We think it’s Thursday but without the carpet in the lift at Hanoi we’re kind of not sure! This hotel is in the French Colonial style and has some very beautiful gardens, lily ponds and our room overlooks the Mekong River. It is very peaceful with a special ambience. Strange also to see the Mekong River in another country after having boated on it on the Delta in Vietnam. According to the guide, the Mekong is about 4,500 kms long and starts high up in the Tibetan Plateau. We haven’t actually checked this out but everywhere we go there is the Mekong.
We were up at 5:00 this morning to see the parade of monks in the main street of Luan Prabang. We had organised a bus from the hotel to take us there but soon found out we had paid for more than expected. We had just arrived in the bus when a man on a motor bike pulled up beside us, laid out a prayer mat, placed a carpet runner over the top of the mat then put a basket of sticky rice on the mat. Over the top of the basket was a long shawl. The driver indicated that it was for us. We had only wanted to go to photograph the parade but now we were expected to be part of the giving of rice. The driver placed the shawl over one shoulder and told us to kneel on the carpet runner. We later learned that the scarves represent the asking of the monks to intercede for a better future life. No way could we kneel on our wonky arthritic knees. I sat side saddle and Michael sat cross legged. We think this must have been a disrespectful position as at this, the bus driver was most upset and indicated that if we couldn’t kneel we should stand. All this happened by gestures, as the driver couldn’t speak English.
Every morning, over 200 orange-clad, barefooted monks come from every monastery in the city and join together to make one long queue. They carry containers and receive alms in the form of sticky rice from the people kneeling on prayer mats laid out on the pavement of the main street. The rice is taken back to the monasteries and offered as food and intercession to the ancestors of the alms givers. Some of the rice is eaten by the monks. We have trouble with this as the sticky rice, by this time, is handled by hundreds of people. Our guide later told us that people have to have clean hands because if dirty rice is given, bad things will happen to the alms-giver. This made us worry about how well we had cleaned our hands that morning!! After a few minutes, Michael decided that his ancestors had been appeased and that he was now allowed to take the promised photos, so I ended with 2 baskets of sticky rice. One is supposed to roll only a small amount into a small ball but this was beyond me, so a few monks got a lot of rice, and the rest had to rely on the others who had more aptitude with the rolling thing.
We then returned to the hotel for breakfast and appreciated the chance to relax outside in the colourful gardens overlooking the river.
We then spent the morning in the Historical Old Town. We started at the fresh food market checking out the exotic fruits and vegetables, visited the National Museum which was once the Royal Palace of the King and visited more temples with lots of gold. In the afternoon we took a leisurely 2 hour ride up the Mekong river to some caves containing thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues. The caves are a destination for local pilgrimages, especially during the Lao New Year.
Over the past 4 weeks we have been on many different styles of boats but this was the most plush and comfortable. It is called a “long tail boat”, 24 metres long, only 1.5 metres wide and finished in highly polished teak with intricate carvings. Very comfortable for a nap after the early morning start!
Val forgot to mention the village we were taken to on the way to the caves, perhaps because it wasn’t imprinted on her mind like it was imprinted on mine. This village produces Meekong Whiskey, and it was pretty good stuff. I had to taste all three varieties and the walk back to the boat, through lanes lined with ladies weaving and wood carvers, was a delight.
She also forgot to mention the sunset over the mighty Meekong on the way back.