15.11.2008 29 °C
This is such a wonderful *wonderful* city. It is just so unbeleivably beautiful. THe setting for one; set along the banks of the mighty Mekong River and also between one if its tributaries, the shores of which are divided into neat culitivated squares of vegitables and rice paddies. The streets are well paved and quite clean. French archatecture whispers a colonial influenced past in the libraries, banks, and the plethora of guesthouses. In the middle of the "city" (I"d consider it more like a large town) rises a steep hill with a sacred gold leafed temple on top, the perfect place to watch the sun go down. THe locals are ever so polite. Tourists arn't allowed ride moterbikes here and although tuk tuks and scooters abound, there is much more order in the streets than Chiang Mai, Pai, Bangkok, or anywhere else I've been in S.E.A for a long time.
The tributary river that flows into the Mekong.
The night market bustles with rows upon rows of red tents displaying an assortment of hand crafted linins, woven textiles, leatherbound books and crudely made paper note books, as well as trinkets, key chains, jewelery, and soaps, oils, and coffee. Food Vendor Street, as I come to call it, are right around the corner from the night market. To walk down this street is to undated with smells and sights and sound of all manner of fish, flesh, and foul are roasted over coals, while bowls of curries and laap and vats of sticky rice await hungry buyers. My friends, one evening, selected a fish on a stick to eat. It was litereally a whole fish, about 10 inches long, held pinched between a long split piece of bamboo. It had been sitting over hot coals for a few hours and looked like a big, cooked...well...fish! I thought it looked horrible, all head and skin, and fins attached. But my friend simply discarded the fins, and picked off the flesh. It was...the most...delicious...amazing...tender...succulant...tasty...melt-in-your mouth...fish I have ever had. Yes, you had to pick through all the bones and goo...but boy was it worth it. I got one too.
I met, like, a MILLION people on the Slowboat. Everywhere I went I bumped into people I knew which was really nice. the first night in town, it was dark when we arrived. Naturally just off the slowboat we were assailed by Laotions with pamphlets trying to get us to try their guesthouse, but i and several others just took off walking to see what we could find. Many guesthouses were full, and they were all more expensive than I imagined. (after paying around a dollar per night, suddenly paying 7 or 9 dollars seems like a lot. After moving around town and a tuk tuk ride, i ended up sharing a room with Gabi.
She was a LOVELY 45 year old lady who carried on and acted like an energetic and vivacious 30 year old. Our room at Suk Dee Guesthouse was lovely, and the hot shower was a special delight. We had an amazing dinner that night. We shared two fish meals and a caraf of the nicest red wine I've had since leaving the U.S. Score!!
In the early early morning one can't ignore the drumbeat that eminates from the temples all around the center of Laung Prabang. The temples are empties of their Monkish Population, as the orange clad, bald-headed religious men walk the streets barefooted with canisters to collect alms and stickyrice. Gabi and I woke early (5:30 am-ew!) and watched the monks come in long endless lines past the local folk kneeling on mats and passing up, with their right hands, balls of sticky rice and food wrapped in banana leaves.
Monks taking alms
They ranged in age from maybe 9 or 10 to 20 something. Despite all having the same "style", there was a delightful range of personality. Many held their heads high in the reserved dignity that one would expect a monk to have. Others exchanged furtive words with one another when they thought no one was looking. A few actually gave a jolly "Saa baa dee' as they passed. (hello!). It was really humbling to watch. I felt it really inapproriate to photograph such a solomn and sacred happening. However tourists were just going right up and flashing their cameras in the monks faces. it really degraded the sanctity of the ritual if you ask me. I took a photo after the monks past. Even though that's still kinda sneaky.
Then Gabi and I met Youcif and Andreas from the long boat. We were all hungry and headed for a little Cafe that turned out the most amazing pastries and frothy cappachinos, that i ended up eating their for breakfast 2 days in a a row (and getting the SAME thing!! A ham, egg, and cheese bagel! oh my god YUM)
Breakfast with Yucef, Andreas...Gabi is taking the photograph.
Then we decided to walk about town and visit some of the temples. Here's some of the things we saw.
When in Rome (err...Louang Prabang)
Some (dog?) statues outside a temple
Oldest Temple in Luang Prabang...built around Old Bill Shakesperes time
Inside a temple....
Then we took a little break, enjoyed some delicious banana smoothies, and wrote some postcards we had bought. There i snapped this little photo of a sweet pussy cat on front of a spirit house.
The Cat's Spirit House
Our snack spot on the MeKong: Andreas, Yucif, and Gabi
Then we walked towards one of the most important temples in Laos, which is also featured on their money. This is the temple
Here there were lots of monks walking about doing their..ahem..MONK thing. Some banged on bells, some drummed on drums and clashed symbols...some walked around looking thoughtful and mysterious. The temples in the compound were magnificent. the golden temple here shone shimmeringly in the late afternoon sunlight.
Golden temple door detail
Andreas, Youcif, and Gabi in Laung Temple
dragon in temple
The shadows were getting long, and we all walked with eagar steps to the bottom of the great hill in the center of town. At least 200 steps were required to surmount it. There we joined a thronging crowed of tourists snapping photographs of a richly colored sky.
Croft awaiting sunset
The sunset was nice, but I'm getting quite spoilt on sunsets these days. It was a little cheesy, there being about 9 million people crowded onto the western varanda of the temple, but the views were never-the-less magnificent. As the light faded, the lights of Luang Prabang far below twinkled. Smoke from fires wafted up into the atmosphere, and the towering mountains all around made for an astounding backdrop.
Luang Prabang Sunset
Once the sun was gone, most of the tourists skipped like rabbits to the night market. I and several other eagar beavers stayed to watch the best part of the sunset. The colors intensified over the next half hour, and the full moon rose large and blindingly bright in the eastern sky.
Croft's Sunset salute!!
THe night was far from over. Next we went to Food Vendor Street and chomped down on meat on a stick and consumed several bags of sticky rice. Then we tuk-tuked to a temple 3 kms from town and went to a Buddhist festival. The were lighting off fireworks and sending colorful lanterns into the sky. Several hundred or more locals carried candles and incense in hand, and, lead by monks to a rhythmic drumbeat, they circles the temple three times. It was all pretty incredible and beautiful...except the part where a novice monk threw a firecracker at me and my friends. I dove for cover, all my stuff, waterbottle, bag and camera tumbling to the ground. the locals had a laugh, or at least i think they were laughing-i'm not sure because my ears were ringing from the nearby explosion and I was deafened temporarily. Stupid monk.
No really, it was great. Good times for all.
Then we all met up with loads of people from the slow boat at the Haight Bar.
Last night party in Luang Prabang
It was a late night that night, and bed felt REALLY good. But I was destined to move once again. The next day I took a bus to Vang Vieng. And though I'd really really like to tell you all about this magical place RIGHT NOW, i can't, because it's nearly midnight and I"m gonna get kicked outta here soon. So you'll have to wait til tommrrow.
Miss home. a lil.