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Archive for November 17th, 2008

Something’s Hmong with this Picture

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My train was an hour late getting into Chiang Mai, so that limited my already limited time there. Greg Rekken, the CUSO cooperant from Vancouver who I met before he headed out to Thailand, greeted me at the train station with his motorcycle. Groggy from a not-great sleep and my cold, and by the fact that my monkly companions woke at 5:30 and started chatting, our first stop was for a coffee.

Time didn’t allow for a trip out to the model farm which I documented last year, plus I found out that some of the folks I’d met last year had moved on, so instead Greg and I met up with Jeremy Mak – an American working with Burmese NGOs whom I met last November – at a restaurant in a large cob building near the university.

It was fun to drive through Chiang Mai again, seeing many familiar sights. We all caught up with each other’s activities over a lunch that was tasty but long in the delivery. Too long, unfortunately, to allow me to get my traditional mango sticky rice in the old town near the Tae Phe gate. Greg got me the airport in good time for my flight and I ventured on.

The ATR-72 Chinese-made copy of a Russian plane stayed aloft by the grace of Buddha and we touched down in Luang Prabang at around 4pm and I rode a mini van to the Wheelers’ house, down a lane across from the Rama Hotel in a nice part of town about a 10 minute’s walk from the old core. Ron was there to greet me as were their two cats, Patches and Casper, adopted as kittens abandoned on their front door. Alisa arrived soon, but was tied up with work at the Children’s Cultural Centre that evening. We shared some beer, Alisa returned to work, and Ron and I walked out to dinner at the Blue Lagoon, where I ate otlam stew and sticky rice. The food was tasty, but prepared for western tastes, so it wasn’t as spicy as what the kids made last year at the CCC.

After dinner we dropped by the CCC where a weekend of teacher training was taking place. In the evening that revolved around skits, singing and dancing, which was good entertainment. Ron and I were enticed onto stage for some festive group dancing (all moving in a circle, one hand facing up, one hand down).

I spent most of yesterday with Ron walking and biking around the town. I am struck by how beautiful Luang Prabang is, surrounded by mountains and lying between the Mekong and the Namquan rivers. There is a classic colonial feel to the architecture, and it is all really quite calm and quiet despite the larger number of tourists (perhaps because in part they are the older, calmer variety). Orange-robed monks are still ubiquitous.

Ron and I started with lao coffee (with condensed milk) and a baguette warmed over a fire at my favourite coffee shop down on the Mekong where Jeremy and I spent a lot of our mornings last year.

After that, a stop at the Viva Travel to book onwards tickets. A setback there because all of the outbound flights to Vientiane are full for the week, so I’m aiming for a standby flight today. There was a little bit of activity at the CCC when we walked past, but the kids showed no sign of recognition despite the fact that I spent a week there last year. This is not entirely suprising given the number of farang who pass through Luang Prabang.

We returned home to pick up the bikes, then went for noodles (phe) at a favourite shop in the west part of the old town, followed by a ride over the old bailey bridge and down a dusty bumpy road to the village where the weavers are. I found one of the women that I photographed at Naga Textiles last year and gave her a number of photos of her and her sister, and she was very pleased. We rode home via a Beer Lao pit stop, then had naps. I was doing ok until a Lao Airlines prop plane flew low overhead and woke me up, then I couldn’t snooze again, so I went for a wander in town with my camera, and strolled along the Mekong waterfront as the sun set over the river.

Alisa was home when I returned to their place, and we all decided to go to Nisha, the Indian restaurant. Alisa ordered a wonderful assortment of very tasty dishes which we came close to almost finishing. The owner of the restaurant is from South Indian (Madras?) and is married to a Lao women, and together they have at least three gorgeous children including one daughter about 45 days old.

On our way home we talked through the night market which is almost overwhelming in terms of how nice the goods for sale are, even if they become variations on a theme after a while. I bought two Hmong embroidered baby hats (one old, one new), plus two pairs of little shoes for Asha. For me I picked up a Lao PDR t-shirt. I love mine from last year and I wanted a second for when it wears out.

I slept well last night for the first night in a while, and my cold seems to be a bit better today. Ron was off to work before I got up, but Alisa took a day off, so we went for coffee/baguette down by the river again, then back via a quick stop at the market where I bought an embroidered Hmong duvet cover and pillow cases for 230,000 kip, about $30. Beautiful stuff.

A final pack, a tuk-tuk, and now I’m at the airport. There are two flights today and I’m on the standby list for both (#5 on the first, #3 on the second). I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get to Vientiane today. Luang Prabang is a nice place to be stuck, but I would rather get on the road at this point.

Written by sockeyed

November 17, 2008 at 20:00