Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Mekong

Luang Prabang Day 2

Day 5 Saturday 20 December 2014

An early call this morning as we are going into LP with guide and driver to observe the giving of alms to the monks.  All of the many monks start at one end of town and steadily progress through the entire town to end up at the main monastery we had visited the previous day.  So soon after six in the morning one side of the road, towards the end of the procession which is not so heavily populated, are ladies with bowls of rice (some have others items) and on the other side numerous onlookers like ourselves.

A gong sounds to give notice of the approaching monks and in groups, representing different monastries they steadily process past.  Eventually the light improves sufficiently to permit photographs which are on the Flickr site.

Somewhere around the middle of the procession there is a break and the ladies then have the potential to refill their bowls of rice.  At the end of the ladies in or group is a small child and she does not give the monks any food but instead receives and it is explained that it is known that she is from a poorer family and the monks share the food they have received with the poorer groups.

We later find that our guide was a monk for a number of years.  If the land canot support the younger members of the family then joining a monastery  provides food and a good education and is beneficial for all concerned.  So Buddhism rather than a national dependence on the state – are we institutionalised Buddhists?

Heading back to the transport we walked through the morning market – it opens at 5 and the villagers from the surrounding area bring in all sorts of goods to be sold.  This covers  vegetables, meat, fish plus scarves and other goods of all descriptions.  There are photos – but again there do not seem to be any shortages of anything important and indeed in terms of vegetables these seem to be excellent in quality and quantity.

Anyway back to the hotel for breakfast and to shed our overcoats.  We have a big excursion today when we return to the town and the riverside to take a boat upstream for about two hours to visit a cave where the gold buddha was originally kept when brought to the country.  After the climb the previous day we decline the visit to the upper cave as we are told it contains not only buddha statues but also bats!

We cross the river to a small village and we walk through to where they keep the elephants in a small reserve in winter.  In summer they are used to move logs so are still working elephants.  Fed with numerous bananas they seem quite happy and relaxed even if necessarily tethered.

Then we wander back through the village for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong river – the sunshine is brilliant and it is again a warm day.  On the return trip to LP we stop at a village where they can show us numerous scarves and the wife is able to buy some items for a close friend’s impending birthday.  Here we hear the almost universal request “Do you want to buy a scarf?” in a polite but slightly singing voice which cannot be done justice in print.  This is repeated as we walk through the village as there are numerous sellers ans more scarves and table runners than the one village can possibly produce.  However thy are all very nice pieces and each house appears to have its own weaving loom we do wondr just how much weaving can possibly be achieved locally.

Whilst the village is obviously organised for visits like ours it is also notable that most of the houses have huge satellite dishes (athough rusty) and therefore presumably some form of power supply and television.  It may be rural but certainly they are not cut off from the outside world in any form.  Even here there is a well decorated and maintained temple – it reminds me of Greece where there may be economic problems but the religious houses are well maintained.

Travelling with the current our return journey is a little faster than outward and so towards the end of the afternoon we return to the hotel.

The evening commences with a Baci ceremony for the four travellers where about 20 local people welcome us to Laos.  About 10 ladies plus a couple of musicians sing a welcome and then a dancing group entertain us with their skills  and a number of different dances.  The end of the ceremony requires us to present our wrists and they tie pieces of string around each wrist to represent close ties between Laos and ourselves.  We are also presented with a flower arrangement which I receive from the Village elder (Shaman / priest) and I have to present this the following day at the Watermelon stupa.

We were a little amazed at this being laid on for just the four of us and we were somewhat relieved when a Mexican couple joined us during the proceedings.

Our evening was rounded off by dinner in the hotel and I can report that yet another excellent repast was consumed by the travellers.  The hotel kitchen can cook and the only thing we find difficult is that the concept of “courses” seems to be unknown as the soup arrives and the remaining food arrives almost immediately when the waiting team return to the kitchen!  After such a long day we are glad to retire to bed.

Good night.


Luang Prabang

Day 4 Friday 19 December 2014

Whilst I am sure that there are many other aspects of Vietnam which could be seen, we shall see the south of the country later on our trip; for the moment our location must change and it is back to the airport and a small twin turbo-prop ATR72 airplane to Luang Prabang.  I have seen many spellings; this is the one I am adopting and indeed will probably shorten it to LP throughout this and the next couple of posts.

The flight is over largely green countryside, largely invisible thorough the cloud layer, wth noticeably much more hills / mountains as we close on LP. Also as we approach LP there are are several rivers in evidence.  The airport here is tiny and we have a walk across the concrete from our plane to the entrance at the far end of the building.  Later we will establish that it is standing much closer to the departure gate.  And alongside are much smaller local Lao planes!

A wonderful queue now develops as we all have to have visas and so we hand over passport and visa form that we have completed.  Join another queue to hand over $35.  Well except there is another $1 service charge.  So hand over $36!  Then your passport is duly stamped with a visa attached and you can enter the country!

Reclaim suitcases and yes our new guide is there and waiting.  We head off into town crossing the Nam Khan river and he takes us around the headland where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong and we have our first view of the mighty Mekong river which is the main point of this holiday.  We also drive pass the “Tamarind” restaurant which he recommends for good dining this evening.  This young man clearly knows what we like!

First a trip round the main temple.  There are a large number in LP but the monks all come to this one at breakfast time having collected through the town (see tomorrow).  This gives a reminder on the Buddhist culture and we also see the Chariot used to convey the body of the last King of Laos.

Towards the other end of town we stop at Phousy Hill and have to climb to the top – some 330 steps.  And it goes to prove we are not fit as we struggle with the climb!  About a third of the way up a monk is sat and has excellent English for a conversation with my wife.  Along the way there are numerous Buddha statues (hence some photos) but we reach the end very short of breath.  The photographs are here

Wonderful views over the countryside.  LP is not huge and we can see the surrounding wooded hillsides and the town below.  Eventually a stead descent sees us back on the main street and transported to our hotel – Le Palais Juilana which is about 3km from town.  Briefly use the swimming pool but we keep being reminded that it is winter locally, even though it feels warm to us!  Sunset around 5:30pm.

We are still in the travelling phase of this holiday so merely resort enough clothes  for now and then head back into town for dinner at the Tamarind.  They place a small brazier near our feet to keep them warm and the mozzies away and give us a huge menu.  Careful reading shows a set menu with a variety of local delicacies and so we chose that.  And it was all very good.  The price includes wine and was $30 for the two of us.  Outstanding value.

Tuc tuc here is a little powered metal cage – and by this time of day without our coats was pretty cold.  We head to bed as we have an early start tomorrow.