Saturday, February 26, 2011

Travel through Laos

February 26, 2011—We checked into the New Daraphet Hotel and then went to enjoy dinner. The hotel was in the middle of the tourist area so we did not have any trouble finding some delicious Lao food. When we returned to our room for the night, we discovered that it was not really very clean, but since it was late, we stayed that night and then checked out the next morning. Luang Prabang is a popular tourist area, so rooms were not easy to come by, but we were able to get a lovely room at the Villa Nagara, which overlooks the Nam Khan River.

We left the Nagara on bicycles to find a good place for lunch. First we stopped at the All Lao Travel Agency to book our flight to Hanoi. Unfortunately, we could not get a direct flight to Hanoi, so we booked a flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and from there we would fly to Hanoi. We then enjoyed a wonderful hamburger at the Restaurant Luang Prabang where we met a lovely couple from England.

After lunch we rode down the main street to get an idea of the area. We returned the bicycles later in the afternoon and then got ready to meet Gemma and Bennie for dinner. We met them on the street and decided to eat at the Coconut Garden Restaurant, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal of Lao food. After dinner we said goodbye to Gemma and Bennie as they would be heading back to Holland soon.

We spent the next day looking through the shops along the main street. We visited several wats, one of which was at the top of a hill and to get to the top we had to climb over three hundred steps that were quite steep. From the top of this hill we had a 360-degree view of Luang Prabang. We walked along the hilltop enjoying all the Buddhas. One site was of the footprint of Buddha, which was on the side of the walk and painted with gold paint. When we were done, we decided to enjoy a very good pizza.

After lunch we decided to stop at a silversmith’s shop to look at a necklace. We were able to watch the workmen hammering decorative silver bowls, and I found a very nice necklace that we purchased. It was quite warm so we returned to our room to relax and cool off. Later in the evening we returned to town to have a light dinner and then walked around a typical tourist night market. We could not believe the amount of “stuff” that was for sale.

Our last full day in town we got up at 5:40 in the morning so that we could witness the “giving of alms” to the monks from the temple. A young man from our hotel walked with us up one street to the temple and helped us buy two baskets of sticky rice for the monks. We crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk where mats had been laid out. We tied a sash diagonally from our left shoulders down and under our right arms, and then we waited. It was dark when we arrived at the street, but now the sun was coming up, and we finally saw the monks approaching. All along the street tourists and locals had lined up with their offerings for the monks. We knelt down, and when the monks passed in front of us, we put a spoonful of rice into their alms bowls, while other people gave fruit or something else. We were glad that we participated in this ceremony, but while it was once a traditional event, it has really just become a tourist attraction.

After the ceremony we returned to have a good breakfast and then got ready for the day. We went to the Post Office to drop off some post cards, and then we walked to the Luang Prabang National Museum and walked through the displays. The royal family was overthrown in 1975 when the Communists came into power and taken to a re-education camp where they died in 1980. The display consisted of the thrones, furniture, and clothing of the last three kings. The displays were sparse, but it was still very informative. We also viewed the king’s car collection from the fifties and sixties. There were three Lincoln Continentals that were gifts from the United States.

After the museum we walked through the royal wat that was built on the same grounds. It was the most beautiful one that we have seen. There was no Buddha inside, but once a year the Buddha is carried from the museum to the wat for a festival.

We decided to eat lunch at the Joma Bakery just down the road where we enjoyed a Reuben Sandwich and a Taco Salad, both of which were quite good and gave us a break from the local Lao food. We then worked our way back to the hotel to finish making reservations for the next few legs of our trip and to allow me to write the blog. That evening Steve went out and brought back a wonderful pizza--the best that we have had in a long time.

On Friday, January 25, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast and the packed up our bags. Our driver arrived at 11 o’clock to drive us to the airport. When we arrived and went to check in, the ticket agent told us that there was an earlier flight leaving in about 20 minutes, and there were seats available. We checked our bags, went through security, and the hurried to the boarding station. Soon after we boarded the plane and took off for Vientiane.

The 40-minute flight on Lao Airlines was uneventful. Steve purchased a taxi ticket, and after we picked up our bags, the driver took us to Hotel Win. The hotel was basic but clean and the owner was very helpful. She scheduled us for a guided tour the next day. We decided to eat lunch at the Swedish Bakery where we enjoyed delicious lasagna. We then took a walk around the downtown area. We passed the U.S. Embassy and found some interesting stores. Then it was back to the hotel to cool off and get ready for dinner.

For dinner we decided to walk back down to the area of a local food festival. There were many food stalls set up, but we decided on a grilled-food restaurant. We went inside and took a seat. The place looked brand new, and only later did we discover that it was their opening night. Unfortunately, things were not going smoothly. Steve ordered a filet, and I had fish. The food was delicious; however, the service was slow, and when we finished, it took me forever to pay for the meal.

The next morning we ate a quick breakfast and then met Va, our guide for the day. He drove us first to the Patuxai or Victory Gate, which included a lovely fountain. The concrete for the monument was donated by the U.S., although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead. So now it is nicknamed “the Vertical Runway.”

From the monument we went to That Luang, which is the national symbol of Laos. There were two wats around That Luang so we walked around to look at them, but we were not allowed inside because they were under reconstruction.

Our next stop was Buddha Park. The park was built in 1958, and it has statues of just about every Buddhist or Hindu deity imaginable. It was Saturday so the park was filled with children in their school uniforms, which made it a bit hectic. We did, however, enjoy walking around all the statues.

By now we were hungry so Va stopped at a restaurant. The grounds had small, covered sitting areas around a pond. The atmosphere was quite nice, but, unfortunately, the food was lacking. The chicken was the toughest we have ever had.

Our last stop was at two more wats. The first one, Thanon Setthathirat held a replica of the Emerald Buddha, which is really quite small. The original somehow ended up in Thailand. Across the street was the oldest standing temple, Wat Si Saket. We are now completely watted out so don’t expect too many more wat reports.

By now we were pretty tired, and it was getting hot, so we asked Va to take back to the hotel. We had seen everything that we wanted to, and Va was a very good guide. We cooled off for awhile and then went out to buy some French bread and Gouda cheese for dinner. We spent the evening downloading our pictures and getting ready for our flight in the morning. Next stop Hanoi.

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