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Luang Prabang, and Back to Vientiane

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 05 Oct 2009


Final day in wonderful Luang Prabang and we have a lunchtime flight back to Vientiane, so I take the morning off for a final walkabout. And this is my final wat for this trip – Wat Phouxai, a smallish monastery built late 18th century. The monks are cleaning the compound the morning after Ork Phansa celebration. After the 3 months of Lent, they are supposed to return to their families for a short break. By the way, the Mekong is on the other side of the wat.
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The wat is in the morning market area, and morning markets are my favourite, if I can wake up in time that is.
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Nicely displayed fresh eggs. I’m not sure why the reddish ones.
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Some fresh catch from the Mekong, I presume, and the favourite chickens. The Luang Prabang people do not seem to be in love with pork or beef.
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But they are still game for some exotic stuff – maggots in hives and a hapless monitor lizard. Somebody’s lunch for today!
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I don’t think these are eels, more like fish which look like eels.
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Still alive and wriggling all over the place. Try dipping your hands into that lot.
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But this one takes the cake. Cute hairy rodents (seen in the red basket) roasted to perfection. Imagine munching on these for lunch.
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Fresh white mushrooms aplenty. I love them. Any steamboat meal, and such mushrooms are my fave.
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The market is next to the Mekong, which is still shrouded in morning mist, looking rather surreal.
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Looking fragile and lonesome in the middle of the wide Mekong, a boat ferries schoolkids from the village on the other side of the river. I do not see any lifevests on board.
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Nearby, brekky is in full steam, with the ever-popular baguettes, found all over Indochina thanks to the French. The interesting thing is they taste and feel exactly the same as the baguettes in Paris, say.
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I return to the hotel …
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… and then walk the main street again – as sleepy as ever, just the way I love it – to find brekky.
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At a ‘Lao Coffee Shop’ we order baguettes and Lao coffee, which is pretty good. Coffee was introduced by the French (again!) early last century and is planted in the highlands of southern Laos – a mix of Arabica and Robusta beans. Quite potent.
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Lots of consumer items are imported from Thailand, so too all the sauces on our table. Note the ‘halal’ logo – the Thais are pretty advanced in this halal-ness thingy.
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The airport is just 4km away from our hotel, so we decide to use the tuk-tuk.
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Pleasant, uneventful open-air ride through unhurried Luang Prabang, and I just love the tuk-tuk’s spare tyre.
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From the corner of my eyes, I spot what looks like a road beyond the bushes – that’s the airport runway.
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The tuk-tuk leaves us just outside the Luang Prabang LPQ airport gate, and we find our way to the terminal a short distance away.
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Check-in is harmless and I’m pleasantly surprised to see our transport to Vientiane VTE today – a China-made Xian MA60 turboprop. This is a ‘rare’ catch!
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It’s a close copy of the Russian Antonov AN26 cargo plane. Received its certification from the Chinese authorities in 2000, only a handful have been built and sold, mainly in China. Lao Airlines has 4 of them, hence the rarity.
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The cabin is slightly cramped, compared to the ATR72-500 we took to come here 3 days ago. It fits less people as well.
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We are soon airborne, and there’s significant vibration from the engines. The Mekong comes into view, so too the telecom tower which is close to our hotel. Bye-bye, Lovely Luang Prabang, been a great experience.
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Cruising at 27,000ft, the engines hum along nicely …
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… while the rugged, forbidding mountains pass below us.
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The safety brochure in the plane is a simple piece of laminated paper. Ah well, as long as it serves the purpose. I’m reminded of an MA60 accident in the Philippines just 3 months ago, a Zest Airways plane.
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Some forty-five minutes after leaving LPQ we are back on the ground at VTE. Beats 9-10 hours by road any time! Anyway the MA60 is quite a pleasant plane, good-looking as well.
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Yes, we are back in Vientiane with its wide boulevards and interesting traffic.
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POSTSCRIPT: Paper tickets of the historic Lao Airlines flights. ­čÖé
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[MORE TO FOLLOW ..]

Luang Prabang VII: Alms-Giving and Ork Phansa

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 04 Oct 2009


Upon reaching the end of the line of alm-givers, the monks promptly make a U-turn and walk briskly pass us to return to their monastery. Their movements are so precise, polished after months of such daily routine.
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A group of elderly ladies in all-white clothings wait for more visiting monks. I wonder why white, which in Buddhism is worn as a sign of mourning, a funeral garb. Maybe these ladies are widows praying for their departed husbands?
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I peek into a basket carried by a monks’ assistant. It’s full of modern goodies, not necessarily nutritional. These could end up with the begging kids.
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Another line of monks is approaching, and the girls posture themselves again.
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The ritual repeats itself, I think for the 4th time for this lady and her friends. Cool sling-bags.
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That’s the end of the line … what a relief.
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Some half an hour after the monks first appeared, the whole thing is all over. The pavement is duly cleaned and is soon deserted.
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My favourite ladies retire to their home (office?) right across the road, contented at earning precious merit. Thanks, girls!
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We return briefly to our hotel for breakfast, before paying the former Royal Palace a quick visit. The Lao monarchy started in the 15th century and ended in 1975 with the communist takeover. Luang Prabang has always been the royal capital all those centuries. The Royal Lao Family now operates out of a small town just east of Paris, and still harbours hope of reviving the Lao monarchy.
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In the compound of the Royal Palace, a new pavilion is under construction, supposedly to house the sacred Prabang Buddha, which gave its name to Luang Prabang. This Buddha image, now kept in the Royal Palace, is thought to have arrived here from Sri Lanka in the 15th century, together with Theravada Buddhism.
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Across the Royal Palace, there’s another classic French building.
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Nightfall and there’s the full moon above 200-year-old Wat Chomsi atop Mt Phousi, a hill right in the middle of old Luang Prabang.
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On the ground, beautiful Wat Mai is celebrating Ork Phansa, the end of the Buddhist Lent.
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The large yard is bedecked with lanterns, and in the middle, a huge boat lantern.
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The fierce head of a naga forms the bow of the boat carrying a huge lotus. All these are sacred Buddhist icons.
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And the tail of the boat is equally spectacular. The monks are pretty artistic, I must say. Well done!
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Kids loiter around, lighting crackers and generally having fun on this beautiful night, while the monks watch.
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In one frame, the Full Moon, the Porch of Wat Mai, and in the distance, the Stupa of Wat Chomsi at Mt Phousi.
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Outside Wat Mai, the night market is in full swing, and incidentally, this is our final night in Luang Prabang. Tomorrow we return to Vientiane. What a pity.
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[MORE TO COME …]

Luang Prabang VI: Monks and Alms

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 04 Oct 2009


It’s 5am on a cool fine morning, and we are already in the main street of Luang Prabang. A cart selling foodstuff is in business. We are told that today is ‘Ork Phansa’ – the end of the Buddhist Lent – also to officially mark the end of the rainy season so that farmers can start preparing their plots for the next season. We feel really lucky to hit a major Buddhist event on this trip, thanks to Lord Buddha!
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Sleepy-looking kids are lining the kerb with containers in hand. Attending a religious event, so with the blessings of parents I presume. What are the containers for?
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Half an hour later, the crowd builds up. It’s looking like a major event. Ork Phansa happens on the full moon of the 11th month in the Buddhist calendar. The monks have spent the previous 3 months meditating and fasting, so Ork Phansa is a celebration for them, the end of their Lent. I guess just like our Hari Raya!
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A lady sells traditional offerings to be made to the monks. Ork Phansa is also special because it commemorates Lord Buddha’s return to Earth after spending 3 months in heaven.
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For this auspicious occasion, whole families turn up with the ladies looking their best.
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At precisely 6am, there is a hush as the monks from the nearby monastery appear.
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Led by the abbot of the monastery, the monks walk in single file to receive alms from the devotees, and everybody is in solemn reverence. But wait, there’re also devotees waiting to get alms from the monks.
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The huge bowls carried by the monks can overflow with alms, and are emptied periodically into pails or baskets carried by assistants who shuffle along.
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Each monk carries a bowl and a sling-bag. Alms are placed inside the bowl, and if the monk fancies any item, he transfers it into the sling-bag, sort of a private stash. Alms left in the bowl may be given away to other begging devotees or moved to the assistant’s containers.
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Impressive sight, barefooted monks, with freshly-shaved heads, in single file silently receiving alms and giving them away to deserving folks.
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The whole process is so clinical and noiseless – it’s an important religious event and everybody must learn to respect it, visitors especially. It takes place at the same time and place every day, normally outside monasteries scattered across the old quarter. However today is special and has a festive atmosphere, thanks to Ork Phansa.
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Soon a group of monks (led by the chief) arrive from another monastery to start the whole thing all over again.
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To participate in alms-giving, everyone must wear a sash. I remember wearing an orange sash when visiting the Hindu temples in Bali. At Angkor, nobody cares about sashes.
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The main traditional alm is glutinous rice, followed by cakes and sweets. Alms-giving has been practised here every morning for hundreds of years, as the townfolks provide daily sustenance for the monks, in return for ‘merit’. At the moment it’s estimated there are 16,000 people living in old Luang Prabang including 1,200 monks.
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Some of the alms given to the monks end up with these kids. I guess it’s a fun event for these youngsters to bag the sweets and biscuits from the monks.
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Anxious faces full of anticipation. Kids will always be kids.
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A family takes a breather in between entertaining groups of monks from various monasteries. By giving alms, Buddhists expect to earn ‘merit’ which would help them have a better next life, and finally liberation. This is a core concept in Theravada Buddhism, which is practised in Indochina, and thought to be closest to the original Buddhism.
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Another group of monks arrive and pass the entrance to Wat Hoxiang, a major temple in Luang Prabang, famous for its 7-headed naga guardians.
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The many devotees – either giving alms, or receiving them from the monks – form a long line into the distance.
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[TO BE CONTINUED …]

Luang Prabang V: Night Market

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 03 Oct 2009


Late afternoon, and I’m suffering from wat-fatigue already, so this is my last wat for the day – Wat Mahathat, built mid-16th century by a king based in faraway Chiangmai. That explains the original stupa (foreground) built in the style of the ancient Lanna kingdom which ruled present-day northern Thailand during 13th-16th century. The Lanna stupa is interesting because the tips of the Petronas Twin Towers resemble it.
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Just around the corner of the wat, another flashback – a house made of bamboo weaves. Used to see a lot of such houses in the villages in rural Kelantan when I was a little kid. Now no more.
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Still looking sturdy with occupants. Not good when there’s a thunderstorm, the walls leak; not good when kids run around, the whole house shakes; not good when making love, people peep.
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We stroll back towards the town area, and at a deserted junction we have … a traffic accident! Nothing on the road, just the two of them, moving ever so slowly, and yet they collide. The hapless girl wants to lift her bike and disappear, but the man insists on calling the police. Soon spectators build up, just like anywhere in the world.
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We pop into a shop full of traditional Lao sinh skirts. They are so presentable, even with nobody wearing them, and my imagination runs wild. Have I sinh-ed again, my Lord?
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Along the road leading into the town centre, vendors sell marigold offerings for temple devotees.
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Freshly-harvested wriggling maggots are also sold. Stir-fried in a wok with a little oil and some onions, they look apetising.
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Though still daylight, the famous Luang Prabang daily night market is taking shape, and this road specialises in foodstuff.
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Roasted chicken are very popular here …
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… either whole or in portions held by bamboo sticks.
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Pork does not seem so popular, but I manage to find its stall when I caught a waft of the roast. Look, even the poor bugger’s head is roasted whole.
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But we are here for something truly harmless – for some sweet ‘chiku’ or ‘sawo nilo’ as we Kelantanese say it. In English it’s called ‘sapodilla’, origin is Central America but introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish colonists. Now the fruit is found all over South-east Asia and India.
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Nightfall and the night market proper is in full swing. It occupies the main road of Luang Prabang, almost 500m of it, which is closed to traffic.
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The nice thing about this market is, they generally sell genuine local products, not rip-offs from China or Thailand, say.
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Local ethnic people come here and sell their stuff, every night, and there are pretty good bargains to be had.
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Oil paintings are popular …
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… and they are always about Lord Buddha or local landscapes.
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The traders are generally polite and helpful, and haggling is a non-issue, thanks to the ubiquitous large digital calculators.
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I like these lanterns, made with the saa paper described earlier.
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As the evening progresses, business picks up. The prices at this night market are still reasonable, but with the inevitable influx of foreigners armed with oodles of USD, this is not sustainable. Luang Prabang is going to be the ‘next’ hot destination in South-east Asia, I tell ya!
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Ahhh … the missus is running out of Lao Kips. I’m saved, time to go home!
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Before retiring for the night, another notice catches my eye. So my humble wooden Luang Prabang abode is a World Heritage Building in a World Heritage Site. I feel like a World Heritage Visitor now. Good night all, till tomorrow …
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[MORE TO FOLLOW …]

Luang Prabang IV: Wats or Vats

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 03 Oct 2009


Luang Prabang was founded in the mid-14th century as a royal capital (which lasted until 1975 when the monarchy was abolished, but it remains a spiritual centre till now), and is sited on a promontory formed by the Khan River and the Mekong. As the road which I call the ‘Riverwalk’ bends right to make a huge U-turn at the tip of this promontory, the Khan empties itself into the Mekong.
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A short distance away, right at the tip of the road’s U-turn, a large marble plaque commemorates the close relationship between Laos and France in preserving Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site (WHS). Ever the Francophile!
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Next to the plaque, the Unesco WHS office building. Note the WHS logo sculpture, and yup, another French building.
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At the noticeboard in the compound, a map of Luang Prabang shows WHS-designated properties, which include virtually all the buildings in the promontory, and then some.
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I enter a lane and see a grand entrance.
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This is ancient Wat Xieng Thong, built about 1560, the grand-daddy of all Luang Prabang wats. Note the distinctive 2-tier roof. The roof of the front porch forms the 3rd tier. This is a classic Luang Prabang design. The Mekong is just on the other side of the wat, and is easily accessible by steps for visitors arriving by boats.
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Across the road, a shop sells ‘saa’ – paper sheets made by hand from mulberry bark – another Luang Prabang cultural item, but also found in Thailand especially Chiangmai area. Great for lanterns!
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Then we find food, yes food we used to chomp on when we were kids in Kelantan – a thick pancake made of glutinous rice flour and grated coconut flesh, roasted over coconut husk fire (we call it ‘bae-ko’ in Kelantanese). See how useful coconuts are.
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We are so excited about this find, that a proper picture is in order. Another link between Kelantanese and Indochinese (say, Champa)?
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Wat Xi Boun Heuang (mid-18th century), where the monks are getting a huge boat lantern ready for tomorrow night’s display. Note the houses where the monks live.
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The missus can’t resist lending a hand. The older monk speaks pretty decent English.
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Next to it, the monks of 15th century Wat Sop Sickharam are also working on their version of the boat lantern. All these boats are meant to celebrate the annual end-of-Lent (called ‘Ork Phansa’) – which officially marks the end of the rainy season and to remind the farmers to begin harvesting and preparing the land for the next season. It falls tomorrow night when the moon is full.
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Meanwhile the youngsters are lounging in the shade.
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A hundred metres on, golden Wat Sensoukharam, built early 18th century, gleams in the bright sunlight.
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The golden stupa is very prominent.
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It has a 4-tier roof.
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Close-up of impressive ornaments atop the roof spine.
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It’s famous for its maroon walls with richly-decorated windows and gold stencils of holy figurines.
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Just outside the awesome wat, life goes on … slowly but surely. (Some say ‘Lao PDR’ stands for ‘Lao, Please Don’t Rush!’ :D)
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Another great catch – a classic Mercedes-Benz of the 60s. Dad’s friend owned this particular model, and I have fond memories of having the occasional rides as a small kid. Can anybody positively identify this Merc’s model?
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The Luang Prabang Primary School. With the high roof, the classrooms should be spacious and airy.
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And I’m puzzled, why aren’t these kids at school?
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[TO BE CONTINUED …]

Luang Prabang III: Mighty Mekong

Laos > Luang Prabang

LUANG PRABANG, 03 Oct 2009

Second day in Luang Prabang and I belatedly inspect the rules of the hotel glued to the wall of the room, issued by the local police, no less. Lemme see … hmmmm … Rule #1: yup, there’s a curfew in Laos – people should be indoors by midnight, thus nightspots should be closed in time. Rule #5: in fact, sexual relationship between a foreigner and a Lao citizen is a crime, unless legally married. Rule #6: no movie-making, okay!
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Great weather, so another town walkabout looks good.
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Breakfast first, in a garden-like outdoor cafe. Nice touch, the Laotians are learning from the Thais, I see.
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Sculpted fruits, simple idea but cool.
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Ready for another walk, I scrutinise the town map. Our hotel is just left of the post office, so I thought we should walk to the Mekong river bank and stroll eastwards all the way to the spot where the Khan River meets the Mekong.
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The Mekong is always impressive, especially in broad daylight. That’s the 10th longest waterway in the world, born in the glacial area of Tibet.
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So where exactly is Luang Prabang in relation to the 4800km-long Mekong? See the blue ‘x’ in the map below for orientation.
[source].
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Across the Mekong, there’s the village of Ban Xieng Maen, some say preserved since the 14th century. I hate river-crossing, so I give it a pass.
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The bank of the Mekong is indeed lively, where macho men, anxious about their libidos, gulp snake wine, at RM2 per shot. Such wine is also popular in Vietnam.
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No kidding, real (dead) critters in them jars. To wake up your little fella (or so they claim), will you go for it?
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Meanwhile, a slender passenger boat with 2 side engines glides past, sans life-vests.
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Behind me a French-era house. Luang Prabang has lotsa old French buildings which are preserved with tender loving care, in addition to the 23 wats.
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Further down the road, a convoy of Skodas from China take a breather. The Chinese border is less then 250km away to the north via the long Route 13, which traverses Laos north-south, not all of it paved and only recently declared as safe from bandit attacks.
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I still see some interesting traffic on the river. A dual-hull ferry cum house?
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Tourism-related businesses aplenty here, and this is a typical menu. Fancy a 30-hr road trip to Kunming, in a bus with beds?
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More French building, still in pristine condition.
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The river bank is dotted with eateries on wooden platforms – nice for viewing the famous river, especially in the breezy late afternoon as the sun sets.
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A rice merchant awaits his first customers.
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Then I spot something truly interesting – an original US Army jeep, a relic of the Vietnam War.
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Looks original, except for the seats, gearstick, handbrake and the Toyota steering wheel.
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Complete with a jerry can, what an awesome machine. I last saw one in Saigon, Vietnam, way back in ’93, when the youthful owner tried to interest me into buying it. I said, no good, I live in Malaysia and our steering wheel is on the right. No problem, he replied, I change to right steering wheel, tomorrow ready! Nope, I didn’t buy that puppy.
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[TO BE CONTINUED …]

Luang Prabang II: Walkabout and Mekong River

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 02 Oct 2009


Still along the main road, but near our inn, we find the post office.
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The missus has to ship something to a friend. The place, offering a multitude of services, is open till 10pm, and sometimes the postmaster’s kids play in the office. How homely!
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Across the post office, on the other side of the road, a hotel I’d recommend to honeymooners. ;)
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From the main street, there are countless lanes such as this one, …
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… and this – each choc-a-block with all manners of inns, guesthouses and hostels, mainly family-run. All the lanes run parallel heading for the river bank.
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Yes, this river bank.
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The river bank of the Mighty Mekong! This mass of fast-flowing, rusty-looking water stretches up to 750m to the other side. Obviously wider during the rainy season.
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Along the road on the river bank, I gaze at a handsome wooden guesthouse under construction. I wonder, if I could build such a fine house in KL, that’d be the talk of town.
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Next to me, chillis are being dried in the hot late afternoon sun.
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We hang around waiting for the sun to set over the Mekong, and are not disappointed. What a great view. We’ve seen this great river in Chiangrai (Thailand) and in Phnom Penh (Cambodia).
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A guy appears out of nowhere, with a Beerlao in hand, jumps onto his boat and ignites the engine. He lives on the other side of the river, and crossing the huge river is as routine as crossing the road is for us.
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Just below me, kids are still having fun atop long boats (used for cruises up and down the river), …
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… and in the street too.
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We return to main road of Luang Prabang to discover that it has just been closed for the daily night market. The daytime heat is now barely noticeable as the breeze cools the place down.
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After a quick survey of the market, we retire to our room. We’ll do the shopping tomorrow evening. It has been a great first day in Luang Prabang indeed!
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[MORE TO FOLLOW …]

Luang Prabang I: Prelude and Hmong Market

Laos > Luang Prabang



LUANG PRABANG, 02 Oct 2009


Main street, downtown Luang Prabang. Lunchtime, hot humid and quiet, low season for visitors – just the way I like it. Looks like any typical boring street, but on closer inspection, the old shophouses are French.
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But first thing’s first. Gotta get the local dough called ‘Kip’. Locals accept USD with gusto, but their exchange rate is poor. Instead of the normal 8,500 kips to the USD, most traders like to round down to 8,000 kips. Being shortchanged by 500 kips is painful, even if it’s only worth about RM0.20! We soon realise the Lao Kip is almost at par with the Indonesian Rupiah.
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In line with the World Heritage Status, even the humble ATM machine is dressed up appropriately. Thumbs up!
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With hundreds of thousands of kips bulging in my pocket, we stroll down the street and spot something interesting at a block of old shophouse.
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Yes, we’ve found ourselves halal chow. Local cash, and now halal stuff – great start, Luang Prabang!
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Next to the only halal eatery in town (possibly in the province too), I gawk at a major wat – Wat Mai – arguably the best-looking in Luang Prabang. Built late 18th century, it was the official temple of the royal family, and residence of Chief Monk of Laos. In Luang Prabang traditional style, it has 2 porches and a 5-tier roof.
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The elaborate Lao style roof in full glory.
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Of course, admiring the wat’s elegance is one thing, admiring local handicraft is another.
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Across Wat Mai, a small stall starts business as a sinh-clad lady looks on. The sinh skirt is a traditional Lao costume, and it’s interesting because it ends way above the ankle. Practical for walking along muddy and wet paths in the days of yore?
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Nearby, the library, housed in another old French building, is not exactly a popular spot, even on a hot early afternoon.
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I stand at a major junction in Luang Prabang old town, deserted on this hot early afternoon, with a fruit and shake seller my only company.
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A couple of schoolgirls amble past. Note the school uniform – sinh skirt and blouse, ancient and modern.
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A small lorry delivers a mean-looking PA system, with a bunch of hangers-on, and Beerlao, the ubiquitous local concoction made from rice, is everywhere.
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Luang Prabang is synonymous with monks, mainly young apprentices, and at any time of the day, small groups can be seen running errands.
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The old town of Luang Prabang has some 16,000 inhabitants, with the monks comprising almost 10% of it. Visitors like us not counted.
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Ma’am is busy at a stall in the Hmong Market, selling Hmong handicraft, what else?
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Bedspreads cum quilt covers, it’s amazing how the Hmong tribe can produce such exquisite craftmanship.
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Cute pillow-shaped ‘brooches’, smaller than the palm of a hand. Creative stuff.
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Still foraging for goodies as a modern Hmong lass looks on.
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Haggling no barrier, when a big calculator is around. Language not needed, just punch in your offer on the calculator. Everybody understands numbers, and the Lao Kip with so many zeros is no hindrance.
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Sorry, I’m enamoured with sinh skirts, this time worn with matching T-shirts. :D
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Meanwhile, a Hmong girl quarrels with dad and sulks on the pavement.
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[MORE TO COME …]

Vientiane to Luang Prabang with Lao Airlines

Laos > Vientiane



VIENTIANE, 02 Oct 2009


Today we are traveling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, some 425km by road – which can take about 9-10hrs – or just 40min by air. A no-brainer for us, so we find our way to Vientiane Wattay International Airport VTE to catch the morning Lao Airlines flight to Luang Prabang LPQ.
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The domestic terminal is the old terminal, which is dwarfed by the new (international terminal) next to it.
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The no-nonsense Flight Information Display for Lao Airlines. Ours is QV101.
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Actually the Lao Airlines FID is accompanied by the FIDs for the other two Laotian airlines: Lao Air and Lao Capricorn Air. I should call this part of the terminal ‘The FID Corner’.
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Lao Capricorn Air is the baby of the family, with only one plane: a Czech-made LET L-410, only 19 seats (odd number?).
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On schedule, we are promptly bussed to our ride parked on the ramp right in front of the international terminal.
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Well, aren’t we lucky or what? A brand new ATR72-500 is our transport to LPQ for today.
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The colourful Lao Airlines insignia on the tail – the champa or frangipani flower. Very distinctive.
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The cabin reeks of new car plane smell, whatever that is.
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Sitting still on the ramp, almost ready to go with full anticipation!
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We are soon airborne, after taking off from Runway 31, heading northwest.
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This side of Vientiane has plenty of rice-fields and aquaculture ponds.
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Just 10min after take-off, the huge Nam Ngum hydro reservoir passes on the right. Completed in 1971, this hydro plant supplies electricity to the whole of Vientiane and most of Laos, yet 70% of its output is sold to Thailand, earning about 25% of Laos’s foreign income.
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Cruising at 30,000ft, we skim above a thick cloud cover, thanks to remnants of deadly Typhoon Ketsana, which battered the Phillipines, Vietnam and the southern part of Laos.
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We enter the mountainous region of central Laos, where desolate villages are in the middle of nowhere.
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A break in the clouds as the plane descends, and I see the mighty Mekong.
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The Mekong snakes around countless mountains, with its banks dotted with villages. The river is an important transportation route in Laos, and a key food source too.
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That looks like Route 13 linking Vientiane and Luang Prabang. No wonder it takes 9hrs to cover 425km, and that’s in good weather.
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The mountains suddenly give way to terraced rice-fields.
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And the new part of Luang Prabang comes into view as we return to civilisation.
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Landing at Runway 06 of Luang Prabang Airport LPQ, I spot my first wat (or ‘vat’) atop a hill. There are 23 notable wats in Luang Prabang alone.
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Soon our brand new ATR72-500 sits elegantly on the ramp at Luang Prabang Airport LPQ.
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Next to it, an elder sister awaits passengers.
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Leaving the aircraft we stroll to the terminal building. It is a cool breezy pleasant day, with a hint of humidity.
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Warm greeting as we enter the terminal building airside.
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Landside, this is Luang Prabang International Airport terminal. Only 7 scheduled flights per day: 3 to Vientiane, 2 to Bangkok, 1 to Hanoi, 1 to Siem Reap.
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A modest open-air waiting area for passengers and friends. Only bona fide travelers are allowed into the small building.
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A wooden plaque proudly announces the World Heritage Status of Luang Prabang.
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Close-up of the English text.
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Nearby a welcome note from the local authority …
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… with some wise words from the boss.
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From the state-of-the-art French-made ATR72-500 plane, we exit the airport gate and are back on Planet Earth, as we ride a rickety van to town.
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Such juxtaposition between technologies in print and on the ground. I remember seeing an airport road like this at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport way back in the early 90s, and now that ‘airport road’ is a modern gleaming dual carriageway!
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And yes, we are heading in the right direction, no worries.
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[THE END]

Kamarudin Mat Salleh (1959 – 2009)

A dear friend of ours, Dr Kamarudin ‘Pak Din’ Mat Salleh, Professor of Botany, National University of Malaysia, succumbed to cancer yesterday 10 Oct 2009, after a lengthy battle. He was born in Kelantan, Malaysia, on 17 Apr 1959.


This is our humble tribute to him – a wonderful, simple man …


Ulu Dong Rafflesia Hunt, 2006

Click HERE and HERE

Another Rafflesia Hunt, in Sungkai, 2007
Click HERE



“So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, Pak Din, and see you in the Hereafter … AL-FATIHAH …

Awesome Archives

Past Places

DIRECTORY OF PICTORIALS 2004-2009

Please click HERE for a full list of stories from 2004. Pleasant viewing, thanks!