Last night after I wrote the blog I walked a little in the night market where I bought several things and I was pondering what to do. I kept entering in agencies and talk with guides to see if I can go to the North. Apparently, the guy who gave me the first information, was misinformed and the night bus ride to Luang Nam That, that he told me that is 7 hours is actually around 10 hours and the ride to Muang Sing that he told me that is 1.5 hours is actually 4 hours and not back to back, Muang Sing being all the way in the North at the border with Burma. These are the ways you have to deal on travel, especially if you go on sites that are way out of the beaten path and no information you receive, including this one is not guaranteed. So this destination was out of question and I started to investigate for the original plan with the Plain of Jars. I found two guys leaving today and coming back to Luang Prabang in 3 days but that did not serve me at all, no matter that it was a possibility riding a night bus to Vang Vieng, so I put it as an option and I thought that the morning will bring something and it did. The monks are the heart of Laos. When the Commies took power in 1975, sweeping in victory the entire Indochina they banned the offering of alms to the monks, that represent the core belief for Buddhists. As they got in trouble, because one year later there were riots in the streets, they had to reinstate it and live in a communist system with religion on the side. Still they banned many children for going to monasteries and introduced the indoctrination in temples but the alms offering remained. I was in the morning at 6:00am and latter at 6:30am to see this alms offering and is a spectacle by itself to see a long row of monks aligned on the side of the street coming from far away to the place where are seated people who give them rice. A long row of yellow robes with a large bowl of rice that they open and accept the offer. Begging for monks is a major element in Buddhism in order to make you humbler and accept that you don’t mean anything. This alms offering is important both for the believers but also for the monks to strengthen their religious education. The long line of yellow robes passed in front of my camera, impressive and silent, the whole procession that lasts somewhere around 15-20 minutes happens in silence in the dark light of the early morning. On the sidewalk were lots of people aligned on straw mats with bowls of rice giving each monk a little rice…. And throngs of tourists to see the show, some of them making also the offer. It finished around 6:45am and I went to have breakfast on the shore of the Mekong, coffee and omelet with the always present fruit shake. Right after breakfast trying to get in contact with a guy from an agency with whom I spoke yesterday, I entered another agency and I asked about the trip to Plain of Jars, a place that is quite out of the way and few people go because is not cheap. The guy told me that he has two Americans going there on Wednesday and continuing to the border with Vietnam. No matter that in my mind was to leave there on Tuesday, tomorrow, I found it very convenient and I decided in my mind to go with them. Actually, returning to the agency later today for the day trip I booked, I met them in the agency: Hunter teaches Math in Physanoulok, Thailand and is from MD and Dana is from CT at the border with RI, close to Cape Cod. I chat with them a little and they were happy latter on in the trip when I told them that I may join.
The trip of today, a classic of the area is a two part trip. In the morning we left with a long boat on Mekong admiring the life on its shores with the fishermen in full action. We arrived, after we stopped to a village that makes whiskey, as they call it, a typical tourist trap, to some caves, Pak Ou, where the kings of Laos brought every year statues of Buddha as offers, most of them standing, Luang Prabang style. The statues are small and they fill several ledges in the cave and the whole experience would have been great if I did not visit the Buddha cave in Kalaw , Burma, where the statues are huge, gilded and you walk through them like through a forest. So for me the cave was a total disappointment. There are two caves and the second one, in spite of being dark was more interesting than the first. The good thing was that the caves are somewhere up the cliff that confers great views over the Mekong. From there we returned directly to Luang Prabang.
I had lunch, papaya salad and two(!!!) fruit shakes and I left for the second part of the trip that visits a waterfall 30 km out of Luang Prabang, Keung Si. I did not expect much, I saw enough waterfalls to be weary of them, but what was there enchanted everybody. It was a tropical forest with cascades that were falling one from another in blue small pools of waters, like you may see in movies and the guys from Las Vegas try to recreate in Mirage Casino. Actually the first impression when I got there was that I saw this in the lobby of Mirage Hotel!!!!! If you keep walking up you get to the main cascade, so tall and beautiful on several tiers falling from one to another, each in a blue pool. Absolutely everybody was more than enchanted to see it and is hard to describe in words and maybe even in pictures, the impression that lasted on us. From there we returned directly to Luang Prabang and we did not stop in a Hmong village as the schedule was. I met in the bus an American, Susan, who will be for 3 years in Pittsfield, MA where some guys bought the old silk mill and try to convert it in an art space, for the artists to show their work. She is the artist that will conceptualize this conversion. I went home took a shower and came back in town, crossing the busy night market, bought some scarves and came here for the phone and internet. Latter dinner and tomorrow I want to rent a bike and go around the town. You don’t want to leave this place!