Lovely langourous Luang Prabang

Languour

Languour

29th June – 23rd July 2012

We’d booked in to ‘Lao Wooden House’ which was a dark paneled room that resembled a spacious coffin. We went about orientating ourselves in this rather disorientating city, this was due partly to being sandwiched in between two rivers, so a ‘down to the river’ direction might mean the opposite to what you think. Also we spent some time in what we thought was the main drag of the place, before we discovered another high street down the road.

View back to LP

View back to LP

There is a lovely lazy, languid feel to this place, partly because the humidity forbids fast movement, partly because of the beautiful saffron clad Buddhists drifting from their golden pagodas under orange umbrellas and partly because of the big old river moving slowly about its business.

It is a backpacker destination but not only the twenty-something hippies that frequented Pai, we met some interesting folk here including a grumpy old sod we called Uncle Vernon, father and daughter English teachers, a bio-chemist taking time out to write a book, a buddhist couple building a retreat and some Lao musicians.

We moved down town on our second week to a cheap friendly place run by a gay Lao couple. This place featured as many free miniature bananas, as you could eat, strong Lao coffee, and a litter of kittens living in the laundry cupboard.

We were careful to abide by the house rules, here is an excerpt: ” Do not any drugs,crambling. Do not allow domestic and international tourist bring prostrate and others into your room.”

Reflection

Reflection

Some of the adventures we had here were labouring up the hill in the centre of the town called Phousy (as in cat, or galore!) and setting free some poor little caged birds, watched over by some round eyed French kids as we shouted “Libre!” Crossing the river in a very skinny wobbly long tail boat to the restaurant on the other side. Having a Lao barbecue, a round affair which fits in a hole in the table, there is a ‘moat’ of boiling water where you cook your veg and noodles while the top fries your meat. Getting up at 5.30 am to watch the buddhists collecting alms, a beautiful ceremony almost ruined by idiot tourists, I have a more prolonged rant about it on my website here. A lot of working, playing and being horizontal in the ridiculously cool local bar, appropriately called ‘Utopia’. The laid back heaven was visually punctuated with some stark reminders of their recent history. Lao has the unfortunate claim of being the most bombed country in the world, mostly because of it’s proximity to Vietnam.

Trouble in paradise

Trouble in paradise

We had a visit to some glorious waterfalls and were entertained by some playful rescued bears. We finally got to understand why this time of year is called the rainy season, but it’s nothing compared to Cumbria! I did quite a bit of photography and some experimentation which you can see on my blog. We appreciated the legacy of the French colony by falling a love with a bakery with divine baguettes and gorgeous coffee. Watched Murray get beaten by Federer in an Aussie sports bar, I was cheering him loudly until the uneasy quiet alerted me to the fact we were surrounded by Rog supporters! We visited the oldest Wat (temple) enjoyed the bright mosaics and meditated in a mini Wat. Shopped in the wonderful night market with beautiful and bizarre handcrafted lovelies.

We are really grateful for the chance of being in this lovely place, it comes recommended highly.

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Dr. Fish and the Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-tuk travel

Tuk-tuk travel

We flew from the sweaty heat of Singapore to… the sweaty heat of Cambodia!  Actually getting used to it now, we walked through Siem Reap airport where a man holding up a sign with my name on it (very exciting) was to be found waiting for us.  He was our tuk-tuk driver.  A tuk-tuk is a small four seater covered carriage pulled by a moped and was to become very familiar over the next few weeks.  Our man piled on all our luggage and we climbed in, we were then driven down to our new home, the Motherhome Guest House.  Our first tuk-tuk ride was a bit nerve-wracking as we witnessed the apparently random driving of the Cambodians, it seems like anything goes, with traffic flowing in all directions at once, narrowly missing each other in a kind of slow ballet.  Someone later described a tuk-tuk as being like a fish with all the traffic like water flowing around it.

View from the guesthouse.

View from the guesthouse.

 We were greeted at Motherhome by the friendly staff offering us cold fruit drinks and blessedly ice-cool towels scented with eucalyptus.  The staff were all beautifully dressed in red and gold tunics or long dresses and were very graceful and helpful.  At over three weeks our stay was pretty lengthy by normal standards, the average time anyone spends here is one point eight days, how they fit everything in is anyone’s guess. We were to visit the temples of Angkor and generally hang out in the city.
Siem Reap is a mainly tourist town aimed at accommodating all the hordes visiting Angkor, it has loads of good restaurants and markets, massage places (including the dreaded Dr. Fish Foot Massage – I tried this but felt like the fish were finding my feet just a bit too tasty! Fran, after persuading me to take the plunge kept her feet in for about two seconds and squeaked loudly, refusing to repeat the experience.)  There is also a night market where you can shop for silks and buddhas when it’s a bit cooler.
Those fish are too hungry!

Those fish are too hungry!

 We went on a trip to the floating village of Chong Kneas.  The huge lake, ‘Tonle Sap’, in the middle of Cambodia is home to several of these villages, when we went the water level was very low and the colour of buttermilk.  We went on a short tour to see the villages and few disgruntled looking crocodiles, finishing up with dinner on an old boat anchored in the lake.  We were hoping for a longer tour to explore the sunken forest a fews hour’s boat ride away but were informed that the forest hadn’t sunk yet as it was still dry season. (News to us – we thought it was rainy, but apparently the lake doesn’t rise until the mighty Mekong river reverses its flow later in the season.)
Girl, wash tub and snake.

Girl, wash tub and snake.

 Other things we did during our stay included a traditional puppet show given by local kids and a cello concert and lecture by the famous Dr. Beat Richner, fundraising for the local children’s hospital.  At the moment in Siem Reap, there is a terrible outbreak of Dengue Fever with many children being affected by this killer disease.
We also visited a modern Pagoda ‘Wat Bo’ near our hotel in the city.  There we met with a young monk who was studying at the buddhist school attached to the Pagoda.  He was a lovely young man dressed in stunning orange robes, he came over to chat with us and practice his English.  We sat in the shade of a tree out of the hot sun and after a while some more monks joined us, one of them, another young man grinning from ear to ear was even trying to chat Fran up much to her amusement! “You very beautiful!”
Monk chat

Monk chat

We’ve had a good time in the city, we even managed to gate-crash the British Ambassador’s reception cocktail party, after being tipped off by an ex-pat in our local bar.  “Just show up with your passport” he said, so we did.  Free drinks around the pool at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, lovely, darling. Adding to the delusions of grandeur was the mistaken feeling of being quite rich, we went out with wads of 100’s in our wallets, but alas 100 riel is  only about 2 pence.
You can imagine you're rich!

You can imagine you’re rich!

Watch out for Fran’s post on the Temples, coming soon…
Gallery pics below: