Friday, February 27, 2009

Travels:Laos. The Golden Stupa.

Day 15
Saturday,January 3, 2009.

Back in Vientiane, and this time, we are staying at a more comfortable hotel called the Tai-Pan. It's across from the Mekong and right in the heart of the buzz of Vientiane. I like this hotel better. It's new, modern and the breakfast hall do not stink!! This is the last day in Vientiane and the only full-day here before we leave for KL.

Husband J wanted to go back to Patouxai ("Ptooi!" in J-language!!) because he lost the pictures from when we first got here. I was cool with that, as long as we do not have to climb up that darn building again!! J wanted to capture the building with the right light (yawn! Photographers!), so we hired a tuktuk. This time, J created a bit more buzz. It's Saturday, and it was not hot, so there were a bit more people and tourists around. A group of Lao boys found J's height very amusing and decided to take pictures with him!! It was a lark! And that opened doors to people around us asking where he is from and most importantly, how tall is he!! And, I was conveniently referred to as "your woman", even though J kept repeating "my wife". Yep! They think I'm a Thai prostitute!! Grrr...

Patouxai - revisited!

Right after, we had to rush off (to catch the sun - yawn! Photographers!) to the golden Buddhist stupa, That Louang, about one and a half kilometres from the Patouxai. It was already late in the evening, so the wat was closed. This is perhaps the most important religious building and Laos' national symbol. We got off the tuktuk across from a field that looked like it is being built for something - a car park perhaps? Or concrete grounds for stalls? The grounds surrounding the stupa is huge with small gardens and a small shrine at the entrance. We took pictures, walked around a bit, climbed on our tuktuk, and head back to the hotel.

Entrance of That Louang

That Louang, the national symbol of Laos

We were out for dinner one last time by the Mekong. Tomorrow we head back to good ol' KL.

This has been one amazing journey!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Travels:Laos. Conversations with a Monk.

Luang Prabang
Day 14
Friday, January 2, 2009.

Last day in Luang Prabang. Feeling better today. Which is a good thing because today is a long day.

We checked out of the guest house at 11am, and wondered around Luang Prabang for the last time. Our flight out with Lao Air is at 8pm, so we had the entire day and more to waste. We left our bags at the guest house and stopped by at a few restaurants along the Nam Khan (river) for lunch and coffee.

By this time, I think husband J and I were ready to go home. We had a week here and there wasn't anywhere that we hadn't seen. So we didn't really have any plans on where to go. I was getting a little restless after lunchtime. This ended up to be a long wait!

We were walking the familiar street near our guest house when J realised we didn't visit the two wats there. Not another wat! I was a bit bored. How different can these wats be, from the hundreds that we've seen?? J insisted, I relented. I went along, looked for a bit and told J I'll be waiting at the entrance. And so I sat down at the top of the stairs waiting for my husband, while he amused himself with his camera.

A young monk with an orange beanie was walking up and down the grounds holding a book. He came by and started speaking to me in Lao. I gave him the "I-don't-understand" look, and he immediately blushed and asked me in English, where I was from, and if I spoke Thai. He continued to ask if I was waiting for my parents!! *LOL*

This monk I found out as we talked, is a 17 year- old monk-in-training, who has been at the wat since he was 13 years old. His ambition is to follow the footsteps of is older brother - to be a full-fledged monk, and he has another 3 years before becoming one. I had a private and delightful conversation with this young monk, named 'Ek'. His English was commendable, certainly a lot better than most of the Lao folks you meet here. And I told him that. He said they learn English 1 hour a week (on Wednesdays) at the monk high school, but he decided that wasn't enough. And so every lunchtime, he'd rush over to the library to study English on his own. I was so impressed!! I was so taken by this young man, so motivated, so determined! I wished we met sooner!

This could've easily been the highlight of my entire trip - a single conversation with a monk-in-training.

**And I still kick myself for not having a picture with Ek >.< xoxo,

Monday, February 23, 2009

Travels:Laos. Sabaidee-Pimai!

Luang Prabang
Day 13

January 1, 2009.



Taking it slow and easy today. Feeling a little nauseous, so pretty much stayed in bed the whole day. Body feels feverish and weak. The weather was cloudy and moody.

Went out at night to the Hmong Market to buy things for home and friends. It was a quick in and out as I had to rush back to the hotel. Had bad diarrhoea. Body was aching from lying down too long...

Getting ready at the Hmong Market

Arranged for checkout tomorrow at 11am. Flight back to Vientiane is at 8pm. Long wait. Hope I will feel better tomorrow.

Calling it a night. Swallowed panadol. Groan! I hate being sick on a holiday!!

What a "great" start to my new year...


Travels:Laos. Bears, waterfalls and lanterns. G'bye 2008!

Luang Prabang
Day 12
Wednesday December 31, 08.

Husband J and I decided to spend the last day of 2008 with some bears at the waterfalls. After breakfast, we took a tuktuk to Tat Kwangsi, some 30km outside of Luang Prabang. The ride was pleasant, passing through the countryside, with river creeks and vegetable fields. It was a nice change getting out of town. Ever since I saw a lady with the words "Tat Kwangsi Bear Rescue Centre" written on her t-shirt, I insisted to J we must visit. Rescued animals is something of a "must-see" for me.

We arrived at Tat Kwangsi and paid entrance fee (but of course!) and walked through a beautiful reserved forest area. We got to the waterfalls and it was breathtaking! I have never seen water so blue! At least not from waterfalls! This was one was almost green. To be precise, it was turquoise in colour. The water is clean, as swimming was not allowed near the falls.

Tat Kwangsi Waterfalls

Turquoise water from the waterfalls

We walked a bit more, nearby was the Bear Rescue Centre. There weren't any bears in the enclosure but soon enough, the keepers let them loose and out they come!! These bears were rescued from homes, where owners made them as pets! I don't understand that logic! They are wild animals! They can't be made into pets!! How some people are so ignorant is beneath me. Sadly, this is an almost normal phenomenon in Asia. All of them are orphaned, taken when they were young after their mothers were killed.

But I was happy to see some 11 happy, healthy Moon bears prancing around, with their heads in tree trunks, sniffing out the ground and the like, looking for food. I was fascinated. I could sit there and watch them forever!

Bear Rescue Centre, Tat Kwangsi

So nice to laze in the warm afternoon sun...

J and I bought t-shirts, with the money going to the centre. I was a happy camper. Anyone providing good homes for animals in-need, is in my good books. There also was a tiger sanctuary nearby, but we walked and walked, and searched and searched, and found nothing.

We came out looking for our tuktuk driver for almost half an hour. Damn this drivers - they all looked the same!! Didn't even remember the tuktuk's plate number!! So we went in circles looking for the guy. You'd think, right, at 6' 7'' anyone would instantly recognise J, but nooooooo. No one showed up for awhile. We eventually found our driver and went home.

Back in Luang Prabang, we stopped by at the Dalat Market, said to be the heartbeat of Luang Prabang. Errrrrm....not anymore methinks! It was quiet and there was nothing interesting sold there. I think the main market is now the Hmong Market which happens every night.

Tonight was a little cold. As the night wore on, I was slowly feeling a little uncomfortable . J was stalling me to keep me from going back to the hotel. After all, it's new years eve. It would be interesting to see how they celebrate it here, or if they do at all. Well, they do. There was a concert with local singers singing to bad sound system, and they put tables and chairs along the main street with tents of hotels and restaurants selling food. Everything you need in one place.

At midnight, the locals light up lanterns and let them go up way up into the sky. So they were plenty of lighted lanterns floating, it was quite a sight! So this is how they celebrate New Years in
this neck of the woods. I would imagine, Lao New year would be the same.

Happy new year!!

I'm happy J and I are not in KL this new year's eve. Wonder where will we celebrate 2010...


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Travels:Laos. Enjoying life on the Nam Khan

Luang Prabang
Day 11
Tuesday December 30, 2008

Just when you think Luang Prabang can't get any prettier, husband J and I walked to another part of this little town, along another river called the Nam Khan (River Khan). The sun came out at about 10.30am so it was sunny and warm, and we were taking in the beauty of this part of town. The scene was gorgeous - monks in their orange robe crossing a bamboo bridge, kids screaming half naked covered in mud, whilst swimming and diving from a home-made springboard made of tree branches! It was a delightful sight! These kids have real fun, without the trappings of tuition, music and dance classes, computer games or chat rooms. They enjoy being out of the house with friends. It's like how it was some 30 years ago - when I was young. Except I didn't have a river, just a filthy smelly monsoon drain near my grandma's house!! Ugh!

Spring diving from a homemade diving board on the Nam Khan

Monks crossing the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan

We walked up to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the oldest wats in Laos, certainly the oldest in Luang Prabang. There was a main wat, and a few little ones scattered around the big grounds. This wat seemed to be popular; there were a lot of people! I was a little "wat-ted out", so I didn't spend much time admiring the paintings or the architecture. J seemed more into it.

Big grounds around Wat Xieng Thong, oldest wat in Luang Prabang

After much photo taking at this old wat, J and I walked to a nearby restaurant and I had beef pho. It was delicious! We walked some more and passed by rows of springroll skins put out to dry on woven bamboo racks. They looked a little different than the ones mom and I saw in Vietnam, these had pepper seeds in them. So far, I've never come across raw springrolls with pepper seeds in them.

Letting the springroll skins out to dry

We came back to the guesthouse and had a siesta for the rest of the afternoon. Went out at night for dinner and had fish lab at one of the restaurants nearby. The lab was a bit too salty, so I didn't quite enjoy that. Hung out at JoMa for a bit before returning to the guesthouse. Tonight is colder than usual in Luang Prabang.