.00 and were into the fray by 6.15. It was great fun. It is a big market and it took time. Nevertheless, as agreed, we met up again at 7.30 to decide who was going to be blest with providing our repast. We did not make a good choice. Of all the lovely places to eat, we chose badly. It had all the disaster combinations – poor service, delayed meal, over cooked, further requests for additional food not met. Slightly disappointed, we returned to the hotel. Not an ideal ‘Last Supper’.
Agreeing to meet for a final breakfast the next day, we adjourned to bed.
I woke up before it was light to a cacophony of cocks crowing. There are chickens everywhere in Laos and we have seen some very fine cockerels strutting about or under large cloches made of open basket work. Cock fighting is still s legal sport in Laos.
We had our breakfast on the hotel’s terrace looking over the Nam Khan River.. unfortunately it was quite a dull morning (our first), but you could see people working in the fields opposite.
Our first outing of the day was to the Museum of Anthropology, which was really interesting. We were given a short talk by the manager, a dapper young man who spoke very good English. He explained that the Hmong and Kmhmu people we have come across in our travels are just two of the ethnic groups making up the population of Laos, there are another two groups and many more splinter groups.
All have their own distinct culture and the museum is keen to encourage young people to take an interest in their heritage and continue the traditions. A key part of this is the ceremonial clothing. There were some splendid and beautifully worked garments on display.
We had seen young girls working on their embroidery in the villages, in preparation for their marriage. Apparently as part of this they and the female members the family will all work on the bedding which the bride should have prepared. Obviously no John Lewis wedding list here!
Unfortunately we did not have as much time as we would have liked here. There were some wonderful exhibits on display, including the basketry of the Kmhmu people (very dear to my heart!)
And musical instruments.
The inevitable museum shop had some wonderful pieces for sale. The museum supports the women to continue to make things in their traditional way not only to maintain their cultural skills but to provide them with an independent income. Obviously this is not so evidently needed in the cities, but in the rural areas you can see that it would be a real contribution to a family income.
Reluctantly leaving the Museum behind, we took quite a long tuk tuk ride into the country to see the famous Kuang Si waterfalls. These are about 50 minutes outside of town and are approached by the usual avenue of food stalls when you near the site.
I have to say that cooking seems at least one tradition of the Laos people that shows little sign of abating!!
En route to the waterfalls you pass through a bear rescue sanctuary. Apparently there are bears in Laos, poached for their saliva. This often leaves cubs without their mother and the rescue centre had a number of bears who seemed reasonably happy in their semi native setting. Most there had been rescued very young and had no experience of life in the wild so hopes of re integrating them into their natural habitat are quite slim which is a shame.
I felt I could really relate to this last one – it is probably how I would react with a lot of people peering at me!
We wandered up the muddy path ( it had rained over night) and soon reached the lowest pool. The colour of the water is due to a chemical reaction apparently (the scientifically inclined amongst us will know more…… I just thought it was visually pleasing and slightly unusual).
It got more and more impressive as we worked our way up to the top …..
It was a roaring force not to be stopped. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in the Monsoon. You could swim in the lower pools and our swimmers took advantage of the opportunity.
We wondered back down and had lunch from the stalls of the ever patient ladies at the bottom of the falls and then went off to the butterfly farm a little way away. This was a quiet and gentle oasis compared to the torrent not a kilometre away. The contrast was somehow typical of what we have found in Laos generally. The forceful and the gentle.
The butterflies were fascinating and very beautiful, but quite beyond my photographic capabilities. I did my best….
Not only were the butterflies beautiful, I learnt a lot about butterfly life that I did not know. A really interesting visit.
However, it was time to return to the City and just time to freshen up before we took to the centre of town and the famous (well famous here!) night market. Every afternoon between 4.00 and 10.30 the whole centre of town becomes a night market selling everything from food (inevitably!) to paintings, to clothes, to lanterns, wood and weaving. It is a colourful joy.
After a rummage here we met the group for what was effectively the last time we would all be together. The group was going separate ways – to Thailand, Sri a Lanka, Vietnam and for us eventually home. Flights rather dictated a delay for us, so we will leave on Monday.
A picture will follow here when available!
After goodbyes were said it was off to bed early. It is an early rise for monks tomorrow.
We set off at 8.00 on the journey which was to take us to Luang Prebang, until the 16th century, the capital of Laos.
For the first hour our route was reasonably flat as we worked our way across the valley to the mountains beyond. Our mini bus was much more comfortable and was for our private use, so we had a bit more space and the road was surfaced.
We stopped when we came to a bridge in a small town. The scenery was spectacular.
And there were a lot of large carp below us. These are considered sacred here and it is thought particularly lucky for you if you feed them first thing in the morning. Outcome – some very large fish swimming handily under the bridge!
I am afraid my limited lens does not do them justice….. take it from me there were a lot and they were big!
We had a funny incident here. The Korean ladies – I think they might have been the same ones who were at the waterfall the day before – appeared on the bridge just as we were leaving and one of them was taking a photograph of the group. Being my usual helpful self, I offered to take over the photography😁. It was not until I had taken the first shot that I realised they were taking it the wrong way! I had my back to the beautiful scenery and the backdrop to their photograph was a very fresh building site! Maybe it is a Korean thing 😳. In any event, I was not having that and soon ushered them over to the correct side of the bridge and they had the beautiful view in the background. Little Miss Helpful as always!!
We set off again. We began to climb and the road began to deteriorate although the effect was far less in our healthily sprung vehicle. The road also started to zig zag dramatically to accommodate the steepness of the incline. It went on and on and the views became better and better. A feature of the day were the houses along the roadside, often almost suspended over the edge of the cliff it seemed – but they had amazing views!! Not much help though if there was a subsidence I thought!
We again came across major earth works. The Chinese and their railway again. It is to be an express route between the major cities. I could not help but feel that the village communities that we were passing would have no real benefit from it, even when it was built. It would not be stopping at the sleepy hollows but would loudly rush past taking people to and from a world that these rural folk can only imagine.
There are two main groups of people living up here. The Hmong and the Kmhmu. The Hmong tend to live on the top of the mountain and descend a bit to do their farming. They are lighter of face and more Chinese looking. The Kmhmu live lower down the mountainside and go up to do their farming. They tend to be slightly darker skinned. Both communities seem to co exist happily and both have their own cultures. There are no temples here. The people believe in spirits and turn for support in times of crisis and ill health on their shaman.
The morning wore on as we dozed and watched the scenery unfold in turns. Often we were caught in a line behind lorries and tankers as they made the laborious climb, gears crunching. There is only one road and everything travelling between Vientiane and Luang Prebang has to use it. Overtaking is a dangerous business. A sheer limestone wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other.
We eventually stopped for an early lunch at a restaurant near a community at the top of a particularly arduous ascent. We had seen the red roof of the restaurant in the distance for some time. We were so lucky that it was a glorious day. We were surrounded by mountains and green hills. Even the loo had a view!
The scene from the top was quite breathtaking!
It got better of course with us in it!
We set off again. Although there were still some ‘up’s’, we were in reality beginning our long descent into Luang Prebang. And it was to be a long one. A very long one. After travelling for about half an hour, we came to a road closed sign and lots of big diggers in our path. They were repairing a land slip that had occurred during the big rains. Best estimate of the time before we could pass was an hour and a half. In the event it was nearer two.
There was nothing for it but to wait. There was a small village a few hundred yards back, so we wandered back up the road to see what we could see. The village was a small ribbon community, rehoused from the top of the mountain to bring the people nearer to the facilities available in the area – there was a school, a tap and access to medical help. I always wonder at the element of choice in these moves. I fear there was none. There were very few people about. Despite the steepness of the terrain, the people Farm these remote locations and everyone was out working. Unbelievably hard work it must be too. Apparently peanuts are a major crop and there were some drying….
That is a very small pig walking through them!
We also saw tobacco drying on the top of a healthy looking wood store
The housing was a mix of breeze block buildings and bamboo and straw. The outlook was amazing.
It was all very photogenic, but I fear it is a hard life.
A banana flower
Aubergine drying for seed……
……. the herb garden
This was clinging to the side of the road!
After our sightseeing interlude, we wandered back to the bus, which had been joined by a long line of frustrated travellers, all approaching the hold up in their own way.
Eventually we set off again, this time in a caravan of vehicles. One or two death defying overtaking later and we were bowling along again.
Our final stop of the day was at a Hmong village, obviously used to foreign visitors. The children soon gathered, but no one begs and all are willing to be photographed. Some older girls were working on their needlework. This is a key issue in their marriage process. Apparently you start the needlework very young and it seems girls are chosen to be wives not only on their looks but also for their prowess with the needle. I would have been single for an even longer time had this been a prerequisite in England methinks!!!
Then there were the children……..
Most were very happy to have their photo taken, particularly if you showed them their picture afterwards!
Others were a bit shy……
One was having a haircut…..
The street where they lived……
The view from the village.
We got back on the bus to continue our journey.
We just managed a post sunset shot en route –
And then it was all steam ahead for Luang Prubang which we reached around 7.00. pm. Our hotel is a little way outside of the city centre, so it was a bowl of soup in the hotel and then bed after a bit of recovery time. We start a city tour at 9.00 am. tomorrow. This tour is not for the faint hearts!!