Our first stop was in Laos, Luang Prabang to be exact (Luang meaning ancient and former capital and Prabang is the name of the golden Buddha that was left in the temple when the capital relocated).
It is a UNESCO world heritage town and situated along the banks of the mighty Mekhong river and is an absolute dream of a place once you get used to the heat and humidity, which to be honest with only 3 days in residence you don't. We visited all the usual sights taking in the former Royal Palace, the temple of Wat Mai with wonderful golden bas-relief features and then in the heat of the midday sun, mad dogs and Englishmen and all that, climbed the 394 steps to the top of the hill called Phu Si which is crowned with a 24 metre high stupa.
The heat can be overwhelming
A stupa is a sort of tomb that you put the bones of your relatives in once the flesh has rotted from them! The views were pretty spectacular but the sun, heat and humidity were absolutely fearsome. I was very glad when we began the descent as at least that offered partial shade.
The rice giving ceremony at sunrise
Our last morning there saw us up before daybreak to take part in the daily giving of rice to the Buddhist monks. This ritual happens every day, rain, shine, cold or hot. We sat in a long line alongside the walls of the temples along with the locals and some exquisitely dressed Lao ladies in there beautiful silk skirts and blouses. They put us to shame as we turned up in various assortments of attire that you only ever wear on holiday.
The rice is very very sticky!
We had some rice baskets prepared for us filled with sticky rice and the idea is that you take a small amount of rice (about the size of a plum) and deposit it in the basket of every monk as they walk past. That is easier said than done, Lao stick rice is very, very sticky and it became something of a problem on occasions to persuade it to part company with your fingers and stay in the basket. Most monks gladly accepted the rice but a few took one look at our efforts and decided that they would pass and promptly put the lid on their baskets.
One of the temples at Wat Xiengtong
The monks just kept coming and there are a lot of temples in Luang Prabang, we were told by our guide that they effectively 'go round the block' and keep coming back for more. The rice is later distributed to the poor.
Laos is the most bombed country in the world
We also paid a short visit to a museum dedicated to the massive amount of unexploded bombs that are still posing a real danger to the population. Laos has the unenviable title of the most bombed country in the world and several people are still killed each year when they accidentally dig one of these things up. As you can imagine children are the majority of the victims and it was heart breaking to see some of the pictures. The UN is funding the clearance but it will be another 40 + years before all areas are cleared.
A very rickety bamboo bride - I made it to the other side ok!
Evenings were spent in riverside cafes overlooking the Mekhong. The food was good when it arrived, the service was on Lao time, it arrives when it's ready. I think one of my most favourite views ever is the profile one .
Next stop is Vietnam but I shall be sad to leave this part of Laos and her charming, friendly people.
To be continued...
By Lynda Davey