A Travellerspoint blog

February 2018

LAOS VILLAGES

HEADING NORTH OF LUANG PRABANG

sunny 30 °C
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Luang Prabang is a beautiful city and as a result, is a major draw for tourists. In fact, it feels like it is heavily populated by French tourists, perhaps drawn in by all the French pastries and restaurants that remain long after Laos ceased to be a colony of France (1946). Since I, myself, am a tourist, I can hardly begrudge that the others are there but I also realise that once a place draws tourists, it loses some of its traditions and cultures. For that reason, I am always seeking to get a little glimpse of traditional life. Organizing that wasn't as simple as I thought. I found it difficult to find a guide or driver but eventually convinced one of the guys working at the hotel to take me on an adventure which turned out to be a wonderful. Adding to the experience was meeting a wonderful lady, Sonia, over a bowl of soup, who decided to join me. We were kindred spirits and sharing such an emotional day made the good moments better and the hard moments better.

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Some years ago, I read a book about the traditions of the Hmong people, one of the main ethic groups in Laos. I believe this may have been what peaked my interest in this country. I wanted to visit their villages thinking they were the only ethnicities living in rural Laos. Dao quickly corrected this view, explained he was Khmu, who represent a large piece of the population and he happily took us to a Khmu village as the first stop on our full day 2 hours north of Luang Prabang.

Dao took us to the home of his friend's wife and they seems so excited to be hosting us white strangers. The hospitality was outstanding but no more outstanding that the location. Their home was nestled in the hills but as the base of a few mountains and next to a river making for a lush and fertile lands and incredible view.

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Some village women took us to see the Teeth Caves, which housed thousands of teeth. I learned later that the caves were used as an air raid shelter during the Vietnam War and after that, locals say it was used as a prison by the Pathet Lao Communist forces, who were fighting alongside the North Vietnamese in Laos. The teeth appeared to be mostly animal but some looked human and if the former is true, likely were.

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After that, we enjoyed a lunch prepared by our hosts consisting of fresh fish from the river, green from the garden and of course, sticky rice.

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Our host family

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Our host then took us to another village where she knew some people. This was a Hmong village. We had a lovely visit there and the kids, once they warmed up, really enjoyed interacting with us. They loved seeing pictures of themselves on the back of the camera or on the phone. I did print a couple Sprocket pictures for the families with us all together.

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They showed such hospitality we wanted to pick up something at a nearby market. When we asked what they needed, they requested soap. Talk about a moment of perspective. What I noticed is that although people don't always look clean, their homes are tidy, the villages are neat and people are cleaning but it is likely an impossible task when you live and sleep in the mud and dust. We did get our driver to take us to a local shop where we got soap, shampoo, school supplies and some oranges. They were so grateful.

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We went to one final village on the way home. Again, Hmong and again, very welcoming but as we were leaving we had a pretty tough moment. We saw a young girl, perhaps 8, looking after her younger sister, who was probably 3 but who clearly could not walk or talk. The younger one was crying, and the sister was trying her best to settled her. We learned, after some time, that the parents both travel a long way to work in the rice fields and are gone for long days. The poor young girl was left to tend all day to her sister. It was heart wrenching and we felt helpless although Sonia did her best to clean the young girl and give her some food and water. We left with heavy hearts but with the realisation that this is likely reality for many people in this region. People work hard and kids don't always get to be kids.

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We saw plenty of love today too.

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A truly humbling day. I am so grateful for the experience and to have meet so many beautiful and warm people.

Our guide

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Our driver who clearly figured out how to wait patiently.

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Posted by curlygirl 18:20 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

MONKS, CAVES AND WATERFALLS

EXPLORING THIS UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE CITY

sunny 28 °C
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Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage City and has a few very special experiences and places worthy of visiting. So today, I took in those highlights.

One of the most sacred Lao traditions, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony occurs every morning at sunrise, as the monks, collect food for their meal of the day.It is meant to be a be a highly revered ritual for locals, it has become a real tourist attraction, and my experience felt more authentic once I left the main road that was packed with tourist not respecting the rules that are clearly posted, and headed to the back roads.

I was curious about the little garbage cans along the way. Monks would take things out and toss them in the garbage. It seems wasteful but I guess if they only get one meal a day, the have the right to keep the best things.

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One of the most respected holy sites in Lao; Pak Ou Caves have a history dating back thousands of years. Packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons, the caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha, are set in a dramatic limestone cliff at the point where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River. There are two caves to visit, the lower cave called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, both boasting miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood.

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Kuang Si (Xi) Waterfall is the biggest in the Luang Prabang area with three tiers leading to a 50-metre drop into spectacular azure pools before flowing downstream. This place was really beautiful. I was really tempted to swim but I am admittedly paranoid about some of the parasites that lurk in local waters in this part of the world, so decided to pass.

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The evening was spent exploring the night market again. Here's a view from the hotel roof top.

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And having a delicious bowl of Kao Soy, or Khao Soi as it is known in Myanmar, is a Burmese dish that is also popular here and in Northern Thailand. Delicious.

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Posted by curlygirl 08:03 Archived in Laos Tagged caves waterfall monks prabang luang soup Comments (0)

LUANG PRABANG BY NIGHT

ARRIVING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT MARKET


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I am not 100% sure why, but I have wanted to visit Luang Prabang/Laos for a very long time. I think I read about Laos and the Mekong when my curiosity was peaked after doing a boat tour on the Mekong while in Cambodia. I also read a fascinating book about the Hmong people some years ago, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down", so perhaps that is it.

In any case, sometimes you just arrive in a place and you know immediately you will like it. That is how I felt on arrival in Luang Prabang. That enthusiasm only mounted when I arrived after dark to discover the taxi could not get to my hotel because it was in the middle of the night market. My hotel is noisy but beautiful and my room was named, Relax. I knew I would relax here, even it required a set of earplugs.

I dropped by bags and went for a wander. This is what it looked like on the street in front of my hotel. So many nice things to buy.

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And immediately beneath my window, is the food night market. Chaotic and noisy, as long as you are willing to sit with strangers, you get amazing food for about $3. This would be come my main night time hang out over the next few days.

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I did pass on these.

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Posted by curlygirl 07:54 Archived in Laos Tagged night market prabang luang Comments (1)

BANN THAI COOKING SCHOOL

LAST COUPLE DAYS IN CHIANG MAI

sunny 30 °C
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So, for my third day in Chiang Mai, I decided to do an all-day cooking class at the Bann Thai cooking school.

I would definitely recommend this. We had the chance to visit the market and learn about vegetables that are local to the area.

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I love this standard soup kit that is readily available.

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We got to spend the day cooking and eating. It was both fun and delicious. I will try to make the sticky rice and mango at home.

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Since I had a later flight on my last day, I met up with Chris and Pete and we decided to try the women's prison again. By 9:30 am, they were totally booked up so we opted for an excellent second choice. The ex-inmates spa. Pretty nice spot actually and a good massage…although I did hear Chris and Pete yelp at one point.

This was my first experience in Thailand and while I expected it to be touristy, I didn't expect it to be this touristy. Pretty modern place to be honest. Saying that I had a great few days. I accomplished all my goals….surpassed my massage goal. I had 6 massages over 5 days. I enjoyed excellent food, mostly from street vendors, and I had many laughs with my new friends, all under sunny skies.

Posted by curlygirl 07:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged sticky rice chiang man cooking thai Comments (0)

THE ELEPHANT NATURE PARK

HANGING WITH THE ELEPHANTS AND THE HIPPIES

sunny 30 °C
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To accomplish the second of my goals, I booked a day in with the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.

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The park is about 60 minutes away from Chiang Mai and was opened in 1990 to rescue elephants from around the country. The tourist dollars are used to help buy elephants in distress and to feed them. Apparently no one gives them up for free. They eat constantly for about 12 hours a day.

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I was initially skeptical about the day because although I had heard great things about the park, I was a little surprised by volume of participants. When my ride picked me up, I was notably much older than the others and other than 2 young Germans, the only one without a large covering of tattoos and unique hairdos and outfits. My god, am I really getting old and judgemental? On arrival at the park, it was packed with young back packers and we were quickly hustled to a corner and told to feed the elephants bananas.

But alas, as the day progressed, we walked around, meeting the elephants and learned about the way elephants are mistreated, often in the interest of tourism and I was impressed by the care they were given. They have such unique personalities and it was heartbreaking to see those with broken ribs from being ridden or scars from the abuse and neglect.

Truly magnificent animals and the park is worthy of a visit.

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Babies playing

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Lots of dog, cats and water buffalo around too.

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My group turned out to be a pretty nice group of hippie travelers.

Posted by curlygirl 16:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand elephants chiang mai Comments (0)

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