Laos is a step back in time from India so let's step back in time to Sunday AM and dawn with the Monks. Very serious tradition for Buddhists and so every day the faithful rise at dawn and present alms for the hundred of Monks that live in the various Temples around the City. Streets are full of locals and tourists alike who line the streets kneeling and ready to offer food (mostly sticky rice which one makes into little snowballs), sweets and money.
The Monks rely on these alms to eat. So, on bended knee Sylvia and I kneeled ( a lot of pain for the creaky joints) and waited for the procession as the crowds got thicker and the Chinese tourists started snapping pictures of the weird caucasian couple especially the blond kneeling on the streets of Luang Prabang.
And here they come! We had expected a group of pious Monks that would express gratefulness for the food the gathered flocks offered. Instead we got a serious march of very determined gentlemen, highly focused on filling their metal offering cans and marching inexorably towards their respective Temples to eat!
It would have been a high risk strategy to venture forward into the path of the relatively fast moving freight train of head shaven Monks orange garbed on the 'long march'. Woe betide anyone that hesitated in forming the snowball of sticky rice as the procession slowed for no one. In fact several Monks looked at the balls of sticky rice that we had so neatly prepared and with a look of disdain, moved on - their expression seemed to say "Not more of that stuff -- enough already" .
Ah well, we did our thing and felt good about it - in fact an interesting experience for us.
Fast forward to Monday and a motor launch trip up the Mekong River to visit some pretty impressive Caves resplendent (I've been reading Conrad Black's book :)) with hundreds of Buddhist carvings dating back to before mankind at least.
Managed to convince our Guide Mr Pom to take us upstream so we could trek back to the caves via the Laotian forest. Interesting villages and Sylvia managed to take several hundred pics of Laotian weeds - go figure! and Glenn was in his glory!!!
Lunch at a local restaurant of freshly caught catfish from the Mekong River - thank God for the LaoBeer to wash it down.
'Sailing down the Mekong on a sunny afternoon' brought us back to Luang Prabang for a chance to walk across a rickety bamboo bridge and later for a 'blessing ceremony' by a retired Monk and a group of 'retired ladies' who chanted as we were blessed. This followed by several local dances. Still wearing the strings that were wrapped around our wrists post blessing.
Tuesday and a 2 1/2 hour Lao time (really 3 and a bit) trip to a Minority 600 year old Tribal Village in the boonies. In fact quite interesting to see how these people have prospered through selling woven fabrics to the city markets. Village dates back several hundred years and has amazing wooden houses a la old French Canadian homes built without nails and big logs hewed by hand with axes and hand saws.
Had lunch with the Village Chief and his wife. Per custom, all seated on floor mats with a little raised table laden with local dishes - vegetable soup, bamboo shoots, boiled chicken, 'deep fried sea weed' from the Mekong River, boiled dandelions and a sweet type of 'japati' for dessert. (patato like)
The concept of double-dipping is taken to a new level here. Soup is taken from the communal bowl and seemingly it is not required etiquette to ladle it into one's own bowl but rather just dip away with our own spoon.
It is important not to offend so when offered the rice whisky brewed by one's host, it is important to try it. Tastes like Geneva or Bols Gin for those who have tried that particular concoction . It is pretty rough but Sylvia seemed to enjoy the three shots she had. Let me correct Glenn it was three sips. Important to remember that at the table there were the Host, Sylvia and I plus Guide Pom and Driver Ki and we all drank from the same shot glass that was passed around - still alive so guess it is all good.
Step back to end of day Monday post the River conquest. There is one major vantage point in Luang Prabang where can more or less get a 360 viewing of the City, We concluded that for purposes of pic taking (surprise surprise) we would wait until the PM crowds had left and climb late in the day to take pics of the sunset.
So, 340 steps later in hot sun we summitted Mt PousSee (pronounced exactly the way you are all thinking) to a a relatively small promontory and joined the several hundred other sweaty mountaineers who had figured it all out the same way that we had!
Sylvia decided that it wasn't worth to wait for sunset pic wise so we descended the 340 steps.
Upon reflection - The Kingdom (once upon a time) of Laos is probably the least developed country of Southeast Asia. It has not progressed very much in a long long time. At present there is a North South highway the full length of the country and there seems to be electricity in most places. Touristy is big. Many Thais, Japanese and Chinese as well as the French from days of old and other European countries .
Not too many from North America.
The Lao are gentle people and as mentioned in a previous entry not yet driven by money. Always smiling and unfailingly trying to help to make the foreigners happy. We noticed major construction at the Luang Prabang Airport and along the highway. Progress has arrived and over the next number of years the country will get wealthier.
This was a good respite after India and we are now on board Air Lao towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Our Hotel Maison Souvannaphoum was a gem and Luang Prabang a neat laid back town. There are many young Tourists around - including a lot of back packers. Our guess is that this is a stop for many on 'gap year' travels. It is safe, friendly, warm and the price is right eg laundry is $1.25 per kg.
Glad we visited but now onwards