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Monday, 03 May 2010

Moments in Northern Laos: Going Back in Time - Page 5

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.

Laos is a developing country, everywhere I go I see poverty. The country gained independence from the French in 1953. After a long lasting guerrilla struggle the communistic Pathet Lao party took power in 1975 and still rules the country, but much has changed since then. The government has opened ideologically and supports commerce and entrepreneurship.

Income from tourism is encouraged. 50% of the tourists that visit Laos come from neighbouring countries. They are seeking nostalgia, the South East Asia of 50 years ago. The western tourists are mainly backpackers looking for adventure, culture and nature though upmarket tourism is on the rise. The construction of new roads is opening up Laos and the number of organized tours increases each year.

Many times monks strike up conversations with me. They want to practice their English language skills. Noi is a 16-year old monk who stays at the Wat Thammothayalan temple. His head is shaven bald; under his arm he carries a stack of books.

“My parents are poor.” He says. “They live in a village in the mountains. There is only a primary school there and my father decided to have me initiated as a monk so I can attend the high school in the temple. ”

For many village children from poor families going to the temple school is the only opportunity to get an education. The high school is often far away and difficult to reach. Most young monks leave the temple after they have finished school. They look for a job or start a business. The lucky ones can attend university.

Wat Thammothayalan is a tall white building. Four pillars beautifully ornamented with golden decorations support the dark red tiled roof. Intricate woodcarvings in the large doors portray angels that protect the building.

A steep flight of stairs behind the temple leads to Phu Si, a 320 feet high hill that towers above Luang Prabang. On top of the hill stands the impressive golden That Chomsi 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 Drolengastupa. Halfway up I reach several large Buddha sculptures. The sparkling gold of an entrancing sleeping Buddha is contrasting sharply with the black of the rock wall and the dark green of the jungle.

There is a small sign pointing towards a Buddha footprint. It is not easy to find. I end up in a dark cave filled with Buddha images and relics. Outside the cave I find the footpath that leads to the footprint. In the dim light of the cavern I see a ten foot long shape that resembles a foot. Gold leaf is pasted on the imprint. According to legend this is one place where Buddha touched the ground when he reached enlightenment.

On the top of the hill I have a fantastic view on Luang Prabang and the Mekong. The 79 feet high stupa glitters above me against a deep blue sky.

(Page 5 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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