South East Asia 2017 - Day 20: Luang Prabang


Thursday 24 August, cloudy, drizzly, showers, 29°

I got up before dawn to go see, and photograph, the 'alm ceremony' that Luang Prabang is famous for.  This is where the local people give food and donations to the monks of the town every morning.  As part of being a monk they are not allowed to work and must collect donations from the local people in order to eat.  The ceremony consists of 'gangs' of monks walking around the streets of town and the local people ( mainly women ) putting food into the metal urns that they carry, and as part of the this the monks bless them and sometime incant a prayer for them.  It is all done very quietly and with great reverence.  

If you weren't aware the people of SE Asia generally are big believers in Karma ( and not the pop culture western version ) and this means they firmly believe that if you do good in this world then you will come back next time as a better being.  It is the same reason that they will swerve to avoid hitting a stray dog ( they are souls who have fallen this time around but will be better next time ) and are generally not into crime.

So the alms ceremony is part of their belief of doing good to those in need, and you will be rewarded in the future.  An ancient version of paying it forward.

To be honest I had seen these ceremonies before in Myanmar and Thailand so taking photos of the monks receiving alms, whilst they were being photographed by dozens of tourists did not appeal to me, in fact it felt a bit tacky and cheapened the whole experience.  So I followed a small group of monks away from the main streets ( and the tourists ) and took some photos of them, then let them carry on their way.

I then wandered to an old bridge across the Nam Khan River ( the other river that forms the peninsula of Luang Prabang as it joins the Mekong ) that I had seen as we came in by tuk tuk yesterday.  This bridge is scooter and foot traffic only so I walked across it in both directions then stood in the middle of the road ( behind a steel column ) and took some photos.  I did get quite a few strange looks.

So then back to the guesthouse at 7am for breakfast.  After breakfast our next task was to book a bus ticket for the next stage of our trip to Vang Vieng, so we walked back towards town to a travel agent that had been recommended by the owners of the guesthouse ( SaRiKa Ticketing ).  He was just opening up so he booked us on the bus tomorrow ( K160,000 / NZ$25 ea ), departing at 8am from the bus station ( about 3kms from town ), with a pick up from our guesthouse at 7am.  This bus would take about 7 hours to cover the 184kms to Vang Vieng, so it was likely to be a slow ride. I will explain why in the next blog.

We walked back to the guesthouse and arranged to get a taxi truck to take us to Kuang Si Falls, which are about 30kms west of town, and to bring us back ( this costs K200,000 ).  He arrived at 9am and drove us along the winding roads to the waterfall parking area, arriving at 10am.  Unlike most waterfall carparks in New Zealand this one was more of a market place with food and souvenir stalls on both sides of the access road and around the carpark.  Our driver dropped us in the carpark and said he would wait for an hour for us, so we bought tickets to enter the park area ( K20,000 ea ) and walked up the track to the lower levels of the falls.  On the way to the falls we passed through a Sun Bear rescue program where they had saved 10 bears from the poachers who kill them for their bile ducts ( which are used in traditional medicine ).  I bought a T shirt to support the cause and we carried on up the hill.

The lower levels of the falls are stunning with their multiple streams of turquoise water flowing over wide falls, but the main show is at the top of the path where the falls start their drop.  This top fall is a 60m overall drop, in a few stages, again with multiple streams of water.  After taking a few photos  and just staring in awe at the height and volume of the water ( again it was good to be here in the wet season, and the storm last night added to the water flow ), we waked back down to our driver.  When we arrived he was lying in the back of his truck reading from a dictionary, I asked what he was learning and he replied 'Francé'.  Apparently most older people in Laos speak fluent French, but it is dying out as the influence of France wears off. I am not sure if our driver was just refreshing his knowledge or trying to learn.  

So back off to Luang Prabang we headed, arriving back at the guesthouse at 12:30pm. We thought we would walk into town to grab some lunch then look around the sights.  We walked along the banks of the Nam Khan River and found JoMa's cafe ( it is a chain of French style cafes ) and sat upstairs and had croissants and milkshakes.  After that we walked around the peninsular to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang.  As we paid our K20,000 ea to enter the heavens opened so we scurried into the main Sim to shelter and look around.  Once the shower had passed we walked around the rest of the complex and then walked out into the town. The temples in Laos seem to be a little less 'flashy' than Thailand with more painted timber work and less gold.

We walked back into the main part of town through the old french colonial buildings, past the Royal Palace and then around to Wat Visounnarath to look at the old ( rebuilt ) stupa, and then back to the guesthouse at 3:30pm.  Time for a rest.

We headed out again at 5:15pm and walked to the base of Mount Phousi, and then climbed up the 400 odd steps on the south side, past the monastery buildings and various buddha statues, to the small stupa on the top, and joined a few dozen people up there waiting for the sunset.  We sat and watched the sky darken with no sign of the sun and walked back down again in the dark at 7pm.  

We found a nearby restaurant for tea ( Subaidee Restaurant ( Subaidee means 'hello' ), 2 meals + 2 big beers K110,000 /$NZ18 )

After that it was back to the guesthouse and getting ready for another early start tomorrow.