Hard To Pronounce, Easy To Like

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
My Dream Boutique Hotel

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, December 18, 2011

After a dockside farewell (knowing full well that Luang Prabang is a relatively small town and we would see everyone again wandering the streets at some point), we had to find our hotel with only a map I had sketched from the Internet. The obvious answer was to flag down a tuk-tuk but the dockside tuk-tuk mafia had all conspired to quote ridiculous prices to the newly arrived fresh meat. The Aussie family of 4 piled into one of vehicles only to be driven about 100 feet to a hotel they could have easily walked to. I was having none of it, so DH and I strapped our gear on to make the relatively short trek to our hotel (my guess was about 2 km`s but DH had us closer to 10 miles). True to form, the tuk-tuk prices started dropping the second we stomped off but we were commited to a dramatic exit so we kept on walking...and walking...and walking with the ever-supportive DH muttering something about ``now I know why I didn`t marry him``and ``we`re saving two whole dollars``.  In complete darkness we reached one of the most ramshackle bridges we`ve seen in a while with afterthought walkways bolted onto either side- crossing under full load had the 2x4`s  popping up, and the drop to the river below seemed a real possibility.

We prevailed using the light from DH`s burning eyes to keep us on track- we even ran into Annie and Terry, the Aussie couple from the boat who were wandering aimlessly looking for a hotel that would accept Australians. With the two of them firmly in tow, we found a little piece of hotel heaven- it had only been open a month and was a bit of a throwback to the luxury digs we had gotten used to in Maui. As we settled into our room DH was returned to a place of happiness once her beloved  iPad was brought back to Internet life- every time the email chime goes off DH gets that excited look in her eye that I used to get back in our early dating days.

Breakfast the next morning introduced us to a human whirlwind and fellow Canadian named Evelyn. She had been lured to LP from Korea by the hotel owner to help run the hotel and she made a point of table hopping and checking on everyones well being. She gave us directions to the nearby bamboo walking bridge (a bridge that gets washed away every year and has to be rebuilt) that connected our side of the river with LP proper. So what do you do in Luang Prabang? Temple touring is high on the list along with various episodes of name that fruit/veg/meat in the local markets. The Laos National Sporting Games were on while we were there (the ever-present mascot was a rooster...really, a rooster- could you find a more annoying creature?) so we got our sporting fix including a game called Ka-Taw which is apparently very popular in SE Asia. The game is similar to volleyball except that players use their feet and a rattan ball- the women were twisting themselves into kick positions that would have me in traction for weeks. Good fun and the crowd was really rooting for the homeside.

As we got more familiar with the layout of LP we had to secure some wheels, and through good fortune the hotel happened to have a stable of racing cycles...well maybe it would be a stretch to call a bike with a big basket on the front and a ringy-ding bell a racer (until the pedal fell off, my bike even came equipped with a child carrier), but I had to pretend I was a Tour de LP participant in order to maintain some degree of masculine pride. Riding around town on this chick magnet allowed us to explore all corners of the town and we had a great time doing it.

DH's take on LP: Luang Prabang is so welcoming and the people so endearing. It's a chill spot here and the town itself is almost enchanting especially at night with all the tiny lights in trees and store fronts. There are no billboard type signs or blaring music. Just a serenity, both during the day and in the evening that has made this my favorite place so far. Walking down the main road through town, you find many guest houses, coffee cafes, crepe shops, authentic restaurants galore, wood oven pizzerias, massage spas, eco tour outlets and so on. They have tuk tuks, bikes, scooters and some cars but the traffic is minimal- either the vehicle horns have been surgically removed or the people here are just not predisposed to horn-blasting their fellow humans. Everyone does seem to prefer to walk or ride a bike and although we are surrounded by hills and the river, the town and surrounding area is surprisingly flat.

Amidst all of of this, are the many monks, wrapped up in saffron colored cloth robes. You see them everywhere, usually in groups of three or four and hurrying through town under an umbrella to guard against the sun. They depend on alms from the town for their daily food. There is an ancient tradition early in the morning, whereby the monks wind their way through the town receiving alms from the townsfolk. There is a very large procession through the main town (where most of the travelers are too). We are just outside the town but between two temples and  Evelyn mentioned that we didn't have to go to town with all the tourists as there are two processions right outside of where we are staying and she said she could take care of everything- just meet her at 5:30am out front. It was very dark out still but a light on the road out front was all we needed. She had placed two large bamboo mats on the ground at the side of the road. We were each handed a large basket of small bananas and a bamboo basket full of very hot sticky rice. You were not supposed to buy the rice from vendors in town if that's where you were making your offerings, you had to know where the rice came from, so we were pleased our hostess helped us out by sending one of the staff by motorbike to get the proper rice. There was only a Swiss couple there with us along with local women who sat near us with their offerings. When the monks came by,we were instructed, that the women had to remain on their knees or seated. Neither woman nor men can ever have their feet facing the monks. The men could stand if necessary, but they must never be taller than the monks, you could' t speak unless they spoke to you ( sometimes the younger ones would speak), and you couldn't touch the monk or any part of the container you put his food into.

About 5:40am, sure enough, we could see figures moving up the road like a long orange snake winding its way to us and getting closer. I was very excited and started balling my rice into little offerings hoping I had enough. As they approached, it was surreal, there were about 17 monks in the first group and at least 25 in the second. They had lids on these containers but for the most part they held them open and you just dropped a ball of sticky rice or a banana. Vic ran out and started in on my stash but we made it, right up to the very last somewhat hungry looking monk. Just after they passed us they stopped, and began chanting. There is nothing more magical than a large group of monks giving you a two minute blessing at 5:45 am in the dark while you are sitting on a bamboo mat on the side of the road. I really like Luang Prabang.
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Carol on

What a great blog from Both of you!! Thanks for sharing the story of the monks Deb, I can understand why you like the place so much!! Sounds like a piece of heaven.

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