Up In Alms
Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
201Trip End Ongoing
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We spent our first evening exploring and discovered the night market, this was a real treat after all the night markets in Thailand selling not much other than Havaiana flip flops and dayglow vests, this market sold everything from puppets and duvets to bracelets and paintings all laid out meticulously on the floor. The market was covered with a selection of little marquees, however these are not there for the average western tourist as if you are taller than 5'6 you are going to spend you walk through the market banging your head every time you lose concentration and forget to walk like the hunchback of Notre Dame
One thing that I was beginning to notice in Laos was that I seemed to be getting up earlier and earlier by the day, setting our alarm for 5:30a.m was the norm, thankfully life was going at such a slow pace it didn’t really matter and with the town closing at 11 an early night was pretty much unavoidable.
Our first tour in Luang Prabang was a boat tour to the Pac Ou caves, these can be reached by Tuk-Tuk but what better way to spend the morning than cruising down the river watching people fish, wash, pan for gold, play and just go about their days. Our boat was quite luxurious compared to some of the boats we had been on in Thailand and rather than the usual wooden benches we had car seats to sit on. The journey to the cave is about 2 hours so we broke up the journey with a visit to a local village where they brew Lao Lao, the local home brew rice whiskey which is rather potent to say the least
There are 2 caves at Pac Ou, Tham Ting the lower cave and the Tham Theung the upper cave. We started at the lower cave and as you climbed the stairs you were greeted with a cave, a small alter and everywhere you looked there were statues of Buddha and many other Buddhist deities placed in every nook and cranny as high into the cave as you could see. It was something of a wonder just how they were placed there, especially as the cave was full of bats shooting around overhead. After a few photos and some time to take in the view we started the climb to the upper cave. Nobody warned us that this was going to be a bit like ascending Everest in 40 degree sun. Whilst there was a nice set of stairs the whole way up in the heat it was touch and go as to whether we were going to make it, there was talk of turning back, but we decided to push on and made it to the top, yay! At the top this cave was fully sealed with a set of doors at the entrance, as soon as you walked in it was pitch black
During our cave tour we got talking to a pair of Ozzies on holiday in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, the lovely Pip and Sam from Sidney were absolutely amazing company and we had a fair few laughs on the boat trip hope comparing travel stories so after a quick lunch we were due to go our separate ways on a waterfall tour so we hatched a plan to meet later that evening for some dinner and drinks. We were more than a little envious when we saw Pip and Sam head off in their shiny new air-con mini bus and we were bundled into a clapped out excuse for a bus where the advertised air-con actually just meant it had no windows. Despite the fact that our bus set off 30 minutes after Sam and Pips thanks to our Formula 1 driver we got there before them, my white knuckles shining brightly through my tan.
The first attraction at the waterfall was Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre, I don’t really like these sort of attractions in Asia as usually the animals are drugged and badly treated, but this one was different
Onwards to the waterfall and it was teeming with tourists and locals alike, the locals definitely had the right idea they seemed to have their entire families with them with blankets, booze and picnics and they were set up for the day, the children playing in the waterfall, the adults eating, drinking and sleeping, now that’s what I call a day out. We on the other hand had an hour and a half to see as much as we could, so we headed to the top of the waterfall, which thankfully was a nice easy walk meandering through the forest. Eventually we decided to make our way down and feeling hot and sweaty I could not resist a dip in the waterfall. As I was slipping and sliding over the rocks with small Laotian children splashing me as much as they could I made it into the crisp cool water, however just when I thought I was deep enough to fully submerge I discovered that there was a huge boulder right under my bum, that is going to be a nice purple bruise in the morning
On our way back to Luang Prabang we had one more stop in a Hmong Village, a local tribe who make bracelets, blankets and other handicrafts. The village was very quaint we were told that the Hmong people live in bamboo and wooden houses with only one door and no windows. The route through the village was just lined with adorable children shouting at us and chasing us to buy their friendship bracelets, they seem to have perfected their chant of "5 for 5,000" and sang at us as we passed. It was a bit like an Ethnic minority village version of the London Markets. We couldn’t buy from one and not the others so despite their best efforts we left without a handful of friendship bracelets, but Tim got some good photos of the sales boys and girls giving their all.
We arrived back in Luang Prabang with plenty of time to get showered and relaxed before we headed out to meet Pip and Sam, so we slowely made our way through town and waited for them.
About ten minutes later we saw Sam and Pip striding down the middle of the road looking harassed and with Sam doing some odd walk with one foot being lifted considerably higher off the ground than the other
Our last full day in Luang Prabang and we decided to take it easy and wonder around the town. The biggest temple in the town is Wat Xieng Thong so covered up in 40 degree heat we made our way there and amazingly met Pip and Sam on their bike, what a small town. So we all set off to explore the temple together. It was not the biggest temple but it was pretty and what was fascinating is that we were there a few days before the ceremony where new novice monks join the temple so there was a huge marquee lined with beds and on each bed was everything that a new monk receives when they enter the temple. It was cool to see the bare basics they get like, flip flops, robes, a Thai day bed and a few pots for cooking and washing
On our way home we happened to see one of the bamboo bridges over the river and feeling a bit like Indiana Jones we decided to pay our 50p each and take our lives into our hands to cross the bridge, I took significantly longer than Tim to get over the bridge holding on for dear life and not daring to look down. We actually had no idea what was on the other side of the bridge so we sat down for a while and just watched the world go by and got some lovely shots of some novice monks crossing the bridge, we followed some other tourists around the corner and found a lovely viewpoint over the river where we all just sat and had a great chat with some likeminded backpackers about life the world and everything. Luang Prabang was just the most relaxed and calming place to be.
Our last morning and we finally managed to set our alarm early enough and got out of bed to the famous Alms Ceremony. Every morning all the monks in Luang Prabang walk through the town at 5:30am in a meditative trance and the local villagers offer them sticky rice in exchange for a blessing
After a quick breakfast we were ready for our next journey, a minibus 6 and a half hours to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars. We waited outside our hotel for our minibus and with our luggage loaded we were on the road before we knew it. After about 20 minutes I suddenly realised that perhaps I had relaxed into life in Luang Prabang a little too much when I looked down and realised that I had got into the minibus barefoot and had left my flip flops on the doorstep of the hotel. Another pair of flip flops bites the dust!