A Travellerspoint blog

Blue skies, batik, and barbecue

Winter Vacation 2008/09

sunny 26 °C
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Other than sleeping in, we didn’t have any plans for this morning. But, as a result of circumstances beyond our control, our plans were foiled. To start with, our room was on the second floor of our hotel, right next to the balcony that housed the restaurant; if you opened our curtains you could see what people were munching for breakfast. On top of this, across the hall from our room were the stairs. This all became a problem because, in Luang Prabang, every morning at 5:00, the monks do a circuit around the city receiving alms, donations of rice, from people lining the streets. They arrive in front of our hotel at 5:30. Naturally this is a major tourist attraction for the city and the balcony with the restaurant provides an ideal vantage point from which to view the monks when they walk in front of our hotel. I figured everyone going to see the monks decided to talk really loudly, slam their doors, and stamp down the stairs to make sure everyone else was awake. This would have been fine if we had wanted to get up, but we didn’t. Thankfully we did get back to sleep for a little bit after the ruckus. Once we did get up we asked them to move us to a new room. Hopefully our new room will be quieter than last night.

Once we got moving, we went to the La Poste and sent home a parcel with containing our purchases. We weren’t keen on carrying them in our backpacks.

Our next stop was the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center. The TAEC is a non-profit organization designed to promote understanding, appreciation and preservation of Laos’ ethnic minorities. In Laos there are seven main ethnic groups, with many more sub-groups. In the past the groups were divided based on where people lived: lowlands, foothills, or high in the mountains. Except, for various reasons, people have had to move around so the people who traditionally lived in the mountains now live in the plains. Which raised the question, did they switch ethnic groups when they moved? They obviously didn’t. Now the different ethnic groups are identified by linguistic differences. The museum had exhibits showcasing traditional dress of the different ethnic groups and displays about weaving, textiles or other things the groups are famous for.

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When we were at the desk trying to buy our tickets I saw a sign on the wall with the prices for guided tours: $25 with the museum director and $15 with museum staff. Then I noticed a sign on the desk saying there were free tours with staff trainees. This sounded good to me and we got ourselves a free tour of the museum. We wouldn’t have known if he was a trainee or not; it was an outstanding tour, the guide was quite knowledgeable, and the experience made the visit a lot for informative.

After we went to the museum we were starving and had to get some lunch: pizza and a hamburger at the Scandinavian Bakery. Nice Western food.

After lunch, Courtney was on the hunt for a shawl and spent the next hour or so poking through shops for one. I instead found a coffee shop and sat with my book while she hunted. She found her shawl and we moved on the big wat again. Unlike the other day we went, today the sky was nice, clear and bright blue, which would hopefully help improve Court’s pictures. I sat myself on a bench and continued to read while she took pictures around the grounds.

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We were planning to stop by Big Brother Mouse to play with some kids but we were told the wrong day and nobody was at the shop. We continued on to our next plan: Laos-style barbecue.

For those of you familiar with Japanese food, Laos-style barbecue is a combination of nabe and yaki niku. In the middle of our table was a clay pot containing hot charcoals. The waiter came and put an aluminum pan on top. The pan had a trough running around the outside and the middle rose up into a cone-shape with small vents to grill the meat (all told, it kind of had the shape of a citrus juicer). The waiter heated a soup stock in the trough then put the vegetables in the stock to cook. Then on the slopes of the cone he put some of the meat to grill. Once he got it started he left it in our hands. It was an excellent feast.

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While we were eating a little black and white puppy started poking around our table. It was a cute little thing. At one point the strap on Court’s camera bag was hanging down and the puppy came and started to chew on it. It also started to chew on the tabs on the back of Court’s shoes. Then a bigger dog came along and the puppy decided to play with it. I don’t think the bigger dog was keen on playing with the puppy. The big dog pinned the puppy once or twice and tried to pick up the dog by the scruff of its neck a few times. Eventually the big dog just wandered off.

After the BBQ we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our adventure tomorrow. Here’s a shot of some shirts in the markets.


And some coconuts.

And Wat Mai Souvannaphoum on the main drag of Luang Prabang.

Posted by agc_cwm 07:26 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Relaxing in Luang Prabang

Winter Vacation 2008/2009

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Today was a relatively laid-back/relaxing day. We woke up earlier than we really wanted to and made our way out to a meant-to-be-hot-but-was-cold buffet breakfast. I enjoyed the meal; Court did not. She wasn’t a fan of her cold, onion flavored hash browns or her extra gingery tea. She’s really excited about breakfast for tomorrow.
After we had breakfast we made our way down to Big Brother Mouse. Big Brother Mouse is an organization, created by a retired American publisher, which writes, illustrates and publishes both bilingual and Lao books for Lao people. For a lot of Lao, the only books that they have read, if they’ve read anything, are their school textbooks. If we all remember, school textbooks are NOT interesting at all. Most Lao have never seen a book that they would be remotely interested in reading for fun. Big Brother Mouse has created a lot of books, covering topics such as math, hygiene, animals, and other famous stories like “The Wizard of Oz”, to engage Lao children. They also sponsor book parties. For the book parties they travel out to a village in rural Laos, play games, talk to them about hygiene, safety and health, and, most important, leave them books. For some of these kids, these books are their first possession.

Big Brother Mouse also organizes an English speaking hour on most mornings. During this time volunteers come down and help out teenagers and other Lao people who want to practice their English. We made it down in time to help out, however there were only two students there and they were already being helped out by volunteers. One was a retired principal from Calgary who is living in Laos now. We listened to them helping out these students and decided for our own sensibilities we had to stop listening to them try to teach these students. Let’s just say the “lesson” they were getting was worth the money they paid for it, i.e. nothing. Oh well.
After we left Big Brother Mouse we went needed to have a morning refresher, which came in the form of chai latte, hot chocolate, and fruit salad. Feeling refreshed we made our way back to the main road and split up. Courtney went to a wat and I went in search of a working ATM and the hours of the post office. My expedition was not exciting. Court’s was more enlightening.

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While Court was at the wat taking pictures, a group of teenage monks came up and started to talk to her. They said they’re not in school right now and they have to do lots of work around the temple. Court figured they wanted a reason to take a substantial break from doing work and practicing English is a good reason to take a break. They also agreed to let her take their picture.


(Aside: I also learned a little about a day in the life of a monk. After waking at 4am, they have morning prayers and
go around town collecting alms from the people in town (they asked if I had seen it, but we haven’t yet been awake at 5:30am, so sadly we haven’t). After alms collection, I think there are more prayers, followed by study and school for six hours. Then they have free time, which usually involves walking around the town and hanging out. They could all speak English quite well, and were very friendly. It was a really cool experience.)

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We met up and decided it was time for another break, Italian soda and desserts, and made our game plan for the rest of the day. We wanted to book an elephant tour, do some more shopping, and try to find something we left at an old hotel. We actually managed to accomplish all of this; it was a tough day.

We went into Kopnoi store and met a lovely Québécoise who is living in Laos now. Her daughter and son-in-law were on a round the world trip, fell in love with Luang Prabang and settled here. She opened the first English bookstore in Laos and has started other fair trade projects in and around Luang Prabang. Her mother moved over this year to help out in one of the stores and, more, importantly see her grandchildren every day.

After shopping, it was back to the hotel for another refreshing nap. We were planning to go to the Royal Ballet Theatre at 6:00, but got up a little bit later than we should have. We had to hustle down to make the start of the show. Unfortunately, we also had to stop and get more cash on the way. Even after stopping for money we managed to get to the theatre in time. But then we ran into a problem: a disorganized family of six. They had no idea where they wanted to sit and were trying to negotiate where they could sit. Once they got the seats figured out they then had to figure out how much it was going to cost. All of us in line were getting quite frustrated with them.

We settled in to our seats only five minutes late and watched the show.

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After the show it was dinner time. We went back to the same restaurant as last night, but the meal didn’t turn out as nice.

Court’s chicken soup was TOO spicy. This meant a trip to another restaurant, Dao Fa, so Court could eat some pasta. And finally, after a tough, tough, tough day, we made our way back to the hotel for the night.

Posted by agc_cwm 05:13 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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