Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Luang Prabang

We arrived in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage town in northern Laos, after a flight from Vientiane and  after lunch we planned to view some temples and have a swim at a waterfall.  Due to time constraints the temples were postponed and we set off for the waterfall. Unfortunately, due to Chinese New Year – which lasts about a week – Chinese from everywhere descended on the area. There was a massive traffic jam that would do Sydney proud, and David ended up having a conversation with a family from Shanghai in the adjacent car. I found it amusing as David went through places we all lived and got to Ulladulla, near Wollongong. Their pronunciation was beyond this family.

The waterfalls were beautiful and lots of people were taking advantage of the hot weather and the holiday to go swimming. The area also includes the Tat Kuang Si bear rescue centre.

After 2 nights at the Plain of Jars at Phonsavanh we returned to Luang Prabang. We spent quite a bit of time visiting temples and museums, which, although beautiful, have a certain sameness after a while. Features include gold decoration often stencilled, numerous Buddhas of different sizes and dustiness, walls and ceilings covered with painted scenes from Buddha’s life, stairways and rooftops decorated with Naga (serpents), entrances cluttered with miscellaneous collections of shoes and hats and floors partially covered with worn matting. Luang Prabang has an abundance of temples, many quite old such as Wat Visounnarath, Wat Aham which is a complex of temples.
Wat Visounnarath

The nipple shaped of Wat Aham

Wat Aham

Jim hitting the gong

The highly decorated exterior of one of the small chapels
Next was an afternoon river cruise up the Mekong on a nicely appointed river ferry. Our stops on this cruise included a village selling hand-made paper objects, then another one selling home-made wine in bottles containing snakes. To return to the ferry we had to run the gauntlet of about 50 stall-holders selling woven fabric. Further on was a cave we had to climb up to, complete with another collection of very dusty Buddhas of varying ages and sizes. Despite the climb it was a very relaxing afternoon watching the life of the river pass us by. 
The hordes climbing up to the cave
Marion in a pensive mood on the river

Snakes and scorpions in bottles

Some of the very steep hills along the Mekong

Our hotel was the best we have stayed in – Le Sen Boutique Hotel - only opened in December. The manager did his training in Sydney and presented our whole group with a T-shirt each – a very nice gesture.
Le Sen Hotel - swimming pool and red lantern reflections

This was the end of our time in Laos, which unfortunately ended with our group being split into 2 flights to Hanoi. Our wait at the airport was a comedy of errors. First, our luggage didn’t arrive from the hotel a planned. Second, we all walked through immigration with our passports unstamped because the official was at lunch – seemed like a very long lunch once we found out. Next we couldn’t get anything to drink or eat for hours as the “international airport” had nothing at all for sale. We were luckier than the Ginises and Georgesons who had to wait for 2 hours for their luggage to arrive in Hanoi.

The only way is up from here.  

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