Hey hey, we're the monk-ees...
Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
92Trip End Jan 01, 2014
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On Sunday night we left Vientiane for the surpisingly expensive overnight bus northbound to Luang Prabang. The bus was clean and comfortable enough although, this being Laos, it took four hours longer than the estimated eight to wind our way through spectacular vegetation covered mountains, where clouds hugged the valley floors below, before we finally reached beautiful, heavily French influenced town. My journey could have been extremely smooth but the fact that I gallantly offered to swap my lower deck sleeper seat for an upper deck when I saw an old Laotian struggling to climb the few steps (I appreciate that a number of gallantry points must e deducted for reporting such an event). I soon realised this was a huge error as, in addition to being thrown around a lot more on the top bunk, I was also inches away from a broken air conditioning unit which could not be turned off meaning I woke up freezing on several occasions throughout the night
Shelley immediately fell in love with the quaint European style buildings which line the streets, although the town does also attract more than its fair share of travel prats - people who wear only hemp clothes; have stopped washing and tend not to wear shoes. If one spoke to them, one imagines the reasons given would be that they had fallen in love with the spirit of their adopted nation and were embracing every inch of the culture. The reality is that natives and tourists alike view such people with deserved contempt and each time I am passing nearby such a feckless human, I just whisper a slient prayer that they are not English - my prayers are usually answered as they are generally French...
Anyway, we soon enough completed a couple of circuits of the small old town penisula, straddled by two rivers, including climbing the 190 steps to the highest point of the town, to one of the numerous wats (temples) to soak up the view just before rain started to fall and we returned to the room to top up on some lost bus sleep. The evening is dominated by the bustling night market, for which a small stretch of the main street is closed. As always seems to be the case with South East Asian markets, one feels a bit like a character in a Scooby Doo cartoon as the stalls repeat each other over and over again - rugs, carvings, t-shirts, rugs, carvings, t-shirts, silver, rugs, carvings, paintings, silver, t-shirts, etc
The enforced early bedtime was also beneficial to our decision to set a 530am alarm to take in the most famour spectacle of the town, the daily giving of alms to the countless monks who study Buddhism in the many wats of the town. Our hotel receptionist had assured us that the procession of monks through the town would take place at 630 am and so, at 6:25am, we purchased for leaf wrapped parcels of food for the monks (like human food, really - mainly rice based) and headed out to the streets. The distinct lack of tourists or ornage clad monks suggested all was not well and our worst fears were confirmed when we asked in another guesthouse who said we had missed the event by five minutes. We were too tired to be angry with the idiot reception boy and so trudged back to bed with our undistributed monk food..
Our first task after getting up for the second time on Tuesday was to give away the monk food to to any passing monk, about as regular as black cabs in central London. As luck would have it we stumbled across an exceptionally camp monk who giggled and flounced his limp wrist as he accepted our gift of food which had cost more than our own breakfast (that said, I suspect these boys get sick of receiving the same shite every day and crave a burger and chips...). With our good deed done for the day and the path to alternative enlightment assured for our friend, we decided to take the short boat ride across the Mekong River to visit a small island. We were again in the hands of monks (so to speak) as we were shown into a cave by two young monks. I'm not a huge cave fan, but would put this in my top five caves, as we descended down and down in increasing heat into impressive volcanic, almost meteoric, rock formations and the odd (mainly headless) Buddha statue before returning to the surface pouring with sweat which the monkee boys were bone dry. Next up was a temple - standard fare, some impressive 150 year old murals on the walls - before we wandered through slippery mud roads, declined to pay for any more temple action and returned to the main peninsula. We investigated slightly furter afield this time, wandering into various wats of varying standards and I was delighted to find that the musician of choice on the path to nirvana is apparantly R Kelly (whose tunes were blasting out in a couple of wats as the young monks "studied") - slightly ironic given his chequered past...
We dined at a stall in the night market where one could eat as much as could be piled on a large plate for the scarcely believable price of 1 dollar 25 cents (food poisining guaranteed) before heading back to the central bus terminal for our transfer back to Vientiane after a thoroughly enjoyable 36 hours...