160926 Luang Prabang

Early starts are hard to face. Today, we were up at 5:00am for a ‘look see’ at the Alms Ceremony. Each morning, the monks go around the town collecting food such as ‘sticky rice’. They either use some themselves or give the ‘gifts’ to the city’s poor. Groups of monks walk in single file to collect the food before returning to the temples or pagodas for their day’s activity.One young monk would have been around 7 or 8.

The people of Indo China love markets. Experiencing a, what I call ‘a breakfast market’ is another ‘why would I eat that’ experience. We see lovely fresh garden produced fruit and vegetables as well as the ‘you’re not going to get away’ crabs, fish, insects and rodents. I can leave what is included in that group to your imagination but to the uninitiated, its not a pretty sight.

We get away from breakfast by 9:00am for a city walk that includes the national museum and the Vat Xiang Thong Temple. A long boat awaits near the town to take us to the Pak Ou Cave. This boat has a ”first class”, as we call it, for us to take a nap during the 1.5 hour journey up the Mekong River. We are at a point 4,000 kms from the mouth of the river in the south of Vietnam and only at 300 metres altitude. That’s not a long drop in altitude for such a distance, and the water is moving very fast.

It’s good to see the countryside of Laos. The lifestyle seems so much less fast moving compared to the cities of Saigon, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and the countryside is made up of jungle and lush farms. Rice is not the dominant crop anymore like it is on the plains to the south. We were served a meal on the way to the caves.

The Pak Ou (also written Pakou) Caves are one of the most treasured religious symbols of the Louang Prabang Province. Several legends tell stories of this site where, over the years, thousands of statues of Buddha have been deposited.

The entrance to the caves is a masterpiece, being as it is situated in a vertical cliff (which confirmed climbers will thoroughly enjoy) in the middle of a luxuriant jungle. The stairs, even though they are steep, are well looked after and equipped for many visitors. This site, which is primarily a religious site, is very much visited today by tourists; so don’t expect to be on your own for meditation. http://www.luangprabang-laos.com

Our guide advises that the steps are ‘heavy going’ for those who find steps a problem but for all, it is worth a look just to see so many statutes, some gold leafed, scattered around the cave. There are somewhere in the vicinity of 2,500 of these statutes, some large, some very tiny. It is the sort of cave where you expect some opera singer to start up and enjoy the acoustics and atmosphere.

The return trip back to Luang Prabang was almost half the time it took to go upstream to the caves, and those who took advantage of the ‘first class’ lounge, didn’t get such a good nap. Along the way, we stopped off at a village. The first stall was a rice-whisky making venture. Some tasted the 40-50% alcohol drink that sounded like a very overpowering solution. You can guess only a couple chose to try it.

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An excursion of a different kind was planned for when we returned. We’ve all tried bocce, or pentaque. The laotian people learned it from the days of the French occupation and so the adventurous went to the city competition location. After a lengthy explanation of the rules, we were divided up into two teams and had a good time of competition of the laotian kind.

Our evening was free dining so a group of us made our way to the town and found The Blue Lotus Restaurant. Laotian currency is the Kip and nothing is priced under 100 kip. Our meal cost 216,000 kip, about $A35,

Tomorrow, we visit some waterfalls for a picnic lunch and for the brave, a river swim.