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Luang Prabang and Kuang Si

Monks, markets and waterfalls

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View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Alms Giving Ceremony
The ritual known as Binthabat takes place every morning at 5:30 and has been part of the area's religious heritage since Buddhism was introduced in the 14th cent. Locals receive spiritual redemption from giving alms (in the form of cooked rice, bananas or sweets) to the monks, and the tourists get a kick out of it. Unfortunately, despite signs in every language, in every restaurant, shop and hotel, tourists still insist that their photos and experiences are more important than respecting the local culture. If you wish to give alms, you must have shoulders covered, be lower than the monks and not make eye contact. Although photography is permitted, you should do so from a comfortable distance without flash. Yet again I was ashamed by my fellow travellers, sticking their flashguns almost up into the faces of the poor monks.


After the tourist spectacle was over, we walked through the local early morning market which takes place every day from 04:00 until 10:00. Here any and every type of food can be purchased - as well as the familiar and not so familiar fruits, meats and vegetables, we saw live frogs, caterpillars, dried rats, crabs, ants' eggs, butterfly cocoons and much more.

Ants' eggs in the market

Butterfly cocoons in the market

Live frogs and crabs in the market

Royal Palace
When the communists took over control of the country in 1975, they sent the royal family to re-education camps, and turned the royal palace into a museum. Now overrun with tourists, it was nevertheless very interesting, with some beautiful pieces on display, including the typical communist custom of displaying gifts given by other foreign nations. In the courtyard were the collection of the royal cars, and photos of the staff, including the one-eyed driver.


Wat Haw Phapai
The name means Monastery of the Bamboo Forest and until 1975 it was the royal temple. There is a dispute about the date of origin of this temple, with versions varying from some time between 1645 and 1815. Either way, it is a beautiful building, with green glass mosaics and gold leaf carvings on the outside, with red being the colour favoured inside. Carvings depicting a mix of Hindu and Buddhist stories as well as folklore fables adorn the walls and ceilings.


We stopped by the Big Brother Mouse charity again to donate a spare digital camera we had brought with us, before having a look around the Fine Arts School. Here, traditional arts and crafts are being taught to the younger generation, using techniques handed down through the generations.


Ock Pop Tok
Textiles are an important part of Lao cultural diversity and at Ock Pop Tok (meaning East meets West), we were shown the silk weaving process from caterpillars to the finished product, their use of natural dyes, batik, traditional Ikat weaving and hemp painting. Afterwards we enjoyed a cup of silk worm poo tea. As you do. Said to lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as stabilising diabetes, I am sure it is good for us...


Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary
Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary was established in 2003 to house endangered Asiatic bears rescued from bile farms or illegal wildlife trade (Chinese medicines or bear paw soup). The original idea was to reintroduce the bears to the wild, but unfortunately they are now too used to human contact to be able to do that. With large enclosures and food tucked away in bamboo and other hiding places making meal times a little more fun, they are certainly much better off now.
Website www.freethebears.com


Photographs can rarely do somewhere justice, and nothing can be more true for Kuang Si Waterfall. It is a stunning series of several tiers of waterfalls cascading down through verdant vegetation and over picturesque rocks, with sounds of the jungle and colourful butterflies filling the air. Numerous and frequent signs request visitors to cover up as a mark of respect for the local people, but still you see western tourists walking around in skimpy bikinis. Feeling ashamed of my fellow travellers seems to be a recurring theme on this trip.


Having spent quite some time setting up my tripod, mounting the Neutral Density filters and shooting some creative long exposure shots of the falls, it was time for our picnic. “That's your table over there” said Khamseng, pointing to a picnic table with beautifully pressed tablecloth, proper cloth napkins and set out for two with a drink and cutlery. I never expected that sort of luxury when our itinerary said picnic lunch. Chicken curry, sticky rice, fried chicken and stir fried vegetables, followed by some lovely little rice powder biscuits coated in cane sugar and some little 'egg bananas'. Not bad for a picnic in such a beautiful setting.

Having arranged to meet our friends Jen and Simon for dinner tonight (I think they are stalking us...), we walked along the main drag of town, through the extensive night market and along to the river, just to find the restaurant we'd been recommended and arranged to meet at, was fully booked. Fear not, there were others. Wanting to share a cocktail or three after dinner, we were surprised to find that most of the town shuts down at 23:00!

Posted by Grete Howard 08:18 Archived in Laos

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Nothing goes to waste there does it?
I have some flea poo that might make good tea.

Our friend Mandy would love the water falls.
Glad the bears are taken care of there.
Lovely art work.

by Kay

gorgeous waterfalls Grete! Envy your picnic lunch.

by Homer

I read ant eggs taste like scrambled chicken eggs; isn't the bear feeding fun? I loved it when we were in Borneo.

by Helen

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