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Published: November 15th 2009
The sim (ordination hall) at Wat Xieng Thong.
There's a monster on the roof of our bungalow. This morning, around 5am, we heard something scratching on our roof, looking for a way into our luxurious bungalow. We think it was a rooster that found its way onto our bungalow's thatched roof. We don't know what it wants but it seems to be determined to poke its beak through the ceiling at some point. Other than that we slept incredibly well last night, better than we have in a very long time. In fact, it got a bit cold, which was a nice change. We didn't even need the AC - the first time since we left Japan.
We crossed the pedestrian bridge and headed into town for breakfast, this time checking out the JoMa Bakery. It looks like a coffee house that you might find in Manhattan: cement grey walls covered with funky, modern art. The coffee was excellent and so were the pastries. No wonder people come to Luang Prabang for 2-3 days and end up staying a week.
Spent an hour or two after breakfast figuring out our itinerary for our remaining days in Laos. Our flight to Hanoi leaves on Saturday at 6pm, and
Reclining buddha at Wat Xieng Thong.
we need to make sure we are in the capital city (Vientiane) by Friday. The challenge is that there is only one Lao Airlines flight per day from the Plain of Jars (our next destination) to Vientiane and the Friday flight appears to be very full. Hmm. So our options are to shift some things around and either limit our stay at the Plain of Jars to one day (departing on Thursday), or limit our stay in Luang Prabang by one day. Neither is appealing. We could also take the bus from the Plain of Jars to Vientiane but neither one of us is exactly excited about a 10 hour bus ride over bumpy roads with mandatory karaoke (yes, it's true). So off to Lao Airline's offices we go. The lovely women there confirmed that only one seat was left on the plane but then made a few calls and somehow managed to get us a second seat on the flight. We've heard that flights on Lao Airlines are often overbooked and so it is critical to call and reconfirm seats one or two days in advance. So assuming we have seats on the Friday flight our remaining days in
Interesting carvings on the doors to the funerary carriage house.
Laos should be:
- Today in Luang Prabang
- Three days in Elephant Camp, returning to Le Bel Air on the night of the 9th
- The nights of the 9th and 10th at Le Bel Air
- Phonsavan (the Plain of Jars) from 11/11-11/13 and
- 11/13-11/14 in Vientiane; then on to Hanoi
It is easy to be lulled into the quiet pace of Luang Prabang - wandering the streets and poking into shops in the morning and sitting in the cafes during the heat of the afternoon. But today we were determined to get in at least an hour or two of sightseeing and so we started at the Wat Xieng Thong, the most important Wat in town, which is located near the confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan at the northern tip of the city. Built in 1560, this wat is classing Lao/Luang Prabang in style with roofs that sweep down toward the ground. The temple's ceiling is covered in beautiful gold stencils and mosaics (made from colorful tiles of mirrored glass). There are detailed paintings/murals on the walls that depict various scenes from the Buddha's life and also everyday life in
Buddhas at Wat Xieng Thong.
Laos in the 1500s. Life in the 1500s wasn't easy - we saw one mosaic that featured the beheading of several people. The most impressive part of the wat was a strikingly ornate building that houses a spectacular funerary carriage for the king. The funerary carriage is covered with gold, of course.
From the wat, we decided to walk to the most northern tip of the peninsula, where the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers meet. Following a path down through the palm trees, we came to a rickety pedestrian bridge. Signs pointed across the bridge, promising a silk worm farm, weaving demonstrations and a bar with a nice view of the sunset. However, the ladies at the bridge were collecting a toll and we had no idea if this would be a 10 minute or 60 minute walk so we turned back and walked into town along the leafy Mekong waterfront.
Big Brother Mouse is a great organization in town that encourages tourists to give Lao children books instead of candy. The idea is that you buy a packet of books from them and then distribute them to children or schools throughout your travels. Some books are
Another photo of the Sim at Wat Xieng Thong.
in Lao; others are in English and Lao. We love the idea and bought about 20 books. We were encouraged to distribute in areas outside Luang Prabang (Big Brother Mouse provides other services, like reading days, to most area schools, so the need is greater elsewhere). We plan to distribute the books when we are in Phonsavan in a few days.
Mmmm. Lunch today was crepes at a chic open air restaurant called DoFah on the main street. And dessert was some chocolate biscotti from the nearby Scandanvian bakery.
It's getting hot here! The mornings are cool and misty but then around 10 or 11am, the mist dissolves and the temperature climbs into the 90s. We had thought November was the "cool season" - apparently not!
We hid at our hotel for a few hours during the afternoon and then, around 4:45pm, walked into town to see the sunset from the top of Mount Phousi. It was a surprisingly long climb up to the top of Mount Phousi (there were diagrams showing the number of stairs to reach the top and several mini wats along the way but we were on a mission to see the sunset and
Monks crossing a bridge near the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.
didn't stop). Mount Phousi is definitely THE place in town to go for stunning 360 degree views of sunrise or sunset - the top of the mountain was wall-to-wall people. The crowds were a bit annoying but the sunset and the views of town were gorgeous!!
After sunset, we wandered down to the night market and checked out a cool little wine bar, complete with bean bag chairs (when was the last time you sat on one of those?) and pretty decent wine for about $4 per glass. Instead of peanuts, we got a little bowl of complimentary dried salted mung (we think) beans. Not bad. They were playing great mood music, soft jazz versions of 80s hits like the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and the Cure's "Close to Me". Excellent.
Over wine we had a nice chat about the concept of a worldwide community of travelers; people who come together from many different places and backgrounds, based on their common love for traveling, openess to new experiences, and desire to learn about different cultures. Connecting with other people, both travelers and locals, has been a highlight of our trip thus far. We're looking
The Mekong River. The green water in the foreground is the Nam Khan river.
forward to meeting more people over the next few months.
After a glass of wine it was time for dinner. The Luang Prabang Bakery makes an excellent french bread pizza. We then wandered through the night market and tried some coconut cake (yum!). Early night tonight. Tomorrow is a big day for us: ELEPHANTS!!
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