The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

On the Banks of the Mekong

with 2 comments

Things move a bit slower here in Luang Prabang. It’s a smallish town on the banks of the Mekong (already very wide here), and surrounded on two other sides by the curve of another river feeding into the Mekong. It is an older town, many centuries old, and was the centre of at least one empire. It is chock-a-block with wats (temples), and therefore with monks. Every morning at dawn they file through the centre of town collecting alms from people kneeling on the curbside. It’s very atmospheric.

I’m impressed with much of the tourism ethic you see here. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on sustainable tourism: supporting local economics, being culturally and environmentally sensitive. Some effort seems to be made towards improving the lot of locals, particularly children.

Yesterday’s performance at the Children’s Cultural Centre was lovely. The kids themselves are great – lively and poised. The event began with a traditional Baci (blessing) ceremony lead by local elders. The centrepiece is a banana leaf and chrysanthemum shine. Sweet treats (bananas and and sticky rice) are passed out, and string bracelets are tied onto the wrists of people attending. These bracelets should remain on for three days to bring luck, and should be untied, not cut off.

The performance began with a puppet show, an art form that almost died out, and in fact, this might be one of the last places to see it. Following that was a series of dances from different ethnic groups in Laos, each with the distinctive costume. We are learning that Laotians are from very diverse backgrounds reflecting different migration periods and histories. The kids danced very well, and the accompanying music was sonorous and rhythmic. The audience, about 35-40 visitors from around the world, seemed to really pick up on the positive energy of the kids. I hope that these bi-weekly performance really become a central attraction on the tourist scene. There is little mention in guidebooks; most publicity comes from handbills and posters. We’ll spend tomorrow with the kids again, hopefully watching over and photographing music and dance lessons. On sunday there will be a cooking class at the CCC where the kids will learn to prepare otlam, a local specialty – a stew of greens, meat, dill and other herbs. It’s quite delicious, particularly with sticky rice.

The food in general is good here. Most dishes are cooked with a variety of herbs like mint and basil, and fresh veggies abound. I’m particular fond of the coffee, which is rich and chocolaty, and made with sweetened condensed milk, much like Vietnamese coffee. Baguette sandwiches are also popular, made with grilled meat or cheese (vache qui rit). All along the river are restaurants with the most amazing views.

Today we took a boat ride across the river to a very attractive abandoned (but maintained) wat with quite elegant, almost Japanese-looking architecture. There seemed a french colonial influence in the heavy curving staircases too. We also dropped into a hot and sticky cave that serves as a repository for retired Buddha sculptures. Back on the town side of the river, but a bit upstream we visited a village specializing in weaving and mulberry paper, and I couldn’t resist buying samples of the beautiful work.

We’re in Luang Prabang for the weekend, then on monday we’ll head east with the CUSO folks to visit NGOs working in the Xiang Kouang area. after 4-5 days there, we’ll fly to Vientiane for a night, then head to Phnom Penh, Battambang and Sisaphon before making a final short stop to visit Siem Reap. From there we’ll fly to Hong Kong for a few last days before I fly home.

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Written by sockeyed

November 23, 2007 at 21:50

Posted in Photography

2 Responses

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  1. It all sounds wonderful. I hope you took photos in the buddha retirement cave because I really want to see it.

    Rachael

    November 23, 2007 at 15:43

  2. Very cool stuff man. Luang Prubang is a magical city and was definitely the highlight of Laos to me.
    Have you been to the waterfalls yet?

    Vinh Dao

    November 25, 2007 at 21:44


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