A Travellerspoint blog

Traditional Dances and Puppet Shows

Winter Vacation 2008/2009

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The start of 2009. Luang Prabang was even sleepier and quieter than it’d previously been. Everyone we saw was moving a little bit slower, except for the party up the street from our hotel. This party started last night around 8:00pm. Well, at least that was the first time we saw it; it could have been going on a lot longer than that. There was loud music, people sitting outside eating and, most importantly, line dancing. I don’t know why, but we saw some. This party was still going on when we left to move hotels around 10:30 the next day.
We got checked in to our new hotel. The people at the hotel were surprised with the rate that we paid when we booked online. I think they downgraded us when they saw the rate that we paid. Plus, we are going to stay a couple extra nights and they are charging us more for this room.

We found out we had internet in our room and made the New Year’s calls, then went out for lunch.

We went to a restaurant called The Bakery on the main drag. The food was decent but Courtney ran into some service problems. We don’t know if our server didn’t understand English or was just a bit new or what; it’s up in the air. I ordered spring rolls. However, two people at a nearby table also ordered spring rolls 20 minutes after me and got their order first. The juice drink Court ordered, which was simple to make, didn’t arrive until we had almost eaten all our food. Plus Court ordered a chicken dish and, surprise, got some fish. We decided not to say anything; we were hungry and the fish dish was pretty good. Needless to say we will not be making a return visit, which is a shame, because their dessert case looked awesome. We finished and headed off to the Royal Palace Museum.

I had to take a detour back to our hotel. I was wearing shorts, which aren’t acceptable attire for the museum. I quickly ran back to the hotel, took a detour for a piece of coconut cake and made my way back to the museum. The museum was impressive. It was built in the 1904 by the French colonists for King Sisavang Vong. Some of the walls inside were covered by inlaid murals, depicting battles, worship services and other things we didn’t understand. Some of the battles were quite gruesome: people missing heads, people holding dismembered body parts. Quite over the top, but gorgeous. We spent most of the time in the museum trying to stay ahead of one giant Chinese tour group and far enough behind another Chinese tour group so we could see the exhibits. Eventually we got fed up and leapfrogged the tour group in front of us.

After the museum we walked to the end of the peninsula and stopped at a few wats, including Si Bun Heuang and Sirimungkhun Sop, on our way to the big one, Wat Xieng Thong.

Here are some shots from the first wats we stopped at.
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Wat Xieng Thong, the largest temple complex in Luang Prabang, was first built 1560. We paid our 20,000 kip entry fee and went in.

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We were planning on going to a performance at the Children’s Cultural Centre at 6:00, and by the time we finished going through this wat it was getting near show time. Students, aged 14-18, from the Center put on a puppet and traditional dance every Thursday and Saturday from 6:00 to 7:30. We thought we had to hurry to get tickets for the show. It turns out we didn’t. There was about 20 people there. Either way it was an excellent show. This is the seating area.

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Before the show we were treated to some traditional Lao music, played by students. They also played throughout the whole show.
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Mr. Disen’s son had a talent for carving puppets and they first performed for the full moon festival in December. The puppets were used in performances until the war between the French and Japanese started. They resumed in 1961, and continued until the Vietnam War, which caused yet another break in the performances. Then, in 1986, the government instituted a short-lived plan to bring back the performances. However, some of the performers became very sick and couldn’t perform. So, the performances were cancelled again. Finally, in 2000, funded partially by UNICEF, the Epok performance was resurrected at the Children’s Cultural Centre in Luang Prabang, and has been going on ever since.

The show we watched was, Nang Sangkaan, or the Legend of Pi Mao Lao. In the play, the puppets are preparing for the Lao New Year procession and village celebrations.

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After the puppet show they started the traditional dances.

The first dance, the Dok Champa dance, shows admiration and respect for the national flower, the frangipani flower.

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The second dance, the Thaidam dance, shows respects to God, and our forefathers and mothers. It also draws bad spirits out of the home and brings happiness to the family.

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The third dance, the Hmong festival dance, embodies the spirit of the youth of the Hmong ethnic tribe.

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The fourth dance, the Khamu dance, demonstrates the spirit of Khamu youth.

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The fifth dance, the farmer dance, shows how Lao families do their daily work on the farm.

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The last dance, the Lai Lao dance, demonstrates the strength and agility of Lao youth.

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Overall this was an excellent show. The kids looked like they were having a lot of fun. We saw them on the stage sometimes laughing at each other and just having a good time. We both really enjoyed watching these performances tonight.

After the show Court bought a print that one of the kids made at the center. Then we went out for dinner and did some more shopping in the night market. After the night market we caught a tuk-tuk back to our hotel and called it a night.

Posted by agc_cwm 02:24 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Cooking in Laos with Andrew and Courtney

Winter Vacation 2008/2009 - New Year's Laos style


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It was the end of 2008 and we decided we should spend the day cooking and learning about Lao food. We had to check out of our hotel and get down to the Tamarind restaurant for 8:45. We arrived and milled around for fifteen minutes, then were packed into a couple tuk-tuks and taken off to the market. There were twelve people on our course: two from London, one American, a German lady, one other Canadian, another Brit and the rest were from Australia.

Our two guides took us through the market. There was one guide at the front leading the path and the other guide at the back herding people along and making sure no one got lost. The market was similar to other markets that we’ve been to. Our guide said that Laos people like to go to the markets three times a day, they want to use fresh vegetables and herbs in everything they make.

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After we went through the market we were tuk-tuked off to a ‘secret’ location to do our cooking course. It was a gorgeous spot along the river. It was quiet and relaxed, there wasn’t much else happening out there. We sat down at the table for a drink before we got down to business.

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The first thing we had to make was steamed rice. They’d been soaking the rice all night and all we had to do was massage the rice (to get the starch off the rice), and then put it in the steamer. We made two kinds of sticky rice, white and purple.

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The second dish we made was jeow mak keua, eggplant dip. You had the option to make this or jeow mak lin , tomato salsa, which was the spicier option of the two. We went the less spicy route. We had to roast the eggplant, garlic and shallots before we pounded the dip.

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We finished making the dip then got down to eating it. To eat it you had to take a little clump of sticky rice, roll it around to make sure it sticks together and then flatten it into a small disc. Then you place the disc on the tips of your fingers and, using it as a scoop, scoop up some of the dip and eat it. It was a very nice dip.

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The third thing we made was mok pa, fish steamed in banana leaves. Using a mortar and pestle we had to
crush and combine garlic, shallots, chilis, chopped fresh dill and basil to make a marinade for the fish. Once we made the paste we had to place the fish in the banana leaves and spoon the marinade over the fish. Then we folded the banana leaves into a little pouch and closed it with some bamboo ties and through it on to the fire to be steamed. It took about twenty minutes for it to cook.

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The fourth thing we made was orlarm, Luang Prabang stew. We made one big pot together. It was too difficult for us to make an individual bowl. Joy, our guide, said that traditionally Lao people put in dried meat of any kind: guinea pig, rats, bats, chicken, or anything they get hold of. He said that these different types of meat are difficult for people who aren’t used to eating them to eat. They decided that they’d stick with chicken.
The fifth thing we made was ua si khai, stuffed lemon grass. We had to create a paste, in the mortar and pestle, of garlic, spring onions, coriander and ground chicken. Then we had to slice the base of the lemon grass so that it can be pushed out to look like a lantern. Next was trying to stuff our paste into the lemon grass. I was not very good at this. Our guide helped me a little bit with this. We each made two of these, one to barbecue and one to deep fry. I think I preferred the deep fried one; the lemon grass flavor had permeated everything. They were both very tasty, though.

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The last thing that we made was purple sticky race with coconut cream. This was a pleasant end to the day. First we had to pour hot water over fresh ground coconut to get the cream, and then bring the cream to a boil. Once it’s boiling you throw in the rice and stir until it’s absorbed the milk. Then you’re ready. Well, we added banana, mango, and tamarind sauce to the concoction. A very tasty dessert.

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After the cooking course we had to check in to our new hotel. Then it was nap time. After some recovery time we set out for New Year’s.

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We settled in one restaurant with the plan of doing an appetizer crawl down the main street in Luang Prabang. The plan lasted through the appetizers. They impressed us so much we decided to stay for the rest of our meal. After the meal we wandered around until we made our way to the official Luang Prabang official city New Year’s party. We watched the show until we realized that, other than it being in Lao, the show was like every other New Year’s show we’d seen. We settled in to a café across the street and chilled out until midnight. That was our plan until they politely got us to leave at 11:45.

We went outside and watched everyone preparing to launch what looked like mini-hot air balloons.

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They would hold them and light the fuel cell in the bottom until the air inside heated up so the balloon would float. Then they released them and watched them go. We think people wrote wishes or something on the sides of the balloons before they released them. We watched about fifty people release these balloons. We sauntered back to our hotel for our first night in 2009.

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Happy New Year Everyone!

Posted by agc_cwm 07:53 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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