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Day 12: The Bolaven Plateau

Coffee and Waterfalls

Today was full of coffee trees, villages and waterfalls. Driving south of Pakse onto the Bolaven Plateau we pass plantation after plantation of coffee trees with villages dotted in between with coffee beans drying in the hot winter sun.

First waterfall stop was to Tad Padsouam. It resembled a small version of the devil’s mouth at Iguacu Falls. Although the falls were none too spectacular, a local guide who spoke decent English took me closer to the falls navigating through the large boulders beside it. It was interesting that you could just walk that close to the falls.

Near Tad Padsouam there is a display ethnic village. This resembles a bit of a theme park where each house has examples of different ethnic groups from Southern Laos. The houses are real examples of each group and the government has assigned families to live in each house. There is always one person dressed in traditional garb ‘on display’. I asked my guide to ask one of these traditionally dressed villagers if they liked living in this display village, the villager replied, ‘they just put me here’. No further questions. While learning about another culture is interesting, displacing families for tourism like it were a human zoo is a little sad. They do get a free house and their children are employed by the local resort, but it does not seem the best situation.

On the bright side, I had to giggle when my guide explained a tree-house type structure in the village. Raised up high with seemingly only one room, this was the dating place. When a boy and girl like each other in the village, the allocated place for their first date is this house! They also have some interesting customs like having a small hole cut in the wall where the girl sleeps so the guy can come feel her hand and give her gifts before the first date.

Next waterfalls: Tad Hang and Tad Lo. Again you could wander over the boulders to get closer to the waterfalls. It was nice being able to walk around than having everything fenced and cemented. I’m sure this will come in due time. The other enjoyable feature is that there are very few tourists at these waterfalls. Roving about the Bolaven Plateau you feel a sense that this is what the south of Lao is really like. Devoid of tourist services and hoardes of tourists, you can see villagers and observe locals going about their daily life. Past Tad Lo is a real, live Nik (ethnic group) village which is nice to also walk in and observe. The villagers don’t seem to mind and continue about on their way. The chickens, pigs and other animals also don’t seem to mind. The children might ask you to donate a pen, apparently as an educational resource, but my guide told me they try to discourage giving as it only encourages the children to keep asking each time a foreigner comes through.

Lunch stop was nearby where there was a guesthouse for foreigners and a computer centre and library. Sometimes foreigners come and volunteer to teach anyone in the area how to use a computer and speak English. The food was good and freshly made here. I enjoyed a chicken curry and sticky rice. The host spoke very good English and French (as well as Lao)!

We stopped off at a Sinouk (brand) coffee plantation and resort. With elegantly manicured gardens it seemed out of place after passing through coffee farming village after village. Sinouk, while less well known as Dao, apparently treats their coffee farmers better, but who knows. The farmers we passed along the road certainly aren’t living in places as well kept as this resort facility.

Then it was onto seeing the Tad Yoaung and Tad Fane waterfalls. I felt the day was leading up to these two falls. Tad Yoaung was more impressive than Tad Fane because you could get closer to it. Tad Fane, even from afar, the height of the falls was impressive. Finally we stopped at a coffee and tea farmer’s plantation and got to see how they pick coffee! Also the farmer’s wife poured us some fresh green tea which was delicious and refreshing. A lovely way to end the day!

Waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau, Champasak, Southern Laos

Waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau, Champasak, Southern Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 03:51 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfalls the on plateau laos southern bolaven champasak 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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