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Day 9: Luang Prabang

Tak Bat and The Human Circus

Today I’m on my soap box. Never have I been so disgraced by seeing full frontal the stupidity of humanity. It’s more about being disrespectful of other people and their beliefs. But being disrespectful is stupid in my books. That is, you must be stupid to be so disrespectful. Ok, I’m not free from guilt. I wanted to take a few photos to show this inane lack of respect to place it on public display of what NOT to do when visiting a country. PLEASE respect other people’s culture and not treat it like a human circus.

OK – let me start from the beginning. One of the most famous sites in Luang Prabang is the daily alms collection by the resident monks – hundreds of them walk procession-like through the streets in the early morning, collection food offerings from local residents – there is literally a procession of monks from one end of town to the other – it is quite the spectacle. It is a long-standing practice in many Buddhist communities and you can see this throughout Laos, although Luang Prabang has become famous for this due to the sheer number of temples and resident monks and novices on this small peninsular.

Now imagine instead of tourists quietly observing this morning ritual, some are disruptive, disrespectful and offensive. A local tradition and cultural treasure is being sabotaged purely for tourists enjoyment. ‘I don’t know any better’ is not an acceptable excuse.

How would you like it, if you were going about your morning ritual to pick up food for yourself (and also to distribute to the poor) when, *FLASH*, *FLASH*, *FLASH* you have some strange foreigner sticking their camera over your shoulder or pretty close to your face to capture the ‘moment’. It’s like someone taking photos of you at a grocery store (it’s a little more important than that, but for the sake of a simple analogy). I almost vomited watching it happen.

20 minutes and it’s over. Luckily the monks are peaceful people. If it were certain more assertive or aggressive celebrity or some sports star, I’m sure one of the tourists would have some camera or personal damage done from being so disrespectful. What gives us the right as tourists to behave like the paparazzi to local customs and local people?

The traditional alms collecting procession, or tak-bat as it is known locally, is part of Luang Prabang’s cultural heritage and the monks and their temples are key parts of Luang Prabang’s appeal to tourists. It is still possible to enjoy and watch the ceremony but please do so respectfully!! Some tips: - Keep your distance – photos are a great souvenir and way to remember your holiday but be respectful when taking the photos and avoid sticking your camera into the faces of the people you wish to photograph. - Avoid flash photography - If you wish to participate in tak-bat and make offerings to the monks you are welcome to do so. However please remember this is a spiritual ritual and not a tourist attraction. It would be like tourists turning up to a Catholic church and ‘having a go’ at communion. - While there are local people selling food to make your offerings, this is generally of very poor quality. It is higher recommended you buy the food fresh from the market on the morning you would like to make the offering. - Remember this is their home as well as your holiday destination, treat it as such.

That’s enough for today. I think I need to meditate at the Kuangsi waterfalls! Check back tomorrow to see how I get on at Vanvisa at the Falls!

Alms Giving to the Monks of Luang Prabang, Laos

Alms Giving to the Monks of Luang Prabang, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 19:03 Archived in Laos Tagged the of laos to monks prabang luang alms giving Comments (0)

Day 7: Luang Prabang

The Long Bus Trip

After a long bus ride, I finally arrived in Luang Prabang.

I was advised to be at the pick-up area in Vang Vieng at 9:45 for the 10am VIP bus to Luang Prabang. About 35 minutes later, a bus did turn up and we boarded this bus (thank goodness not a mini-van), which we all thought was going to Luang Prabang. About 30 minutes later, it dropped us off at the bus terminal to board the real bus. There were others already waiting to depart and wondered why the 10am bus had still not departed. It was 11am before we took off on the long road to Luang Prabang – but hey, it is the Lao PDR – where PDR seems to mean Please Don’t Rush!

It was a lovely scenic ride out of Vang Vieng area, traveling along-side the karst peaks, then up into the mountains that show a different view of this dramatic landscape. With the low hanging clouds and with some of the peaks disappearing into them, it was reminiscent of Chinese water colour paintings. The road was windy (as in many curves, not as in strong gusts of air) and a few passengers suffered from it. It did not bother me, I think the bus ride up the Chiapas in Mexico or to Colca Canyon in Peru was far worse!

More interestingly was watching the countryside. It went a little something like this:

Wedding; many large bags of cucumber for sale along the road (‘tis the season for weddings and cucumbers!); remnants of a wedding; medium plots of lettuce and other green vegetable like products; wedding; batches of cut grass drying (for broom making); more plots of vegetables; rice paddies; cows; more batches of grass drying; wedding; pigs;

(then as we ascend into mountains)

Satellite dishes (attached to nearly every bamboo house); cow; dogs; pigs; more batches of grass drying; picturesque view of the peaks; satellite dishes; and so on and so forth – I think you get the idea!

7 hours later and well after the sun had set, we were all glad to have arrived at Luang Prabang Naluang bus station. Mount Phou Si was lit up and it was a beautiful welcoming sight. Time to explore the town!

Ola, my guide in Vang Vieng, had told me that the night market in Luang Prabang had so many beautiful handicrafts that it would be difficult not to buy anything. He was right! At first I saw cushion covers, elephant slippers (slippers with elephants on them not slippers for elephants), the famous Lao coffee, tea, tissue box holders, lantern covers – the vendors were not particularly pushy and they seemed like genuinely nice people it was hard not to buy just 1, tiny, little thing. Ok, so I bought about 7 things from different vendors. But you could actually see each one there making the products they were selling. One even said her children embroidered the hanging decoration. I’m not sure whether that is counted as child labour, or whether my purchase was freeing them from the work or keeping them employed!

Luang Prabang is a peaceful town. So I peacefully glided around the markets and toward the Mekong in search of food. I found a riverside restaurant that seemed to have a table of locals already feasting on food. I ordered what I thought was something special & local – the Stew of Luang Prabang! It sounded impressive. It was a salty broth with an interesting mix of pieces of chicken breast, dill, mint, whole chillis, pumpkin, beans, peas, onions, spring onions/eschallots, black dried fungus (mushrooms) and some other green stuff I couldn’t quite identify. Quite a mélange! Of course, it was served with the typical sticky rice in a bamboo holder. Lao people eat sticky rice with their fingers by pulling a bit off and rolling it a little into a ball. So I tried to do the same, and now I know where the term ‘sticky fingers’ comes from! To accompany the meal I tried Mak Toum tea (tea from dried fruit of a quince tree). Fragrant and not too strong, a nice hot light beverage to have on a winter’s night! Still wearing a t-shirt here, sometimes a light jacket is needed for Lao’s cold winter nights!

When I got back to my hotel, I had a long chat to the nice young man at reception, who’d never heard of the Stew of Luang Prabang, but he recommended other tasty dishes that I will endeavour to seek out tomorrow!

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 04:08 Archived in Laos Tagged night market laos prabang luang Comments (0)

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