Alms, legs and sights

Trip Start Dec 16, 2011
Trip End Jan 14, 2012

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Where I stayed
vanvissa guesthouse
What I did

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, December 23, 2011

Woke up early due to the hammering from the silvermiths next door (they started at about 6am) but stayed in bed until 6.30am then up, a quick cold shower and out to discover the jewel of Northern Laos that is Luang Prabang.   Let me set the scene, we are staying ten minutes from the old town in the Silversmiths Quarter where artisan crafts are still made thanks to help from Unesco.  We are staying with a lovely Lao lady (Mrs Vandara) and our room is at the back of Mrs Vandara's textile shop.

We breakfasted in Lao style with good coffee and I had a croissant at Joma which is chic western meets chabby Indochina - tres tasteful in every sense.

Once satisfied with caffeine we took to the road and began a 6 hour meander around the perfumed streets of ancient Luang Prabang, ducking down an alley here and into a Wat and Palace there. Truly beautiful, interesting and spiritual.

We wandered around some more and down to the Mekong and around to see some wonderful colonial buildings that are very classy.  After a beer Lao stop we wandered through more streets and on to the Arts Cafe and stopped for a lunch of fried Rice and "one more" of the Beer Lao. This place is realy growing on us and we take a stroll along the river until we happen upon the Red Cross society building which I have read does good herbal sauna and massage.  We have no towel so we opt for a foot massage and both take a 5 minute nap whilst being pummelled.  I have to state that you can see we do a lot of work for charity but do not like to talk about it.

An early finish and we think we will try to rise for the Alms "Binthabat" ceremony - do we need an alarm call ? of course not we have the hammers of the silversmiths to wake us.

Up ready for sunrise and off to " Binthabat at dawn"  the giving of alms to the monks of Luang Prabang.  What a scene; food vendors selling sticky rice, bananas and biscuits to locals and tourists as they sit on rattan mats along the pavements in front of temples, hotels and shops.  As dawn breaks young bare-footed six hundred or so saffron robed monks leave the temples holding bowls and walk solemnly in line to collect food which is put into their bowls by the offerers.  In some ways the serenity of the scene has been affected by it's popularity; but like many of the great tourist sights it still retains enough magic to compensate for the flashing Nikons.

After a coffee at Joma we decide to hire bikes for the day and take a ride through the countryside to a nearby craft village. The route took us over a high single carriage bridge over the river and through a few small industrial towns, hardly picturesque but the real side of Laos all the same.  Our map didn't include the village so after a few u turns we finally arrived at... the neighbouring village. Anyway we cycled along a few tracks occasionally glimpsing the majestic Mekong until we came to our original target.  Not really worth the journey as it's pretty run down and the crafts were not very tasteful to our eye, but we had really enjoyed the cycling and 'sabaideeing' to all the lovely village children who were merrily playing on the track as we cycled past.  We spent the rest of the day mastering the Luang Prabang one way system and then returned the bikes on the way back to Mrs Vandara's.  As she was in we had a chat and found out the old lady who sat in the armchair all day was in fact her husband's grandmother of 109 years - and retained all her senses, I joked that was more than I do. It's lovely staying in a house; we saw Mrs V earlier today as we cycled around town and rang our bells and got a wave - which made us feel at home already.  That and typing the blog in the front room with her shop samples to one side and Ning her delightful granddaughter watching Laos Pink Panther with occasional strops to her brother and tears feels like everyday real but should feel sureal, nice though.

Tonight is Christmas Eve it's forecast to get as low as 7 degrees so who knows a white christmas?  We decide to go out for a pre-Christmas drink and head for the latest bar across the river.   After paying to cross the rickity bamboo bridge ( this is because it's rebuilt every season as it gets washed away every rainy season) we head to the bar which is fab. After sampling many of the cocktails we head back.

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