Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Luang Prabang, Laos

We have loved Laos.  Independent since 1954 Laos, as a part of the former French Indochina, is a wonderful blend of old world SE Asia with its Buddhist ideals and agrarian life mixed with French culture.  It is a Shangri-La with French cuisine.
 Lao food always accompanied with sticky rice in the little basket, something wrapped in banana leaves and assortment of sauces

Chicken cooked in stalks of lemon grass

Giving morning alms to the monks.
Every morning at dawn, 0530,  a procession of some 200 monks  from the Buddhist temples scattered around Luang Prabang makes its way around town collecting the alms.  The monks get all of their food for the day in this way and they do it every day.  Mostly what ends up in there offering bowls is sticky rice though you can give them anything.  I did notice a few bags of chips and even some candy.  

Another beautiful Wat.  There are around 20 of these here.   The detail on them is amazing.  This one is on the grounds of the formal Royal palace.  Though the capital of Laos has been Vientiane since before the French colonized it the king had always lived here.  On a tour through the Palace I noticed a peculiar irony.  Among many gifts from foreign governments or heads of state given to Laos were 2 small plaques with flecks of moon rock from the early Apollo missions addressed to this great peaceful nation signed by Richard Nixon.  At the time, under Nixon's leadership we were in the midst of dropping more bombs on Laos then were dropped during the whole of WWII in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy North Vietnam supply routes.  In the garage there was also a 1965 Cadillac Eldorado that had been given by the US government.
The king was eventually forced to abdicate when the communist Pathet Lao took over things in 1975.

That Chomsi Stupa.  I gather that a Stupa is a place where some great monks remains lay, like a mausoleum.

That Chomsi Stupa hill 

Looking down on Luang Prabang

Beautiful Laos highlands with meandering Meekong river.

Silk worm poo tea anyone.  Just what it sounds like, Jenny enjoyed hers.

Luang Prabang sits at the confluence of the Nam Cham and Meekong rivers

Had an incredible day as rice farmers.  

Rice is without a doubt the most important commodity of SE Asia.  We spent a neat day at a rice farm going through all the 13 steps of cultivation.  Owen here plowing the paddy with the help of a water buffalo. 

Planting seedlings

Weeding.  Difficult to tell which are weeds and which are rice plants

Having 2 much fun.  Pumping bellows to stoke fire used in blacksmithing tools.    I tell you the kids weren't too fired up about a day on a rice farm and none of us really knew what to really expect but we all really had a lot of fun.  

After picking the plants and thrashing it on a mat to release all the seeds this is how they transport it.  We also  pounded the seeds to get the husks off, separated seeds out and even ground some into flour with a human powered mill stone.  

Grinding sugar cane to make juice.  It was quite good

What is for lunch.  Rice of course.  Rice cakes, sticky rice,  rice pancakes, rice pretzels.  Not bad but I confess we did stop at a French bakery for some sandwiches as well.  

Home brew

Reward for hard work was a trip to Kuang Si Waterfall, about 45 minutes outside of town.  A beautiful drive to get here through hills, and past terraced rice paddies.  Great rope swing and cliff diving into beautiful travertine pools.

Owen and Jasper went first. 

Lays in SE Asia.  Lobster, crab, seaweed and squid flavors.

Learning about textiles.  These women dye and spin all there threads and weave the most beautiful things.  Some are so intricate that they take weeks to complete.  

Owen found some buddies and ended up playing soccer with them while the girls learned about weaving.  

Owen drawing pictures of superheroes for these kids.

Finished products

Our vessel for Meekong river cruise.

Fishing village

Out checking fishing lines and traps

Beautiful Wat in small fishing village.

Learning how to make rice whiskey.  Here is the still, alcohol is  being collected in small jug on right.

Lunch in a local fishing village with the "chief" of the village.  

Kitchen used to cook our meal

The chief
The Village School

The kids dispensing colored pencils and balloons

Pak Ou caves.  Very sacred buddhist place  over Meekong.

Karst formations on Northern Laos

 Big Brother Mouse
Book store / informal English school
Owen and I went into this bookstore just for a browse.  As soon as Owen sat down to look at a book he was besieged by several young Lao who wanted to practice their English.  Many of them had never been outside of this region.   Their desire to learn was amazing and we sat there for about 2 hours speaking with them.  Owen read some of his book to them.  The girls came looking for us and they too were quickly recruited.  

Pediatrician's office

A village local selling her produce

This is the monk that ask Jenny to help him  with his english studies book.   She happily obliged and worked with him for over an hour.

Our four days in Luang Prabang were great.  Wonderful place though I am fearful that a proposed Chinese railway line from Nanjing to Vientiane planned to come though here in 2015 may spoil a bit of its serenity.