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Monday, 03 May 2010

Moments in Northern Laos: Going Back in Time - Page 4

Written by Bart Drolenga
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The people of Northern Laos never hurry; the riverboat to the next town slowly fills up. When the boat finally takes off, you experience Asian life as if time stood still. It must have been this way in Thailand 50 years ago; children play in the river while women do their laundry and long tail boats fully packed with merchandise pass by. A trek over mountains through dense rainforest can lead you to tribal villages where people have lived in the same ways for centuries. Northern Laos is a paradise for the adventurous traveler who loves culture and nature.

The sun goes down when we reach Luang Prabang painting the water and the mountains in the distance yellow and pink. As I climb up the steps to the city, the French colonial buildings light up in a golden glow.

The welcoming inhabitants, French colonial architecture, fine restaurants and hotels and richly ornamented Buddhist temples make Luang Prabang the most popular tourist destination of Laos.  Luang Prabang is a Unesco world heritage site and large vehicles are banned from the city centre, this way preserving the town’s authenticity and tranquil atmosphere.

Moments in Northern Laos: Going back in time, Northern Laos travel, adventure travel laos, culture and nature travel, Luang Nam Tha, Nam Ha protected area, Akha village, Akha culture, Nam Tha River, Lenten people, Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou River, riverboats, Luang Prabang, markets South East Asia, Wat Manoram temple, Wat Thammothayalan temple, That Chomsi stupa, the Mekong,  Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Bart DrolengaThat evening I visit the night market. It might easily be the most relaxed market in South East Asia where affable vendors sell dirt-cheap silver jewellery, Buddha images, silk scarves and handicrafts.

There is a lot to explore nearby. There is swimming in the turquoise pools of the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, visiting the caves in limestone cliffs, partying on a riverboat and buying handicrafts in one of the many ethnic villages.

Spirituality is felt everywhere in Luang Prabang. Religion is deeply rooted in the soul of the Laotian. Most of the population is Buddhist but animism is always around the corner. Many times Buddhism and spirit worship are mixed. In front of every house you see spirit houses which are small roofed altars where the family spirits live. Often you see people praying, burning incense and giving offerings to the spirits.

Moments in Northern Laos: Going back in time, Northern Laos travel, adventure travel laos, culture and nature travel, Luang Nam Tha, Nam Ha protected area, Akha village, Akha culture, Nam Tha River, Lenten people, Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou River, riverboats, Luang Prabang, markets South East Asia, Wat Manoram temple, Wat Thammothayalan temple, That Chomsi stupa, the Mekong,  Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Bart DrolengaEvery morning when the sun comes up hundreds of monks walk the streets of Luang Prabang to receive food offerings. Buddhist monks are not allowed to earn money and have to live off of gifts and donations.

I am walking through the fog that hangs over the city. A group of monks appears. Devotees kneel down, holding the food above their heads. They receive a blessing from the monks who walk by, the orange of their robes slowly disappearing in the mist.

 

When I walk back I pass a colorful market. Lumps of red meat lay next to fat brown sausages, thick slices of tofu and bamboo leaves filled with sticky rice. Black fish with white dotted skin swim in tubs of water. Fruit stall vendors sell mangos, papayas, bananas, oranges, apples and watermelons. A woman is cooking larb, a salad of minced meat, in a blackened pan.

Moments in Northern Laos: Going back in time, Northern Laos travel, adventure travel laos, culture and nature travel, Luang Nam Tha, Nam Ha protected area, Akha village, Akha culture, Nam Tha River, Lenten people, Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou River, riverboats, Luang Prabang, markets South East Asia, Wat Manoram temple, Wat Thammothayalan temple, That Chomsi stupa, the Mekong,  Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Bart DrolengaAn old monk and a middle-aged woman are sitting on a red carpet in front of the Wat Manoram temple with a tray holding bowls of food between them. A young monk is listening attentively. The old monk points his left hand toward one bowl. In his right hand he holds a small green bottle. From the bottle he slowly pours water on the ground while reciting old Buddhist texts in Sanskrit. It is a ritual to pacify and feed the ancestral spirits.

(Page 4 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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