After a long break from travelling I finally packed up again and took my brown selipar to Laos last week.
Flew from LCCT to Vientiane on Air Asia, the flight was packed with returning groups of, er, very merry Laotians. I didn't have a fixed itinerary this time, the main aim was to get to Luang Prabang, and if I had the time, to Phonsavan.
The flight arrived late afternoon; I got into the city centre by taxi and ventured on foot to find a suitable place to stay.
Ended up here at Phonepaseuth because I was too tired to walk any farther.
It's located near this city landmark - Nam Phou or Fountaine. Fountain, but no water? And it's really dark at night. I was wondering if they preferred it that way or it is to save energy.
The whole length of the riverfront is undergoing some construction work to upgrade it into a park, expected completion Oct 2010. So there's nothing much to see, water levels were also very low. The food stalls and night market still operate though.
Dinner was ... pad thai from a stall outside Minimart. I couldn't decide what to eat. This was simple, yummy and cheap :)
The Presidential Palace awash with lights at night. I don't know whether it's actually occupied as I saw no one, not even guards outside. No movements at all.
That Dam - The Black Stupa - looks really sinister at night. Perfect setting for a late night horror scene :)
The next day was an early start, I took a morning walk around while waiting for the tuk-tuk pick up to the bus station.
Early morning view of That Dam.
Walked all the way to That Dam area again and on the way back bought a baguette for breakfast and later two cans of coffee for the trip.
Baguette stalls aplenty.
The Birdy one tasted funny - didn't quite like it. The Red Bull Zero was nice and kaw-kaw.
On the tuk-tuk, picking up other passengers from other hotels.
It was a long way to the bus station - it felt like that due to the morning traffic. We passed by busy market areas and got a glimpse of some of them.
I think she is the coolest schoolgirl in Vientiane - skateboard in hand!
This was our VIP bus to Luang Prabang. We reached the bus station early so we had a lot of time to kill. I got bored.
Yes, they can pack anything - that's a motorbike atop this local bus.
So we left at 9 am. It was supposed to take 12 hours (eeek! I thought it was less than that) so I napped and read and only woke up as we approached Vang Vieng at noon. The scenery along the journey so far was of kampung life, paddy fields and such. This is a picture of karst hills.
At Vang Vieng bus station where some passengers came onboard. After leaving Vang Vieng we stopped an hour later to have a simple lunch, which was inclusive in the bus fare. They also give you a bottle of water and a packet cake.
And from thereon, the long winding road starts. You're given a plastic bag, in case you get sick and need to throw up. The bus wound round the mountainsides for the next 5 hours or so. It seemed like forever!
We reached LP bus station at 6:00 pm, what a relief! Shared a tuk-tuk into town centre and after looking at a few places I decided to stay here at Namma Vong GH, right at the end of the town and immediately across from Wat Xieng Thong.
A peek of the Mekong River through my little window. After a short rest and shower I went off to explore the town centre.
The Hmong Night Market was in full swing. A long stretch of the main street is closed off from around 5 pm onwards daily. There were certainly very interesting stuff on sale, I walked through twice before reaching a short alleyway where the street food were.
Cloth books. Cute animals.
At the food alley this boy was selling these animal shaped pastry - am not sure if it's for consumption or offerings.
Some stalls sold a one-time 'buffet' of pre-cooked foods for 10,000 kips. They offered the usual rice, noodle, veg choices - additional meats and fish are charged separately. I had the mixed-rice, and later tried the grilled meat snacks.
The next morning I woke up early to make sure I get to see the monks and the alms-giving. As my guesthouse was next to the Wat, I heard the morning drums and realised I need not rely on my alarm. This was around 5:30 am and it was still a bit dark, just before sunrise. The monks were getting ready to go around.
I went into Wat Xieng Thong for a walkabout, it is the oldest monastery in town - loved the little details - mosaics and murals - they have on the walls and doors.
Small but full of details.
Intricately carved door and panels in gold paint, I'm guessing it tells the epic of Ramayana and Sita? I may be wrong.
This is my favourite temple building in LP.
I don't know what this is - looks too modern for the temple. Like a French chef?
Locals waiting quietly as the monks approach them to receive the alms.
Most of those giving alms were ladies.
Tourists can also take part in the alms-giving ceremony. I overheard one guide telling her guests that one needs to take off the shoes, sit on a low stool or on a mat (lower position), and wear a scarf on the shoulders. Some local ladies go around selling small baskets of sticky rice if you wish to take part.
These two tourists are mom-and-son.
It was an experience watching this long line of monks along the whole street, quietly walking through on their bare feet. It was so quiet! Only once I heard one of the elderly local spoke to one of the masters.
It is mostly sticky rice, and I saw some confectionery items inside their bowls.
The full covered ones are 'masters', while those who are not in full robes are 'students'.
After the monks have all gone back to their temples, I walked around in search of an early breakfast. This was not even 7 am yet - I found one small shop along the main street that served rice noodles soup (very floury) and had that for breakfast.
A lady came over selling this kind of dessert I think. Sticky rice and some kind of ubi with grated coconut.
And she graciously smiled for the camera :)
The next plan for the day? A half day trip to Pak Ou caves. Boat ride, yeay!