Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
January 23, 2005
LUANG PRABANG #2
Today is Sunday. January 23rd and I am writing this entry from the tropical and beautiful Saigon (officially it's called Ho Chi Minh City by the communist government of Vietnam but it's Saigon to everyone else). I love Saigon, especially when comparing it to Hanoi. Saigon is warm, open, not as obnoxious as Hanoi and generally a much more fun place to hang out.
I've been here a couple of days so far and have enjoyed my walking tours of the city. As in Hanoi, I got lost a few times and there were plenty of motorcycle taxi jerks ready to "help" me but I figured it out by myself and always got to where I was going.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This entry will finish off Luang Prabang and then I can finish my Laos series talking about Vang Viene and Vientiane.
There is not a lot to do in Luang Prabang beyond enjoying the scenery, the town and the people (and relaxing!) but there are a few places to go outside of town that are generally worthy of the time and expense. There are plenty of tuk-tuk drivers and travel agents that will set up a partial or full day series of trips.
I decided to spend a day seeing the Pak Ou Caves and the Waterfalls. These are the two main out of town things to do. I hired a tuk-tuk for the day for $20 with the driver Sine-kow. I didn't get a good picture of him but he was a nice guy, avoided as many bumps on the road as possible and didn't speak much English.
First thing in the morning we headed north to Pak Ou caves.
The tuk-tuk took about an hour to get there, most of it over dirt roads with lots of potholes. These tuk-tuks are 3-wheel vehicles with 10" rims, very small suspensions and not at all made for bumpy dirt roads.
These caves are on the Mekong (we passed them on the way in on the Slow Boat) and have some historical value to the Lao people as both a place of worship and a place where the Luang Prabang monarchy would come during certain holy times. There are two caves and both of them are filled with Buddhas. Big Buddhas, small Buddhas, wood Buddhas, metal Buddhas all sorts of Buddhas, worshipers to the caves used to bring Buddhas and drop them off (apparently before it became a tourist attraction) and the caretakers of the cave probbaly picked the best Buddhas and placed them all over the place. Not to be disrespectful at all but it looked like a big, haphazard pile of Buddhas.
We did make it though and the thought of the ride back was not appealing. We parked on one side of the Mekong and I had to take a long boat across the river (10,000 kip or $1.00 round trip).
The bottom cave is closest to the water and easily accessible. The top cave was up about 200+ steps and the steps were steep! I'm in pretty good shape, especialy after all the exercise I've been getting on this trip but it was a hike to get up to this cave and it is so anti-climatic once you get up there it almost pisses you off. The cave was really nothing, just a hole in the granite (or limestone..) and another big pile of Buddhas.
Here's a picture of a couple of Lao kids hanging out at the caves.
They were singing together in hopes of getting tips from the tourists. At least they weren't just begging like so many others I've encountered. I feel bad for anyone who has to revert to a life of begging and it is so hard to see everyday and not get hardened to it or just ignore the suffering. All the advice you read is to not give money to people begging as it just reinforces their behavior, especially kids. I have yet to give money to begging kids but do confess to giving money in times of weakness mostly to mothers with little kids. I know they may purposely look pathetic to get more money and some probably borrow kids to enhance their chances but it's hard to be cynical when I have so much and they have so little.
Here is another Mekong River picture taken near the caves.
When I finished looking at the caves and all the Buddhas I met a nice young lady who is an Italian tour guide in Laos. She had just said goodbye to a group who was heading up river to Thailand and needed to get back to Luang Prabang. Me, being the gallant sort of guy that I am, offered her passage in my long boat across the river and my tuk-tuk into town. She was pleased with my offer and proceeded to try to give me money to share the expense. I, of course, refused as doing a good deed for a lady in distress was payment enough.
Part of what tuk-tuk drivers do on these tours is to take you to various local villages and encourage you to buy stuff and they then get some sort of commission. This behavior amongst tuk-tuk and taxi drivers is common in every country, city and town I've been in so far in Asia. I always make it apparent up front that we WILL NOT go to their factories or shops or in this case when I was interested in seeing the towns and crafts I was not going to buy anything.
I am embarassed that I don't remember the Italian ladies name, she had a very sexy (to me) Italian accent and spoke English well enough for us to communicate. We ended up hanging out for a few hours and I was happy for the company. As she was a tour guide she showed me around a couple of villages. One of them was a Whisky Village, a place that many made the local rice whisky commonly called Lao-Lao. Lao-Lao comes in both clear and amber colors and is CHEAP even by Laos standards. You can buy a 750 ML bottle for under $1.00 and while not real strong, the way it is drank here (shot after shot after shot) it will mess you up (at least that's what I heard :-) ).
By the time we got back into Luang Prabang and dropped off my Italian friend (who I didn't see again :-( ) it was afternoon and Sine-kow and I headed south for the hour drive to the waterfalls. This hour drive covered about 15 kilometers but was once again over rough terrain.
The waterfalls were beautiful, even during this time of the year when it hadn't rained in a few months. I can imagine how this place would look in the summer during and after the rainy season, it would be incredible!
There was a path up the side of the waterfall that went up to the top of the mountain. It was a great climb although I had my Chacos on rather than sneakers. The Chacos and my legs held up fine and I made it to the top of the hill where only a few other travelers were. The valleys and trees were so pretty up there and it was so peaceful and quiet! On the way down I remembered that climbing up a hill is lots easier than climbing down so I wasn't quite so cocky heading down thinking that I was a long way from civilization and one false step and I would've been in big trouble. I doubt Sine-kow would have came looking for me if I didn't show up back at his tuk-tuk!
Remember Phet the Tiger? This is where she lives. Phet is a five-year old female tiger who was found with two of her siblings when her mother was killed by hunters. Phet is the only one of the three baby tigers that survived. She is taken care of by a handler and is fed raw meat brought in daily from Luang Prabang. Her food, medical treatment and habitat are paid for by donations. This was a cause I felt good about donating to. These pictures show her in a cage but the cage was just where she was hanging out that afternoon. Phet has a huge enclosed area in the jungle outside the cage where she can wander around and be a tiger.
One of the most enjoyable afternoons I have spent so far on this trip was on my last day in Luang Prabang. I went directly across the river to a small village on the far bank of the Mekong. There were a couple of wats out there but no big deal and not much to attract many of the tourists. I took a longtail boat across and just started walking through the village and outside of the village. It was a beautiful, warm day and a great day to be outside and a great day to be alive.
It was obvious that not many westerners go through that village as I got stares and gestures from many people, particularly the children. Yells of Sabaii-dii (hello) came from many of the kids and I always smiled and sabaii-dii'd them back which always made them smile and giggle and me smile and giggle even more.
Here's a picture of a little boy who was my guide in one of the wats. He was 8 yrs old (I think) and just attached himself to me as I walked up the steps. He spoke good English and was a good kid. Great way to make money too, a value-added tour of the wat!
Here's a Man and his Buffalo cruising through town. Water buffalo are quite common in Laos and are seen wild (or at least un-fenced) in lots of areas - including the roads where they seem to enjoy hanging out!. They are probably partially dommesticated and "belong" to someone who uses them to help plow fields, for milk and for meat.
On my last evening I climbed up Mt. Phousy in Luang Prabang to see the sunset. The is a wat on top of the hill and it's a good, steep climb with about 300 steps. I thought the climb would keep many of the tourists away but that was not the case as the sight is just too beautiful to miss. There were probably 70-75 people up there angling for the best view and picture but it was still an incredible sight, very beautiful and quite memorable.
One of the unfortunate aspects of Laos is one of their methods of agriculture - their practice of "slash and burn" farming. Slash and burn farming is where people burn down fields and forest through controlled fires in order to create farm land. They then farm the land hard for a few years and when it is barren they go on slashing and burning the next field. Not only is this not economically sustainable as it is poor land management, it creates a substantial amount of pollution and subsequent haze in the atmosphere.
I guess it's easy for me to say this is bad (and it is bad for the future of the Lao people as they are ruining good land that with proper management could be productive for many more years) but to people who are just trying to live for today and feed their families it is the easiest and best way for them to farm. They are not concerned with the future.
The consequences for future generations are not their concern but it should be a concern to the government as governments are tasked for providing for the future of the Lao people, their health and well-being and the sustainability of its natural resources.
I will now get down off my soap box.
Here are some of the sunset pictures I took from Mt. Phousy (I may have shown some of these in a previous entry and if so, I apologize but sunset pictures never get old!):
That's it for Luang Prabang! More on Laos coming soon.
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on January 23, 2005 03:26 AM
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