A pearl in the Mountains

Trip Start Jul 10, 2007
Trip End Mar 11, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Laos (the "s" was added to the name by the French came to the country)
Luang Prabang in Laos is comparable to the feeling you get when you sip the best cup of coffee, sitting outside by the water at a cottage on a glorious peaceful sunlit morning.  It is a treat and a simple delight.  Luang Prabang was the unexpected pearl of our South East Asian trip; the little jewel we were so happy we did not overlook.
Luang Prabang is in Laos; a country landlocked between Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The Mekong River runs through it on the West side or the way I would describe it, on the left side.  This country has also had its shares of devastating invasions, territorial disputes and wars.  It has not had the opportunity to develop as quickly as some of its neighbours and it is just opening up to tourism.  The infrastructure is beginning to take shape.  Major streets, even in the capital of Vientiane are being paved as we visit.  Due to previous experiences of many frustrating and chaotic traveling arrangements, we opted on flying to our two Laotian destinations.  Our biggest mistake was not staying in Laos longer.
When the plane begins its descent into Luang Prabang, you are greeted by lush green mountains resembling the predominant emerald colours of Ireland.  Scattered across the mountain tops, golden spires from the temples burst out of the trees to sparkle in the sun.
Luang Prabang has the most charming airport with one baggage turnstile.  However, Laos has the most expensive visas we have paid yet ($42.00 per person).  Again, thoughts of "where does this money go?" circled our minds!  We did not have enough cash in hand even after borrowing most of the sum from a trusting Calgarian fellow traveler. (Thanks Tanya!!)  The authorities let us leave the airport to get some money from the closest money exchange (credit cards are not accepted for visa permit payments.)
A typical day in Luang Prabang is very relaxed and time flows differently. We discovered that the most reliable way of knowing how the day progressed was by listening to the ritualistic chanting and drum beating resounding from the Temples.  Abundant markets line the streets. Silver jewelery, embroideries, weavings and soft thick cottons are some Laotian specialties.
Mornings are magical as you get to witness the fog tickling the peaks of the mountains as it lifts off into the sky.  Ty and I woke up very early one morning to participate to the daily rite of feeding the monks at 5:30am.  The monks parade quietly in the streets to collect in their copper urns, their daily food consisting of rice and fruit (prepared by the town women). I was taken aback by the age of some of the Monks; some were as young as 5-6 years old. 
Throughout the day, heat invades the city and shade is in great demand.  Relief arrives around 6:00pm when the sun offers a gentle hint that the moon will soon replace the scorching heat of the day to dip the temperature to a cool 28 degrees.  However, there is a delightful chilly dark beverage brewed in this great little country named: Laos Dark Beer.  Very refreshing!  

Days in Luang Prabang are lazy and comfortable.  The boys study in the morning  and we venture out in the afternoon after having a great lunch at the best restaurant across the temple (contrary to the previous days' best restaurants beside or in front of the other temples).  The boys and I decide to have a typical Laotian massage - quite different than the ones I know from Canada.  We are all longer than before as the massage involves a lot of stretching and bending of limbs in creative ways...Hum???  We all looked quite adorable in our martial arts type suits.

The narrow winding street along the Mekong River have the best cafes along the water where one can savour the " favoured dark beverage"  or an ice lemon grass and ginger tea.  We had, once again a humbling experience with a local.  Reading here is a luxury.  To our sadness, we met a young fellow who could not even understand symbols or the lay out of a map.
The Laotians smile easily and it is from the heart.  They are proud, friendly, welcoming, curious, calm, very quiet and extremely kind.  They asked us many questions about Canada, our traditions and about our French language.  Again, the blond hair and freckles were a novelty and our youngest one received much attention.   

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