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Day 19: Vientiane

The End of a Journey

Well my nearly 3 week journey through the Jewel of the Mekong has come to an abrupt end. After 18 days of wandering through beautiful countryside, towns and adventure trips it all culminated in one interesting bus ride back to Vientiane, where it all started…

The time was 8pm, the place was Pakse VIP bus station. I boarded the sleeper bus to Vientiane and promptly found my bed, it was the first on the left. More curiously, there were 2 bed numbers for the one mattress. Looking around nervously, I noticed that nearly everyone was bunked up with one other, sharing one mattress. Will I be bunked up with a stranger? Surely the ticket agent would not do this to a farang (foreigner). Alas, not long after I saw a foreign girl looking up at the numbers above the bed and looking very confused. I introduced what I thought was the sleeping arrangements; she didn’t believe it and went in search of the truth. Not long after she came back and confirmed it was true, we were bed buddies. Fortunately, we were both relatively small in size and both from Australia – so we got on great with common language and eventually managed to lie as comfortably as possible, albeit mentally awkwardly, for the 10 hour bus ride to Vientiane.

The first leg of the trip was rather rocky and other foreigners being a little edgy and weary of the precarious nature of the drive. However, we all did arrive in one piece in Vientiane, although a little groggy and tired. We had enviously watched the other newer looking VIP bus with curtained privacy and one person per bunk every time they or we pulled out of the different stops along the way. Lesson learnt, buy ticket from Kriang Kai, never again with Kingham Transport!

So back in the capital, it nice to be back! I had the best croissant I’ve had outside of France (I’ve been looking for good ones) at the aptly named Café Croissant D’or. With a café Lao to pep me up, I’m good for the day! With some shopping to look forward, I know exactly where to go and what presents I want to buy!

In reflection, it’s been a great trip and I’ve learned so much about Lao culture, the people and not to mention experiencing this gorgeous country. Not to mention the interesting people I have met along the way and their entertaining travel stories. Highlights are:

1. Seeing so much eco and sustainable tourism practices across the country

2. Being able to get so close, without restrictions, to so many natural landmarks

3. Zip-lining through Tad Sae Waterfalls and wa-hooing like Jane following Tarzan through the jungle

4. Rock-climbing the Karst peaks in Vang Vieng

5. Staying overnight at Kuangsi Waterfalls

6. Seeing the Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong river

7. The croissant this morning. Yes it was that good.
Highlights of Backpacking Through Laos

Almost everyone I met, whether they spent 1 week or 7 in Laos all had positive feedback and really enjoyed their time here. Rarely have I come across such unanimous opinions on one country! But all admit that you really must have a sense of humour when you travel! You can’t expect every day to be perfect, but it can be pretty close traveling in Laos – the Jewel of the Mekong.
19_Kuangsi..lls-031.jpg

Posted by Teamworkz 04:25 Archived in Laos Tagged of laos highlights backpacking through Comments (0)

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)

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