Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the second city in Laos. The capital is Vientiane, but all reports are that it's not as nice as LP. In addition, parts of Vientiane were underwater due to the flooding, so LP definitely seemed like the right choice.

When I arrived, the power was out across the city, but after having experienced a prolonged blackout the previous night in Pak Bang, I gave the raised eyebrow of the knowing world traveller, and then sat in the gloom waiting for it to come back on. Because it's hard to look purposeful when it's 30 degrees and darkish.

Incidentally, if anyone is reading this because they're going to Laos, I stayed at the Sala Prabang, which I recommend. Great service and a very nice room.

I really liked LP. I repeatedly ate spicey papaya salads, spring rolls, and delicious banana or pineapple smoothies. I don't care where in the world you are - that's a tough combo to beat.

There are prominent tourist attractions that everyone sees in LP: Giving alms to the monks at dawn, the temple on the hill, the waterfall. I left the waterfall until too late in the day, and the drivers wanted too much money. And I guess the monks didn't want the alms badly enough to wait until early afternoon. I mostly just roamed around with my camera.

I continued my practice of scaring the crap out of myself by walking across a wooden bridge, only to have one of the boards pivot away underfoot to show the water below, like Indiana Jones crossing the old bridge in Temple of Doom.

The river, taken from the rickety bridge

Woman with baskets

Faded communist insignia on a building

Statue heads in a fountain

I love the orange robes of the monks. They're so vivid. I really wanted a good photo of a monk, maybe carrying a sun umbrella, but I was nervous about being offensive. There were signs on the streets warning you to keep your head below those of the monks and to keep your distance from them. I'm no fan of religion, but it's their culture, so I'll play along.

I thought this was a general rule, so whenever a monk walked past me I would kind-of stoop down so I was lower. But nobody else was doing that, and I got confused about whether that was correct or not. Eventually, I settled on a policy of pretending to do up my shoelace whenever a monk went past. But then I came to a street that was just crawling with monks - it must've been monk lunch hour or something. I eventually turned off that street because I was having to pretend to do up my laces every few paces. Anyway, through trying not to offend, I never got a really pleasing photo.

Monks walking down the street (I bought the red shirt at left)

LP has a night market that goes on for miles. It was interesting as an experience, but the problem is, the stalls all sell the same things. If you don't want a strip of woven cloth from one of them, you probably don't want it from the next 49 stalls either.

However, there were a couple of occasions where I saw products for sale that were unique. On the climb up to the temple on the hill, women were selling sparrows in basket cages. I think the idea is that you release them to get karmic points, but doesn't that merely offset the karmic debt you owe from causing a sparrow to be stuff into a small box? This was another stall on the street:

Exotic fish for sale in bottles

On the flight from Luang Prabang back to Bangkok, I sat next to a Canadian woman who had been in LP for 5 weeks. I don't know how you'd fill in that much time, but LP was great and I'd like to see more of Laos. Recommended.

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