Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Backpacking in Luang Prabang, Laos

We flew into Luang Prabang, Laos on the afternoon of the 12th of November. It feels a lot like the town of Hoi An in Vietnam and has a real French feel to it (not that I have been to France yet). Lots of bakeries and cafes. Beautiful streets, many people cycling, beautiful scenery, the river is on both sides of the town and there are little restaurants where you can sit on a mat on the ground and eat dinner.

Street food in the markets

We checked out the markets to see what kind of things they have here and it is very textile based with lots of scarves, cushion covers and paintings on banana leaf paper.

Luang Prabang has lots of temples and so there are a lot of monks walking around. Some are very young and cute!

On our first full day we discovered the best bakery in town, Joma Bakery, and have since spent a good few hours there eating the delicious food and using the wifi to keep in touch with family and friends.

That night we ran into a bunch of single travellers who had all been travelling together for a week. We crashed their dinner and joined them at Utopia, the place to go in Luang Prabang at night. However, forget partying like in Thailand, it closes by 11.30pm! After that you can head to the local nightclub Daofa (Dao Fah?), which closes around 1.00am, or to the bowling alley.

Yummmmm Beer Lao
Yesterday was another leisurely day in Luang Prabang with James, a friend we made the night before. We checked out Phou Si hill where we bought some birds in a little bamboo cage to set free for luck. Sometimes it is a fine line between not being too encouraging of these kind of practices but not wanting to leave the animals in cruelty!

Sonja and our friend James with our birds we set free

At the top of the mountain
Just one of the many amazing statues at the top of the mountain
At the top of the mountain we chatted with two young monks, Keo and Sing, for a couple of hours about our life and their life in general. It was a great experience because it showed us that they are just young people like us but doing something different with their lives for awhile.

We shopped up a storm at the night market last night and Sonja finally got her beloved backpack that she has been obsessing over since she saw our friend Katie's one in Vietnam in June.

This morning we finally dragged ourselves out of bed early to witness the Alms Ceremony. The monks walk the streets in the morning in a procession collecting food given to them by the locals. The locals gain a religious benefit from this as do the monks.

Unfortunately, because of the amount of monks in Luang Prabang and the beautiful scenery the ceremony in Luang Prabang has been tainted by tourists. Many do not understand the correct way to participate and take flash photos right in the monks faces.Yesterday we had our own experience of this while talking to Sing.

As we were up the mountain and sitting in a small circle it must have made a nice picture, and another tourist thought it would be okay to use her large camera with flash to take not just one photo of us but about 6 or 7. She did not ask permission and it was very uncomfortable  to have her start taking photos very obtrusively that we knew she would later be showing to other people or using for some purpose. Sing was also clearly uncomfortable. For that reason we decided not to participate in the Alms Ceremony but just observed. The first procession of monks passed as at around 6am and it was just us sitting behind some Lao women who put small amounts of sticky rice in the monks pots as they went past. It was very somber as there was not a lot of traffic and everyone was silent. By the time the second procession came along we had been joined by some tourists who wanted to take part.

We have previously read this BLOG which explained you should kneel lower than the monks and not take photos in their face or look them in the eye. Unfortunately these people had obviously not done their research, and they jumped up to tower over the monks as they passed, as well as taking lots of photos extremely close up. We were glad we had been able to witness the earlier procession rather than just this as it made for embarrassing watching and destroyed the purpose of the ceremony for us.

Our last day in town we checked out the beautiful Kuang Si Falls and the bear sanctuary during the day. We paid 40,000 kip each in a tuktuk we shared with a German couple for our return trip to the falls.

Sonja at the top of the waterfall

Later that night we met up for dinner, drinks, dancing and bowling with Rory, Dave, Iris and Tessa our friends from our Chiang Mai trek and made friends with Keisuke from Japan.

An excellent night which started with "Pink Gay" cocktails at Lao Lao beer garden, went onto dancing at local nightclub Daofa (Dao Fah?) and ended at the bowling alley.

Rory, Dave and Keisuke
Rory and Dave
Dave, Rory and Sonja at the local club
Bowling our hearts out

Love to all,

Sonja and Kim

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