Laos, Page 2.
|Over my second breakfast, a complimentary hotel buffet,
we decided to rent motorcycles and tour Vientiane, and then catch the
afternoon flight to Luang Prabang. Motorcycles were $5 per day, but
a bit of haggling resulted in $4 for the six hours we had available.
We circled some of the sights I had seen earlier, then found the main
covered market, which was just opening. We paid 10 cents to squeeze
our motorcycles into a motorcycle parking lot, moving other cycles
slightly to create a space, an experience reminiscent of the packed
bicycle lots at the train stations in Taiwan years ago. Inside the
market were many tiny shops representing a wide array of Laotian crafts,
and vendors who were more accommodating than pushy.
We continued up a wide boulevard which lead from the palace, and came to the "Vertical Runway," a tall monument somewhat resembling the Arc 'd Triumph in Paris. We climbed to the top for a 360 degree view of Vientiane, and read that its name came from its source of concrete, U.S. military aid provided for a runway during the Vietnam War, but used instead for the monument.
Our sight seeing included one of the many Buddhist temples in the city, and a silk factory of one of the finer silk designers in Laos. We returned the motorcycles and caught a three wheeled tuk tuk to the airport, leaving behind only Sam's drivers' license.
Doug, Sam, Kaizen and Debryn
Halfway to Luang Prabang on the one hour flight in the Dash 8 turboprop, I could see that the flat farmland was giving way to increasingly rugged mountains and heavy forest. We had been paralleling the two lane paved highway from Vientiane, and it began to twist tortuously, with switchbacks and detours around the jumble of mountains. What few other roads were visible were of gravel and clay.
The descent into the Luang Prabang airport was picturesque. Much of the town sits on a high bluff above the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, while the airport lay below the town, closer to the level of the Nam Khan River. The vegetation was lush, with banana groves and towering bamboo and mahogany.
We walked straight to baggage claim, and then shared a van with another couple, which took all of us and our baggage up onto the bluff where most of the tourist guest houses are located. The Saynamkhan Hotel sounded good from the Lonely Planet Guidebook, and we were able to get two double rooms in this attractive little hotel, looking down at the stunning Nam Khan River, for $30 per night per room.
It was nearly dark when we arrived, and we were hungry, so we went around the corner from our hotel to the main tourist street in town, a one block collection of eclectic ethnic restaurants, internet cafes, crafts shops, and perhaps the only bank in town. This street, rather than looking touristy and cheap, had charm and Laotian flavor. A few shops sported T shirts and hats made in Thailand, but the majority had Laotian wares of quite good quality. We found a creperia, sporting both dinner and dessert crepes, and at $1.50 each we splurged and had both. Rich Laotian coffee and local hot tea made more than suitable accompaniment for the dinner.
Following dinner, I found an internet cafe, the source of my earlier posting. The others found the night market, two blocks of the street blocked off on which hundreds of vendors sold silks and other wares. Some of these wares were of excellent quality, often sold by the artisan herself, and with appropriate haggling, the prices were so good that we returned here each evening of our stay.
|Daylight in a valley town comes gently, as the sun does
not rise above the mountains until much later in the day. Roosters
started crowing at about 5 A.M. and the darkness slowly started
lifting. At 6 I heard the deep thumping of a temple drum,
Then it was repeated. I was in my walking clothes by now and
headed out the door of the hotel. I came to an intersection where
perhaps 100 monks and novices were accepting food offerings from the local
residents. Each monk had a brass container, and the supplicant would
pinch a small handful of sticky rice, or another staple, and put it in the
container of a passing monk.
Laos seems to have an adequate education system, we saw schools in even the smallest villages, but many parents choose to send their boys, starting at age 10, to live in the monastery for schooling. At age 17 or 18 the novice becomes a monk. However, the monk is free to leave the monastery when he likes, and most will seek careers while continuing to live in the monastery until they are financially able to marry or move out on their own.