Luang Prabang, Laos
Mar 28, 2018
|NOTE: We are posting this narrative now, without photos. John is the chief photographer in our household, but his computer can't be used at the moment, since the charger was left in our Chiang Rai hotel. They have sent it on to the hotel we are heading to tomorrow, in Bangkok. So pictures will be added later, and then we will send another update notice.
Our Laotian guide Chan met us at the airport and we drove to our hotel. He then proposed taking us to a sandbar on the Mekong River to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, the sky clouded up, so we went to hear Buddhist monks do their evening chants. Lois said it sounded like "Obama, yo mama" repeated over and over, but we are sure it was something more metaphysical.
On Monday morning at 6:15, we met Chan to view the parade of hundreds of monks to receive their daily alms. Lots of locals line the streets every day to give alms – mostly food – to the monks of all ages (8 to 80) as they pass by. Afterwards, the pigeons stopped in the same area to gather up the remains of the sticky rice. Whatever the monks don't consume is given to the poor.
We were not happy with our hotel for a variety of reasons, so we left shortly after breakfast. IOT took care of everything. They called and said that they would cover the cost at the first hotel whether or not the hotel gave a refund. We are very happy with our new hotel, the Villa Maly.
After checking out of the hotel on Monday, we visited a local food market, a small temple, and the national museum, the former royal palace (where we had to remove our shoes). By this time, Indochina Odyssey Tours had found us a new hotel so we went there to check in. It was fine, so we put our suitcases in the rooms, and then went to a small restaurant for lunch. One good thing was that Chan let us pick our own food, rather than getting a set menu. We much prefer to do it that way, and it usually ends up saving him money (and we don't waste so much food).
After lunch, we drove about 45 minutes to the Khouang Si Waterfalls. Most S. E. Asian rivers are muddy, but this stream is bright blue because of limestone in the water. There were thousands of Chinese tourists taking selfies. In one way, having so many people around is disappointing, but in another sense this means that beautiful places are being visited and hopefully saved from development. Please see our photos above to get a sense of the beauty of the area. Adjacent to the falls is a moon bear rescue center/zoo. The bears were not displayed very well, but at least they seem to be well cared for, and they get great food and lots of room to play.
On the way back from the waterfall, we visited a minority village and Jocelyn bought three new scarves for US $5 each. Back in town, we walked over a small bamboo bridge (pedestrians only) over the Nam Khan River; it has to be taken down every rainy season. We were getting tired of Asian cuisine, so we ate at a small Italian restaurant. I had salmon, Lois had spaghetti, and Jocelyn had a pizza. The bill was US $20. Unfortunately, mosquitos had found Lois' ankles, and the itching was driving her nuts. After a couple of days and lots of Benadryl and anti-itch lotion, things have improved.
On Tuesday the 27th we awoke to heavy rain, the first precipitation of our entire trip. Unfortunately we were scheduled to visit the Living Land Farm where we would get to experience what it is like to grow rice on small Laotian farms. Well, we learned what it is like to farm rice in the rain. We had the opportunity to wade knee deep in mud barefoot, and hang on to a plow being pulled by a water buffalo. Neither of us took advantage of that! Next we were able to wade knee deep in mud, bend over and place rice shoots into the mud. Did I mention it was still pouring rain, and a little cool? I still had an open wound on my big toe, so I just stood in the mud barefoot, in the rain, and watched others do this. I didn't want to take my camera out of the van in this downpour, so I didn't even get to take photos. Jocelyn used her waterproof phone to take a few photos. Then, we got to wade into the mud, grab a handful of rice, and cut it off with a scythe. Finally, we got to come in out of the rain, and beat the stalks on a board to dislodge the rice kernels. Then we got to pound the rice with a large foot actuated hammer to crack open the rice kernels, and then use a large flat bamboo plate to separate the rice kernels from the husks. Finally we had lunch. Most of the time we were miserable, but we gained some insight into what it is like to farm rice in Laos. When lunch was over, Chan took us back to our hotel where we could shower and change into clean dry clothes.
After we cleaned up, we visited an elementary school. The classrooms were large and crowded - about 40 - 50 kids, but everything was very orderly. The students were engaged, and I was impressed by the material being covered. In the third grade students were multiplying and dividing large three digit numbers using Arabic digits. The Laotian numbers are very different from ours; they are base ten but the symbols are different, similar to the Thai.
After the school visit, we went to a local temple that was covered in mosaics. Our guide related several mystical stories that were the basis for the mosaics. We then visited a local silversmith, and a cooperative that worked with local women to weave fabrics that are used for products sold to tourists.
Today, Wednesday March 28, the sun came out and we had a free day with no particular plans. So the 3 of us decided to hike up Mt. Phousi, a giant hill right in the center of Luang Prabang. There are over 300 steps to the top, passing several Buddha statues along the way, and finally reaching a stupa where we had a 360 degree view of the surrounding town, including two rivers. We were hot and sweaty, but felt that we had accomplished something. We had thoughts about taking a dip in the hotel pool, but it's hot and in the sun. We needed a day to relax!