A Travellerspoint blog

April 2017

What Do Monks in Laos Do All Day? (1 Good)

LUANG PRABANG (NORTHERN LAOS): WEEK 20 JANUARY (COOL AND MISTY IN THE MORNING WITH BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN THE AFTERNOON, 28 DEGREES)

sunny 28 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Thomas has had many questions about the Buddhist monks he has observed in Thailand and Laos - here are some of his questions and the answers.
Monks, Luang Prabang

Monks, Luang Prabang

What do Buddhist monks do all day?
Every day before sunrise, monks leave the temples in silent procession to ask for donations from Buddhist devotees (the tradition of collecting alms). They may then attend morning class in the temple before prayer time. The rest of the day might be spent tending to the temple complex or carrying out chores, and then it's final prayers before bed time.

Are monks allowed possessions?
The monastic rules forbid monks to own objects except for...eight things such as three robes, bowl, mosquito net, umbrella, medications etc)
However, today’s monks possess more than that, usually when they are taking residence at a monastery. Computers, televisions, cell-phones and even cars - It doesn’t mean they are ‘allowed’ to possess them, they just do. We saw queues of young monks in Chiang Mai, charging their smart phones at free charging points outside their wat.

Why do monks wear orange robes?
The saffron (for a more appropriate name for the color) robes monk wear dates back centuries. Orange was chosen mainly because of the dye available at the time. The tradition stuck and orange is now the color of choice for Theravada Buddhist followers in Southeast Asia, as opposed to a maroon color for Tibetan monks.

Why don't monks have any hair?
The Indian Prince, who was to become the Buddha, left his palace to seek a way beyond ageing, sickness and death and it is said that one of the first things he did was to shave off his hair and beard and put on the yellow cloth . Buddhist monks always completely shave their head and beard, showing their commitment to the Holy Life of one gone forth into the homeless life.

How young are novice monks?
It's a tradition for all Lao boys to serve some time in a Buddhist monastary during adolescence. Some boys go for only a summer; others spend their entire schooling there. For those who decide to continue as novices beyond their school days, it will usually take at least 20 years to become a full-fledged monk. Inside a monastary, a novice commits to a strict regimen of prayer and study. Many novices learn English and are quite eager to practice it whenever they can. A novice can be as young as eight years old and we saw many novices about Thomas's age roaming the streets of Luang Prabang. Thomas said he couldn't imagine being a novice monk as he has far too much energy to keep still.

Posted by edandsuet 02:26 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Jungle Fly, Spider Bites and Heat Exhaustion (1 Good/1Bad)

NONG KHIAW (NORTHERN LAOS): WEEK 19 JANUARY (COOL AND MISTY IN THE MORNING WITH BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN THE AFTERNOON, 28 DEGREES, COLD IN THE EVENING)

sunny 27 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Boarding a minivan in Laos is rather like playing roulette in a casino, you are never quite sure of the outcome. We learnt our first lesson of minivan travel early on - don't ever leave your seat unattended.

Everyone pays the same price for a seat and the van doesn't leave until it is full. However, it's best to get there as early as possible to secure a seat otherwise you probably won't be sitting together or you may not get an actual seat at all as Thomas discovered! For over two hours we waited for our minivan to depart and Thomas had a seat by the window on the sliding door. Just as we were leaving, a Lao lady boarded and we assumed that she was going to try and squeeze herself onto the back seat (not sure where) so Thomas politely got up so that she could climb over. Instead, she plonked herself in Thomas's seat and refused to move. Poor Thomas was left sitting on a hinge with no backing and spent an uncomfortable four and a half hours without a seat all the way to Nong Khiaw. Torture worst than homework....

Even when you think the minivan is full, it isn't. As soon as the van has left the bus station, the driver will get a call on his smart phone and he'll stop just 100 yards down the road to squeeze someone else onto the van into a non-existent seat and pocket the extra money or stuff a load of parcels into your leg room. Minivan travel is not designed for anyone over five feet tall.

Nong Khiaw is a village set on the River Ou that is surrounded by jaw dropping, breathtaking limestone karst mountains. The view is always changing depending on the time of day and whenever I stepped out of our room onto the balcony, I could never take my eyes off the scenery. Luckily the village hasn't succumbed to mass tourism yet, it isn't on the Chinese tour group circuit so it remains relatively quiet and tranquil. Accommodation is basic but the village is worth it.
Nong Khiaw, Laos

Nong Khiaw, Laos

Nong Khiaw in the morning

Nong Khiaw in the morning

Nong Khiaw village

Nong Khiaw village

Nong Khiaw in the late afternoon

Nong Khiaw in the late afternoon


Nong Khiaw in the afternoon

Nong Khiaw in the afternoon


Barber Shop

Barber Shop

Our first adventure was Jungle Fly that started with a four wheel drive trip up a muddy, rocky track out to the drop off point for a trek into the jungle to reach our first practice platform. We had to learn how to brake as some of the zip lines are faster than others including the longest which is over 450m long. The sensation of being weightless skimming the canopy is sheer joy. There were some other challenges that I wasn't expecting including abseiling which I've never attempted before. There is also a sky-high walk and V rope-bridges. Lunch was a rustic affair in a tree house, traditional Lao food served in banana leaf (some dishes I recognised from our cookery course) all served with sticky rice. The whole day was rounded off by an hour trek across rice fields and a river to cross. Thomas loved every minute of it and would have happily repeated the whole day.
Start of zip line adventure

Start of zip line adventure

Up to the next zip line

Up to the next zip line

Next destination is that tree house via abseiling and zip line

Next destination is that tree house via abseiling and zip line

Tree house

Tree house

Abseiling down to the next platform

Abseiling down to the next platform

Rope bridge

Rope bridge

Another zip line

Another zip line

The last zip line...

The last zip line...

Wading through the river after trekking through the jungle back to civilisation

Wading through the river after trekking through the jungle back to civilisation

The village also has two community projects based around hiking to view points. The first hike was one and a half hours in the heat uphill to the top of one of the karst mountains from which there was a bamboo viewing platform. The view was gorgeous but unfortunately the trail is being blighted by litter and Thomas was disgusted by some of the behaviour of Lao tourists who discarded twenty lager cans and numerous crisp packets all over the platform. "Why can't they take their rubbish with them?" asked Thomas - I don't think rubbish collection features highly on the Lao priority list especially when you consider the conditions many rural communities live in. Unfortunately it really spoils the experience, so if travellers stop coming, may be the rubbish will be collected but where will it go? At least the Deen Indian restaurant in the village had the right idea - they had a water station so that you could keep filling up your water bottles rather than buying new ones and clogging up the planet with yet more plastic.

Nong Khiaw viewpoint

Nong Khiaw viewpoint

Bamboo bridge on way to cave

Bamboo bridge on way to cave

Viewpoint

Viewpoint

Having survived one hike, Edward decided that the next day, we would tackle another one. This trail was far harder and involved mainly rock climbing up sharp karst formations. After 15 minutes I knew that I had made a mistake attempting the hike - I was already being bitten to pieces by mosquitos even though I'd covered myself in repellent, I was dripping in sweat and everyone else was way ahead of me. By the time I made it to the top to take a photo (1 hour and 15 mins later), most of our water was gone and there was a long, hazardous climb down. Unfortunately, Edward got bitten by a spider after reaching out to hold onto a bamboo pole which is what I had spent alot of time doing to haul myself down. I narrowly missed the same fate myself as I was now watching out for any creepy crawlies on bamboo or tree branches. The hike had taken its toil though.

By the evening, Thomas was very ill and we were pretty sure that he had heat exhaustion. He spent the next day in bed recuperating as he was never going to be able to endure a minivan journey until he had recovered. And this time, he was determined to get a seat on the way back to Luang Prabang.

Posted by edandsuet 01:26 Archived in Laos Tagged nong khiaw Comments (0)

Saffron Robed World of Luang Prabang (1 Good)

LUANG PRABANG (NORTHERN LAOS): WEEK 18 JANUARY (COOL AND MISTY IN THE MORNING WITH BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN THE AFTERNOON, 28 DEGREES)

sunny 27 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Monks, Luang Prabang

Monks, Luang Prabang


While the view from the balcony of our new guest house was a sobering reminder that most locals live a basic existence in squalid surroundings amongst piles of debris and half finished dwellings, it was a relief not to live in fear of opening the bathroom door or having the constant smell of stagnant drains. Our guest house was run by an elderly man who could speak both French and English, had free refillable drinking water and tea/coffee available until 11am. This was absolute luxury.
View from our new guest house that had a decent bathroom in Luang Prabang

View from our new guest house that had a decent bathroom in Luang Prabang

After an inauspicious beginning, UNESCO protected Luang Prabang slowly wove its spell over me. Described as "one of the most alluring places in South East Asia", it is home to 33 gilded wats, dotted with shuttered, faded French villas and sits at the confluence of the Mekong River and Nam Khan. Not that I succumbed to its charms for a few days, first impressions were it was dirty, dusty and blighted by flies. The riverside promenade was a work in progress and was another example of missed potential when Luang Prabang's setting on the river confluence is magical and could be a stunning tourist attraction. Parts were dug up, clogged up as a parking lot for scooters making the pathway impassable or there were broken concrete tiles strewn all over or another patch of dust with random wire or metal objects to trip up on. If only there was a decent path with some benches in the shade.
River Ou, Luang Prabang

River Ou, Luang Prabang

Despite all of this and I can't quite put my finger on why Luang Prabang becomes seductive, but on an afternoon where there is not a cloud in the sky, meandering down shady alley ways or the main street lined with colonial shuttered villas round to the lesser known wats, we could just sit on the steps of a temple watching the sun glinting against the gold stupas and Buddha images. Here there is peace and tranquility, the odd saffron clad monk disappearing into a nearby doorway gives the scene a dreamy, hazy like quality. Before you know it, two hours have passed, the shadows are lengthening and its time for dinner at the riverfront overlooking the Mekong.
Ceremonial Drum, Wat Souvannapoumaram

Ceremonial Drum, Wat Souvannapoumaram

Monk contemplating, Wat Sensoukharam

Monk contemplating, Wat Sensoukharam


Wat in Luang Prabang

Wat in Luang Prabang


Wat Sensoukharam, Luang Prabang

Wat Sensoukharam, Luang Prabang

Alternatively when its early afternoon we discovered a few benches (a rare find in Luang Prabang overlooking the temporary bamboo bridge built every dry season (which is swept away in wet season). From here, we could leisurely observe a steady stream of monks shaded by golden umbrellas, traversing the bamboo bridge to the wat on the opposite bank, shrouded in vegetation.
Monks crossing the river, Luang Prabang

Monks crossing the river, Luang Prabang

Temporary dry season bamboo bridge over the River Ou

Temporary dry season bamboo bridge over the River Ou

At the morning market for breakfast, we were spoilt for choice: healthy fruit smoothies brimming with ginger and peppermint, savoury or sweet crepes and mammoth over-filled baguettes with an endless array of fillings. The night market was crammed pack with tourists and food stalls offering salted river fish, barbequed chicken, vegetable dumplings and the Lao staple of sticky rice served in a woven pot.
Street Food Stall, Luang Prabang

Street Food Stall, Luang Prabang

Our Lao cookery course was a blast that included cooking lunch and dinner plus a trip to the local market to source ingredients for our dishes including banana flower (used for texture) and woodear fungus. A thoroughly great and tasty way to spend the day - Thomas excelled at being the master chef!
img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/774428/DSC04051.jpg caption=Thomas is in charge, Lao cookery course]Lunch is served, Luang Prabang salad and chicken noodle dish

Lunch is served, Luang Prabang salad and chicken noodle dish

Time to reproduce these traditional Lao dishes for dinner as demonstrated by the experts

Time to reproduce these traditional Lao dishes for dinner as demonstrated by the experts

Woodear fungus, we would be cooking traditional Lao dishes with this ingredient later

Woodear fungus, we would be cooking traditional Lao dishes with this ingredient later

Banana plant flower, Luang Prabang food market (used in Lao cooking for texture)

Banana plant flower, Luang Prabang food market (used in Lao cooking for texture)

Luang Prabang food market

Luang Prabang food market

Posted by edandsuet 01:06 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]