Luang Prabang and Vientaine, Laos
Mar 2, 2018
|We actually got to stay in Luang Prabang for 4 nights which has been the longest since we started out on our trip--and it was a good place for this extended stay. As we've mentioned in a previous post, this little town is so quaint with lots of historical structures, restaurants, shops and natural beauty.
Yesterday, we cruised for about 2 hours along the Mekong River up to see the Pak Ou caves. This time we were in a much smaller river boat which contains the "home" of the owners in the back of the boat. We learned that although there is significant interest by business people and locals to build a bridge connecting the land west of the Mekong to the town of Luang Prabang and the east side, UNESCO has prohibited this construction. They basically will only allow any connecting bridge to be built at least 20 kms south or north of Luang Prabang to protect the culture of this town. Subject to this requirement, there is a train bridge that is under construction over 20 km north across the Mekong. This bridge will allow access to China, Myanmar and Thailand by freight and passenger trains.
We visited a small village along the Mekong called Ban Xanghai where they make local rice wine and whiskey...one type of whisky they make have a little something something fermented into the recipe. Cobra snakes or scorpions to be consumed only by men to enhance their libido. We think this is their natural alternative to Viagra...bet this would make an interesting birthday gift!
Upon arriving at the Pak Ou Caves, Vinny explained to us how sacred this cave is to the local people around Luang Prabang. They practice 3 types of religions in them: Buddhism, Animalism (animal spirits) and Hinduism. The cave is situated at the mouth of the 7th river and therefore holds more special meaning to them, especially as we approach their new year in mid April. Many locals make a pilgrimage to pray inside the caves, as there are over 4000 Buddha images displayed inside. These images also get "watered" at the same time as the new year to bestow good luck on themselves and their families. Upon leaving Pak Ou Caves, we were faced with a fork in the river--to the left, 7 hours to China; to the right, 5 hours to Vietnam. We turned around to head back to LP where we stopped at one last village along the Mekong. This village specializes in the production of silk and paper (using mulberry bark). We've seen the finished product of beautiful silk products in the past but this time we actually saw some of the current and future producers of silk, the worms. Each worm can produce 3 to 4 meters of silk. Very cool. We also saw how they make beautifully finished paper with flower petals and leaves and of course, some plainer elephant dung paper...no waste!
After lunch, we were driven to the second largest waterfall in all of Asia called the Kuang Xi Falls. It was beautiful but so busy with tourists and swimmers. Unlike other waterfalls you've seen, this one falls into 3 different levels providing a setting like paradise around you. For us, some of the magic was reduced because we were there at the height of when tourists were visiting (us included!).
Finally our day was done in LP. We finally had a little rest before heading to where Vinny made a reservation for us...oh not any restaurant in LP for our last night. We dined at one of the Princess' house. She and her Prince operate a hotel and restaurant in town called the Villa Santi. It was delicious and again allowed us to try many traditional Lao dishes, including sticky rice, of course.
Our last morning in LP would be one of the best...leaving early to offer alms to the monks by 6am. This is a ceremony that is still practiced daily, originating 700 years ago. The 300 monks make a procession around town to accept offerings of rice and sweets. This will be the basis for their daily food intake. Yesterday was an auspicious day in the calendar since it was full moon. Therefore all monks get their hair shaved on that day, again on full half moon and once more no moon days. It was truly a spiritual experience to be part of this ceremony. This ritual used to be practiced in many towns/cities in Asia but now, there are only a handful of them still doing this.
We could not leave LP without visiting the morning market. Slightly different from the one we visited before the cooking class but equally, delightful in all that was for sale--live rats, worms and cocoons...protein abound!
What a wonderful way for us to end our stay in Luang Prabang. Off to the airport for the 30 minute flight to the capital city, Vientaine.
We arrived in Vientaine and the first thing we noticed was how flat and open it was compared to Luang Prabang. The second obvious thing was the heat as the afternoon temperature was about 34 C but felt like 37 with the humidity. We started our tour at the oldest temple in the city which is 200 years old. It was the only one that was not destroyed by the Thais as it reminded them of one of their own. The second stop on the tour was to the Victory Gate. It was built to signify the country's independence from the French. The construction began in 1958 and was completed in 1970. It was designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe but with temple motifs atop. Directly across the street from Victory Gate is the government headquarters. In the communist country Laos, there is both a president and a prime minister. The president, who is highest ranking, controls the military and the prime minister is in charge of economic policies. The last stop of today's tour was to COPE. They design and distribute prosthetics for the people injured from the bomb explosions. Every year people are subjected to bombs blowing up that were dropped by the Americans many years age. About 40% of those effected are children. Very sad legacy left by the Americans for this otherwise peaceful country. We ended the night here in Vientaine with a walk through the Night Market--what a disappointment that it was more like a flea market compared to what we saw in Luang Prabang's handicraft market.
We fly to Paske in the south of Laos in the morning. Unfortunately, Sunny has caught a cold over the last day so she had to request to cut short the afternoon sights--to two other Wats/temples...David didn't seem to mind.