Luang Pra Bang, UNESCO World Heritage site. We've spent the last ten days here, originally we were going to just stay a couple of days and then head off to The Plain of Jars but within the first couple of days of being here Sam was struck with a nasty stomach bug and had to spend a few days recovering. She's now feeling better, a few days holed up watching HBO and drinking Sprite has done both our systems wonders.
It's been nice to stay in one place for more than a night and if you're going to get stuck somewhere then Luang Pra Bang is the place to do it. Laos was annexed by the French in the late 19th century and remained a colony for about 50 years, the effects of this can still be felt today. The food here is fantastic, it's a mix of Laos traditional and French, we've managed to incorporate a warm, crusty baguette into at least one meal a day and last night even had a couple of glasses of wine, our first since leaving Brisbane.
On our first day here we were taught the Lao equivalent of 'bonza mate', which we've used to great effect with the locals. Not that they need much encouragement to crack a smile or be friendly. Everywhere we go we've felt safe and the locals are nothing but amiable. There's a feeling a security here that we haven't come across in other places. Children are free to walk or cycle where they please and are always well behaved and courteous. It seems from about the age of seven that if the kids are not in school that they are helping out their family either by running chores or working in the family store.
Two of the reasons that seem to have helped keep this place so peaceful is that 1) tourists are not allowed to rent scooters and 2) the locals are not allowed to 'fraternise' with tourists. This seems harsh at first, until you compare the atmosphere with that of Thailand and the old German men sitting around with their young Thai girls. We prefer Laos any day, as long as they don't raid our room.
We've been up around six am for the previous few days as Luang Pra Bang has dozens of temples and every morning hundreds of saffron robed monks pour into the streets to seek alms from the public. Those seeking religious favours from the monks quietly sit with a bowl of sticky rice as the monks stream past. Buddhists believe that any food which passes through a monk reaches your departed loved ones in heaven. Sam wanted to give them some Oreo's just so the 'folks upstairs' could have a little variety. Our first morning monk hunting was a little disastrous as we raised ourselves a little late and only managed to see flashes of orange as the monks hightailed it back to their temple to share the food that they had collected. We followed with a quick trot but not quick enough it seemed, as they always seemed to disappear around the next corner. Who knew that monks walked so fast?
Our second day monk hunting was slightly more successful. We were out of town a little way so were able to see the procession of monks clearly and were the only tourists around. I later found out that I had committed three Buddhist no-no's in the space of about a minute. I was wearing shorts, I spoke to a monk and at the same time had my head higher than pretty much all of them. I couldn't really help the last of these transgressions but should have been more careful on the first two. The monks complete their alms collection in complete silence, this is to give them all time to reflect on what the local people are giving up by donating part of their daily food to the temple.
So since we've been here we've explored the temples, kneeled in front of golden Buddhas, marveled at the beautiful aqua waters flowing down from the Kwang Si Falls and generally watched a lot of trashy movies on HBO. We're heading off to one of our luxury stops on our trip tomorrow to a place called Lao Spirit Resort. When we booked we thought that we'd be in need of some relaxation by this stage, we never assumed that we'd be so chilled out already. Oh well, I'm all for a deeper state of relaxation.