To Cambodia we go, me and all the other holiday-makers from all round the World. So many different languages in the departure lounge at Luang Prabang it was a veritable Tower of Babel. Now we are on a prop plane 20,000 feet over the border with about thirty minutes to go.
I took the opportunity to revisit the alms giving/receiving ceremony at dawn this morning and discovered the cunning plan behind the chaos I beheld that first morning. Now that I know my way around town better I got off the bus at an earlier point than previously and cut down the back alleys to a street that parallels the great seething mass. Ha ha, local residents lined the sidewalk complete with rice baskets, ready for the procession and not a camera in sight. This then is the secret, avoid the chaos on Sisavangvong Road, this is presumably where the City Fathers want the cameras to go, and go one street over, towards the Mekong. You will have the street to yourself, well apart from the residents and the monks. I hope some photos come out (do we still say that?) as the sight of that Saffron ribbon heading down the street, unhindered, was mesmerizing.
Onward to Siem Reap, the gateway to the largest religious building in the World, Angkor Wat. I was greeted on arrival at the airport by the hotel’s tuk tuk driver and we headed off on the 7 km drive into town. First impressions, it’s hot, it’s wet, it’s dusty, it’s noisy, it bustles, there is food, everywhere, it is amazingly inexpensive, it looks like it just fell down and is being rebuilt. I absolutely love it. Oh,and holiday makers sitting with their feet in fish tanks!
This seems to be the thing to do, a fish pedicure.
A fish pedicure. A tuk tuk ride from the hotel to the restaurant area is a dollar, after which you would be hard pressed to spend more than ten dollars for a meal. There is great shopping, I saw some very attractive silk pashminas. I want a hat and a bag to carry stuff around, like a shopping bag. So back to the market after completing this.
Up again before dawn tomorrow and spend the day with a tuk tuk driver and a guide book. See the sun come up, walk about, take photos, hope to understand why the complex was built and how it has survived all these centuries. It is the chronological twin of Chartres, Winchester, and other European cathedrals.
Sorry if I sounded a bit blue last evening but it was Valentine’s day and I had hardly spoke to a soul all day.
Itchy feet, high metabolism, well rested ? Whatever it is I am on my way tomorrow. Luang Prabang (LP) is a delight, the people are friendly, smiley, gracious, polite and as far as I can tell scrupulously honest. According to my Rough Guide they have an innate sense of “muan” (fun) and if something is “baw muan” (not fun) then it is quickly abandoned. Sounds reasonable. I see much hard work going on, running stalls and shops, fishing and farming, maintenance, repair and building but alas it all seems to provide little in the way of return. The most used bank note is the 50,000 Kip note, about $6.00 US, and frankly everything seems to cost less than this. Example, the restaurant I am currently sitting in features a menu with nothing more expensive than, yes, 50,000 kip. Johnny Walker is $3.00 a shot, cocktails are $3.25, Daiquires, Piña Coladas, even a Long Island Ice Tea. Not much of a markup available there. I suppose there is some solace in the fact that I am helping to contribute towards the fifty percent of the Country’s revenue which comes from tourism. But not even my meager contribution is not going to help Laos drag itself up from its position in one of the ten most underdeveloped countries on Earth.
I think it is here, for the first time, that I have found it unfortunate that I do not have a travel companion. All those activities in Hong Kong, HCMC and Hanoi were just fine to do solo but here, after the initial exploring, I could have done with some company. There are all sorts of one and two day excursions to waterfalls, elephant preserves, ethnic villages etc that really lend themselves to group travel. Bit boring on ones own. So, tomorrow I go to Siem Reap, site of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
Will let you know how it goes.
A tuk tuk
The ferry terminal on the Mekong
A computer desk messier than mine
Riding on a tuk tuk
Domestic terminal, Vientiane.
The early morning photo brigade.
The Chill deck at Club Utopia.
From the top of the hill I climbed. 400 steps.
Summit of hill.
B B Q in middle of my table, awaiting ingredients !
My Lao Bar B Q. Not a great success !
Happy in the middle of the river.
More water in the river today. Maybe it rained in Tibet.
Happy Valentines Day
I can only imagine that all this is underwater in the rainy season.
A monk and his boat.
Quite pleased with this one.
Last walk across the scary bridge.
No cameras about.
The Saffron ribbon I mentioned.
Sunrise over Luang Prabang.
A very slow day in Luang Prabang as predicted. I did leave the hotel at 5.30am to catch the bus into town as one of the big attractions here is the early morning Binthabhat ceremony when the monks from the 30 odd monasteries in town process down the main street receiving alms from the citizenry. As well as receiving, the monks also donate some of the food stuffs they are given to the less fortunate, children mainly, as far as I could see.
Well this all sounds fine and admirable, however the reality is something completely different. I arrived, solo, sat on a low wall to watch and initially, in the dark, made out a long row of citizens sitting quietly with a pot of rice before them ready for the procession. All very heartwarming. However, as dawn broke, the light strengthened all hell broke loose. Convoys of laden SUVs, tuk tuks, and taxis arrived depositing hundreds of camera toting “people”, who proceeded to behave in the most appalling fashion. I watched, amazed, as a camera with a two foot lens was thrust inches from a two year old’s face. When the monks finally came along it really was a nightmare. People falling over themselves, and the monks, to get the best shot. There was even one group led by a guide with a megaphone telling his group where to stand and giving them advice on what was going to happen next. Ok, I was there too, but kind of hanging back, on the other side of the street, behind the parked SUVs etc and quite honestly I took more photos of the deranged mob than of the monks. Oh it was dreadful, quite ghastly, wretched even.
So, bus back to hotel feeling sorry for the state of mankind and other profound thoughts. Had a shower and breakfast and fortified walked back into town. Found the ferry terminal for transport up, down and across the Mekong River, sat there for over an hour absorbing the timeless activity and felt better about everything.
Time to potter about the town which I did for about three hours, had lunch, came back to the hotel as it got rather hot and took a two hour nap.
Back into town tonight for the joys of street food, though last night’s hotel dinner with wine was no more than $15.00 and it was good, well ok, well passable. Street food may be better.
This is the first day since leaving SF that I haven’t had a schedule and I feel quite refreshed, already looking for local adventures. There is a two day boat ride up the river, then two days back that sounds appealing.
btw, I think I unlocked the you tube video from HCMC about crossing the road. That seems a long time ago and somewhat irrelevant but those interested will find it at the bottom of the Ci Chu Tunnels page.
More as I go.