Well if you are reading this, you have survived another journey and you are at your last port of call. Luang Prabang is as old, and rich in history , as the other cities we have visited but is considerably smaller. The population is 50,000 unlike the millions in the other main cities. There is a quiet calm dignity to it and its people.
The staff are great fun. They spent some time , with lots of discussion , responding to my request for a phonetic version of typical phrases like thank you, I’ll think about it etc. They said the price was $1000 or I could help them improve their English…..surprise,I chose the latter.
Night markets are popular in all Asian cities because it is cooler. Here in Luang Prabang, the night markets are all about food and the local handicrafts. Most stalls have a sign showing they are part of the local Artisan guild. Our visit was short as our guide insisted on us having a traditional meal…soup, curry, salads , vegetables and fruit. We rolled home.
It is early morning. The sun hasn’t risen but we have, and are standing in the street for the daily alms giving to the monks. There are 180 small monasteries in the area and each day the monks leave the monasteries and collect food for the two meals they will eat. Breakfast at around 6.30 and then lunch in the early afternoon. Any food they can not eat is shared with others in the monastery, the old , sick , nuns , lay people and those in need in the surrounding countryside.
You have a basket of sticky rice and take a small handful and put it in the bowl. Woman have to have a scarf covering their chest and sit, while men have it tied to one side and stand. There is no sound from either the giver or the receiver . It is quite eerie , just a procession of orange clad boys and men silently walking past.The boys range in age from 8 up and are sent to the monastery if their parents are too poor to educate them. They stay there until they have finished their education, and receive all medical and materials for free as monks. Once they have finished their education, they can choose to stay or leave. Sadly, few return to their villages, choosing to stay and work in the city or larger towns.
From here we went to the fresh morning market. Now when I say fresh, I mean fresh. The fish were still gasping their last breaths and the ducks were just plucked. People sell their surplus or what they have caught or grown. An octopus,sure thing, snake, yes. Look a lovely duck, you can pluck it.
From here it was the Wat Mei temple and Museum or former Royal Palace. The Temple was built by the former king and his father but finished by the Government when the Prabang Buddha was returned to the Laos people from Thailand. The Museum holds Buddhas and treasures rescued from a Stupa that was not discovered by Chinese invaders in 1880. It is looked on with great pride since so few treasures remain in Laos.
From here we walked to the Wat Xiang Thong temple. This is famous for its beautiful paintings and the mosaics on the outside. A huge Banyon tree once grew on the site and so was put as a mosaic on the wall of the temple. Inside are paintings in gold on black of Buddha and of Wesangia , a prince who was happy to share with the poor.
All Buddhas in every temple are ceremonially removed and washed by the monks. For the main Prabang Buddha , this requires 4 days of festivities including two parades as the Buddha goes from the Wat Mei temple through the city and then to the Museum. It is returned to the temple by another Parade.
Are you exhausted, in need of a rest. Well you just have to walk down some very steep stairs, balance on a floating jetty and you can have a two hour rest. We are on our way to the Pak Ou Buddha cave temples. Going upstream against the Mekong takes a long time. Our driver was feeling under the weather, so after two stops, drinking much water, our guide took over. The scenery is beautiful. Cattle, elephant (from the sanctuary), fisherman and the odd boat just pass before you.
Two hours later, well rested,you are ready to climb the hundreds of stairs, first to the lower and then the upper caves. Within each cave are more than 4000 Buddhas dating from the last two centuries till now. Local people bring one each year. They are in every crevice,including those in the ceiling.
Back on the river, over the dancing bridge( a plank), up the stairs, hotel, a rest, night markets for last minute shopping and then packing for the flight back to Seam Reap. We leave from there tomorrow to fly home. See you soon.