Monday, 12 January 2015

Luang Prabang

Riverfront at Muong Khua (it may have stopped raining at this point)
So after a not very good start to Laos we headed off to Luang Prabang which we had high hopes for, we left the hotel in the pouring rain to get a tuk-tuk passing the Buddhist Monks walking the street collecting their food donations (This is a big thing here in LP but it’s done much earlier and has become a tourist spectacle, rather than the ceremonial giving of sticky rice and other food stuffs. We haven’t got up early to see it, though whether we will when we return and are staying nearer who knows, as I’m not sure I approve of the tourist spectacle, though the other side of the coin is that so many of the houses are now guest houses there are not enough locals giving so they need some tourists to supplement their food, though you are asked only to do it if there is a special meaning for you to it.) No photo though as B was on a mission to get us to the bus station! 

The bus station at Muong Khua. That little van was transport for 16 people plus luggage on the roof for 3.5 hours
Nourishment on the bus. Sticky rice in bamboo
Eventually the tuk-tuk turned up and we got on board along with two Russians who had crossed the border with us. It turns out they are Mother and Daughter, which is quite normal, what is not so normal is that the daughter is a Buddhist nun, and has been living and studying in Thailand for two years, so she had the shaved head and the sarong with a light top over and sandals as the standard garb, well they are meant to own very little, so they were both dressed similarly and travelling with just a very small bag. Trouble was it was really, really cold.

The 380'odd steps to the Phusi Stupa, with fabulous views
We were taken to the bus station! Ha, there was a really old, knackered mini-bus, tiny thing, no head support or anything, seats only half way up your back, for the three pairs of seats and the three on the back row, then there were the two front passenger seats, one of which had the goods that needed dropping off along the way, and then two small fold out seats, on the first two rows and a stool by the third row! At one point there were 4 people in the back, one on the stool, one beside her sitting on her flip-flops on the wheel arch… so 16, and the ‘special luggage’ in what should legally have had 14! The rest of the luggage was on the roof, did I mention it was pouring down? The tarpaulin cover was a bit rubbish, but that’s what there was!

View back down to the Royal Palace. No King now, he was ousted in 1975 when the communists took over and its now a museum. In the fabulous building on the right is the Pha Bang, gold standing Buddha, after which the city is named, in front is the old Royal Palace (no photos allowed inside) and far left a theatre
One of the temples on the Phusi Stupa mount
Came to buy tickets and Russian Mummy only had Kip (Laos currency) for one not two, and the man wouldn’t take her dollars. B bought the tickets and exchanged her dollars and eventually we were away. It’s only a 4 hour journey he’d told me! Well it was 3 ½ hours to Oudmaxai where we had to change! We got off the bus to find tuk-tuks parked in the space that said Luang Prabang, not a good sign, “go to another bus station, 6km away, bus at 3.00” (it was now 12.00) We weren’t sure about this, so asked at the ticket office who said here 2.00, lots of arguing until eventually a woman (we don’t know who she was) came and said “Luang Prabang bus about to go” so I rushed round the corner with her, and there was a shiny big coach. Dashed back and sent B to buy tickets (and for the Russians) and on we got. B sat in two available seats but had sadly wandered off when the original occupant returned from stretching his legs, but he was an amenable sort of chap and drifted further down the bus!

View from the top. That's the mighty Mekong river on the right and the Nam Khan river on the left
Buddha images on Phusi mount
Hurrah we thought, it’ll all be fine. It was better, the dripping rucksacks were at least in the storage compartment, and we had comfy seats, however, due to the rain (it was still raining) and the ‘improvement’ works to the mountain road making it just a mud track, the 5 hour journey took 7, by which time our stress levels were back up again, as he’d told the hotel we’d arrive 13.30 ish and we’d read many stories on Tripadvisor of hotels giving away rooms to walk-ins, and we had had the last available room on 
Try as I might, she would not kneel and pray with the other figures
We were so relieved to get to the hotel at 7:30pm, having bundled into a tuk-tuk with Marion and two complete strangers, and for them to have our booking we completely forgot about the Russians with no kip, hopefully someone else will have helped them out!

Marion needs a whole paragraph to herself, lovely lady, Dutch but living in the UK for 20 years but on a one year sabbatical from the NHS. Travelling on her own and obviously needing to ‘dump’ she talked and talked which was fine, we were happy to listen as we’ve often said how strange it must be on your own. She even acknowledged at some point that she’d done all the talking, before starting off again! Still helped pass the time!

Buddhas footprint?
Fishermen on the Nam Khan river. The guy in yellow had just cast his net
We unpacked sodden rucksacks, though this time B’s was worse than mine (thank heavens we’d got ‘dry bags’ inside which kept all the contents, including the laptop dry), and headed out to eat, having had a packet of biscuits, 4 wagon wheels (well similar anyway) and a small bamboo roll of sticky rice between us all day, well it was only going to be a short journey wasn’t it? Went into the first restaurant we saw, well it was busy with Asians, always a good sign, only to realise as we were ordering it was a Vietnamese restaurant! Oh well, at least we knew what we were ordering, it’s amazing how quickly things become ‘comfort food’!

The Nam Khan river joins the Mekong
Another very beautiful Wat in Luang Prabang
A good nights sleep and a lie in (well it was still raining, we could hear it) and we got up ready to face the world, spirits much higher. It wasn’t just the rain, though nowhere looks its best in the rain through steamed up windows, it was mostly the state of the houses we were passing, as well as the ones we’d seen in Muang Khua, and the state of the roads, the local bus etc. These people are very poor. A basic breakfast was made better by the activities of two golden Labrador puppies, and a ‘silent miaow’ cat who perched on the arm of the chair looking for all the world like she expected breakfast. She turned her nose up at my egg white, and that was all I had to offer.

A typical street in Luang Prabang, these large French style buildings are nearly all now Guesthouses
Even monks have to work when there's Wats to build
We headed out, wearing raincoats, though it wasn’t actually raining, into the old town which is lovely, there are old French Colonial buildings and many Buddhist temples and Wats. We went up Phousi Hill despite the charge and are glad we did, it was a great view, and although you had to squint to see the Buddha footprint, the temple and everything else were lovely. 

Guess who's found yet another cat, she's wearing sandals as her walking shoes were soaked through!
Pottered about a bit more, found the Joma bakery (scene of two lovely brunches in Hanoi where Jen and Jody had left us two vouchers for) and came across one of the other guesthouses we’d shortlisted, had a quick look and decided it was good, closer to the centre and the river and only $20, not the $35 it had been on or the $38 we are paying here, though we do get breakfast here! So we’ve booked that for when we return from our three days in Nong Khiew where we are going tomorrow, by bus, back up some of the road we came down the other day, and where we didn’t go to by seven hour boat trip in the rain from Muang Khua! (7 hours on a boat in the cold and rain, or a 4 hour bus journey to Luang Prabang – or so we thought – no contest!) Are we really meant to go there?

Mummy cat with her 3 kittens (count the ears)
On return to the guesthouse we had a coffee, and were delighted to see that the cat from the morning is actually a mummy, to three little kittens, all entirely different, and all very wussy, but very, very cute. I decided there was nothing for it but to go to the stall at the end of the drive, to see if there was anything to feed them. I ended up with mackerel in tomato sauce, which I decided was better than the clams in chili sauce the stall holder tried to sell me! I’m amazed she knew what I was talking about, but she seemed to and sent me off having stabbed the tin with a knife for me so I could get into it! They seemed very happy!

The two playful puppies have had a tough day and need some rest
We went out to dinner dressed up to the nines, not looking posh, just wearing almost all the clothes we have. Both wearing thermal leggings under our trousers and B in 4 layers and me in 3 and down jacket, and both with raincoats! It’s been really cold! Went into the ‘buffet street’ the lad in the hotel had suggested where you pick your stall, are given a bowl to fill with as much rice, noodles and vegetables as you want, which they reheat for you and away you go. We did also have a fish between us and two large Lao beer and very nice it was too, and cheap, though B is paying the price for something today I’m fine, so hopefully the bus journey will be ok! Bumped into Marion as we were selecting so she joined us, we had a nice chat, and trip down the night market!

One of the posters in the UXO visitor centre. The red dots on the map are recorded bomb drops
Another poster in UXO Lao
Up this morning to go to the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) visitor centre. Shattering place, we knew there was a war between the US and Vietnam, but how many knew that the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line providing food and people and armaments ran though Laos, and that despite Nixon denying it, it was the secret war, with more than 200 million tons of bombs being dropped up and down the country, a plane load every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. 30% of the carpet bombs (big bombs containing 200+ small bombs) didn’t explode, so they along with lots of other stuff are still out there. 
Bling dragons at this Wat (but they didn't shine very well on the photo)
Almost every day of the year someone is maimed or killed, whether this is a farmer tilling the fields, a child playing with a small round ball, or people going out with metal detectors looking, in the hope they can collect enough scrap metal to put food on the table, it’s still happening, now. Between 1995 and 2013, the U.S. contributed on average $3.2M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.

A typical Tuk-Tuk taxi waits for a fare
Just watching the UNICEF video of the stories of 4 children as Marion arrived!

We then went to the old town again before going to the Kings Palace and Museum, bumped into Marion along with many others waiting for the ticket office to re-open after lunch, at least I could tell her where we’d just seen the trip she wanted, going on the day she wants. Will we bump into her again, we are going in opposite directions now, but may end up in Vang Vieng at the same time….

No comments:

Post a Comment