Friday, January 31, 2014

Luang Prabang

We have been enjoying Luang Prabang so much. It's a beautiful town and has the advantage of its French heritage which means that there are some excellent restaurants and bakery cafes with far too tempting croissants, and pastries. No pictures though - I don't want you salivating on the screen. (Well, of course it's because I didn't think of it when I was eating that just-baked flaky crioissant and that delicious framboise tart with pistachio cream.) 

Luang Prabang has had a designation as a world treasure from UNESCO since the early 90's because of its French-Lao colonial architecture. Many of the hotels and shops are in these renovated buildings including our own hotel. The main street has numerous buildings which reflect this heritage. I'm afraid my photography skills do not equal the beauty of the buildings. 

Of course there are also a number of beautiful temples, many of them in wood rather than the ubiquitous stucco of Thailand. 

One of the temples is covered in stucco and decorated with colorful glass mosaics. 

I love the elephants. 

And there are some unique chedis. 

This building is part of the monks' quarters. The chain of origami cranes added a personal touch. 

This grouping of Buddhas is in the garden of the temple at the end of our lane. 

In the same temple, two days ago several monks were beating the large drum as a prelude to the Chinese New Year. It was interesting watching them hand off the gong as they kept the rhythm going. 

And a cymbal player added a gentle ting to the booming drum. 

Every morning beginning at 6 am the monks of the temples parade through the streets in their bare feet collecting offerings of food from the devout which will provide their meals for the day. They are also accompanied with a constant stream of tourists snapping photos but they maintain their dignity and look neither right nor left. it's cold in the mornings. I worry for their feet. 

During the day these monks have other responsibilities too. 

 But they also get to relax and even check their cell phones. 

The Royal Palace is now a museum. Its main temple houses the revered Luang Prabang Buddha and on the day we visited there were a large number of monks visiting. When I walked up to the entrance a group was sitting chanting.  And when they weren't doing that they were taking pictures of each other. 

These monks are at the entrance. 

On our first day we watched the sun set from a terrace over the Mekong. 

Today is Chinese New Year and there are many many Chinese tourists in town. Some of the restaurants have decorated for the event, even though the Lao people don't celebrate this date. Their New Year is in April. 

A scene of village life I captured on my walk this morning.

And today we had lunch on the River Kam in Luang Prabang which flows into the Mekong just ahead. Geordie relaxed. We didn't try the Nanaimo bars which were on the menu. But we might later. They looked authentic on the menu.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Not Luang Prabang - yet

But soon. Let me explain. In my last post I informed you that the very next day we would take off to Chiang Khong and then enter Laos there with plans to head south slowly. As I was reading the guidebook that night I suddenly thought that we were making a mistake. We hardly need to suffer as we travel, especially at our advanced ages and the trip is arduous and cold.  I talked about it with Geordie and then at 11:00 pm we shivered in the garden of our hostel as we booked a flight to Luang Prabang for Monday instead. Now how smart is that?

The next morning we shouldered our packs and walked to the bus station (quite close so no need for transport), stopped at the office of Green Bus and asked for the next bus to Chiang Mai. It was 8:00 am by my watch and the woman's reply was, "Now!". She quickly printed our tickets and we ran to the right platform, hopped on the bus and were off.

In Chiang Mai life did not go so smoothly at first. We took a tuk tuk to the area we like where all the guesthouses already had "Full" signs out. We felt a little discouraged but finally we decided we would be smarter.  Geordie left me at a coffee place and went off to look, and while he was gone some lovely tourists from Skagway, Alaska, of all places, told me about a guest house just around the corner. Geordie appeared at exactly the right moment and we went there and took their large, expensive for us, suite. It was lovely, dark wood floors, a sitting area, shower separate from toilet and a large deck over the garden. 

All seemed perfect, but as the day went on we realized it was not the peaceful oasis it had appeared. Although we were on a narrow soi (alley) it started to feel like the crossroads of the world. There was an exorbitant amount of traffic and noisy - tuk tuks are called that for a reason. And the owner spent the entire afternoon and evening sitting with her friends talking and drinking beer directly below our deck. In frustration we went room hunting again and found the lovely place we are now. Our room is just as large, has a sitting room,a small balcony, tiled floors and lots of light, which was lacking in the first place. We moved here early yesterday after our night in the first place and it has been quite successful, not withstanding the cooking school next door where we are sometimes suddenly serenaded with the sound of wok stirring tourists. But we like it.

The bathroom doesn't have the enclosed shower but that's a small price to pay - and besides, this place  is 25o baht cheaper than the other.

We thought you'd like to see the toilet apparatus by the way. And the explanation posted above it. Don't miss reading the third paragraph. 

We have lazed a bit here but today we went off temple hopping, so you get more pictures of Wats and Buddhas here. Like this lovely golden chedi. 

And a golden temple facade. 

These banners were the usual - buy one, then hang it in the Wat to make merit. Interesting that these have the Chinese  astrology animals on them. 

This ruined chedi, which was massive, was built in 1441. 

This was one of the nagas at the entrance to the chedi - somewhat restored. 

Another amazing feat of floristry - this seven headed naga is constructed entirely of intertwined leaves. 

There was an odd story with this image which told of a man who was so enamoured with the Buddha that he announced that if the Buddha were a woman he would marry him. For this grievous sin he was himself turned into a woman. How this fits with this very large rotund figure escaped me. 

I thought this reclining Buddha (about 5 meters in length was quite beautiful. 

In another temple I found this teepee-like offering at the altar. 

And at the same one an array of Buddhas in the colours of the rainbow. These images appear to be very similar to the green jade Buddha I mentioned in my previous post. All of them were the same except for the colours. 

Orange is my favourite colour. 

At Wat Phra Singh, this Buddha is one of the most revered images.  Phra Singha means Lion Buddha. It has been in this Wat since  the 1360's. 

Here are two different close ups of the Phra Singh. 

The Buddha image is housed in this small temple behind the main temple of the Wat. Many of the buildings in the Wats of Chiang Mai are built of teak like this one is. 

And tomorrow we fly to Luang Prabang. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On to Chiang Rai

After three days in Tha Ton we needed to move on. After saying goodbye to Simon we immediately met a new friend, Mario from Malta. We've been hanging out with him since and departed with him on our private charter river boat to journey to Chiang Rai on the Mae Kok. (Mae means river so you can't really say the Mae Kok River without repeating yourself.) As I mentioned, we bought jackets in Tha Ton which we were so happy to have since the journey was cold as we travelled by the long tailed boat on the river. That's our pilot behind us. 

The pilot was excellent at knowing exactly where to steer the boat. We made some wide turns to avoid tree snags or shallow areas and we even shot a few small rapids. This is what our boat looked like from the side, but unlike the scheduled river boats we didn't have to sit on the floor with the boat's sides as our seat backs. Those van seats were comfortable. 

This man was working in a field along the river bank. 

And we saw these lovely water buffalo. 

We stopped at what might have been called a Lahu village. We saw only three people who did ask if we wanted to share their meal. We said no as politely as possible. One disturbing note was this sign at the landing area. Just read the third line in English to see what I mean  Our friend Kurt might be able to tell us if the same offer is in the Thai section. 

We also stopped at an Elephant camp.  It's billed as a conservation camp, but the elephants provide rides for the tourists. I purchased a bag of bananas and sugar cane for the giants. They were eager to enjoy them, but some of the elephants were obviously under a lot of stress. When not nibbling from my hand, the one on the right spent his entire time nodding back and forth. I do hope they are getting good care. 

This photo is for Ahmed. The mosque is across the street from the market in Chiang Rai. 

We toured temples yesterday. The large bellied Buddhas are apparently symbols of wisdom 

This one and a number of other statues inthe temple museum are carved from white jade. 

You mar remember a jade Buddha I described as being made from Canadian jade in Chiang Mai. I was wrong. It's this one. The original was in fact found at this Wat in Chiang Rai and moved to Bangkok much later. It was discovered when lightning struck a chedi at the temple sometime around 1437 splitting it and revealing the jade figure. This one was carved by a Chinese master carver and replicates the original although it is 0.1 cm shorter. And this one is easier to see since it is not placed as high in its temple as that in Bangkok. 

This artist was working on the murals in one of the temples we visited. 

And this Buddha graced another. 

These Chinese horoscope symbols are on a large bell in the temple yard. Geordie was born in the year of the Goat and I was born in the year of the Tiger. 

Today we visited the incredible White Temple which is on a site 13 km from Chiang Rai. Although it appears to be made of ice or perhaps royal icing, it is in fact covered in white stucco and mirrored glass. It is the vision of one man and was only begun in 1997. Yes, that recently. Inside where pictures were not allowed, the artist has painted the walls and included some figures you may have heard of - Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix, Superman, Spiderman, Elvis, Harry Potter, and even characters from the movie Despicable Me. According to Mario who eavesdropped on a tour guide, these characters are here to tell you that there are no superheroes in real life to get you to Nirvana. 

This fierce creature guards the entrance. 

There were lots of monks taking selfies as well as regular photos. 

This tower will likely be adorned later. 

In the workshop, finishing touches we're being made to several carvings. 

I purchased a silver coloured symbol to hang from a chedi to leave our mark on the temple. 

These are two other Chinese horoscope characters realized this time in the stucco and mirror finish. 

I leave you with these three images. This was the only building on site which was golden. The second picture will tell you what the building is for (read the words below the images in picture two) and the third shows the building in use. 

I don't think we will ever get to use such luxurious facilities ever again.