Monday, November 30, 2009

Laos Trip - Luang Prabang

After almost 12 hours of journey by bus, I have reached the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang at almost 9 in the morning. It is the former capital of Laos and as I have said, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and I was excited to roam the city. There, I met my tour guide Vang so we left the bus station and led me to a place where I can have a breakfast. It was a quick meal so we started our journey.

Our first spot was in this place (damn I forgot the name!) where there were at least 4 wats (temples) and numerous monks. I managed to get inside each of it and found several buddha displays. I was told that these buddhas were being protected by the monks living on those wats; also there were these pieces of paper where you can pick one but first, you have to choose a number to reveal a "lesson" that suits your personality.

After a few moments, we transferred to another place of temples, it was called Wat That Luang . Same to the previous place, it also consists of several temples with mostly gold structures with beautifully designs of buddhas. We also visited Wat Wisunarat of which another set of temples were found. By seeing those structures, I can say that they have a rich culture in buddhism and it was amazing on how they manage to preserve its original foundation. I had a super lunch afterwards on which I requested authentic Lao cuisine.

Our next destination were the handicraft and buddha curving areas. I was told that many of the people in Luang Prabang are working on this site. I was shown on how a certain silk was made, the process it went thru and the final output. There were also some parts of woods that were converted into paper and other useful things that are made out of paper, really nice! Not so far, I saw a man patiently curving a buddha image from a wood. Vang told me that most of them plant their own trees to use for their handicraft business.

We next visited the Mount Phousi on which I was required to climb up to the top by stairs with over 300 steps! It was really tiring that time as it was almost 2 in the afternoon and it was so hot. But when I reached the top, it was worth it as the view of the entire Luang Prabang was breathless. It was kinda cool on the top and quite refreshing. On the top of Mount Phousi was the Wat Chom Si.

On our way down, we passed by on several buddha images. I saw some footsteps and I was told it came from buddha. Some images are inside a cave, on top of a rock and they were all designed in a nice presentation. Really cool huh?! After this trip in the provice of Laos, it was time to return to its capital Vientiane to catch my plane for Myanmar with a stopover in Bangkok. I had to sleep again on the bus on my way back and again, the travel period was almost 12 hours!

More Laos pictures here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Laos Trip - Vientiane

On the 28th of September, Vietnam Airlines flight number 841 arrived in Lao capital past 9:30 in the morning. I immediately looked for a money changer to get some LAK. It was very hot that day and I was a bit tired so I called for a taxi that took me to New Lao Paris. As for the hotel, it was quite old and seemed to be very dark. The atmosphere wasn't that good and there was no elevator.

I did not waste time so I just freshened up inside the room to prepare for my city tour. I asked for a map from the receptionist but I failed to have one. So I bought a map in a store near the hotel and the map was quite good and informative. My first destination that time was this Morning Market and you can see all the things that you need from personal use to souvenirs and shirts. But in the end, I didn't buy anything from that store as I was thinking that maybe there is a cheaper place.

It took about 20 minutes of walking before I reached Patuxai or the Victory Gate. This building was built as a dedication to those who fought in the struggle of independence from France. It has a general resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Based on the funding history, the money used to built it was intended to build a new aiport but eventually, the Loatian government chose to built this historic piece. On the outside, I can say that it is properly maintained but inside the core of it, there was this small store that I think shouldn't be there. After taking few pictures, I left the place to look for a place to eat as I was really hungry that time.

I came to this certain carinderia (hawker in Singapore) and I found some interesting foods that quite similar to Filipino dishes so I chose some meat and a soup. As for drinks, I asked for Coca Cola but the vendor smiled and offered a Pepsi instead. Then I realized that Lao has this funny motto: "No Cola, Pepsi Only" that I read in an article before starting my backpack. I really don't know the history behind why Laos doesn't sell Coca Cola but since I was hungry that time, I just focused on my food and enjoyed it.

After that fulfilling meal, I walked again and looked for Lao's most important monument and national symbol, the Pha That Luang or Great Stupa. It is a gold covered large Buddha stupa and was built in the 3rd century. Based on the history, this monument has been destroyed many times but only in 1900 that French government decided to restruct it in it's original design. The area of the stupa is close to the traffic and I saw some tourists enjoying the view.

Around the Pha That Luang was several temples that showcase the Lao culture and identity. It was also a great place to take a rest and a perfect position to take some pictures.

Just outside the vicinity of the stupa, there were these tuk-tuks and jumbos that offer several destinations for the tourists. I checked it out and hired a tuk-tuk for 90,000 LAK (almost 15 SGD) that brought me to Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park. It was almost 2 hours of drive and I got the chance to take a nap. When I arrived there, I have to pay about 5,000 LAK for entrance. I saw several tourists that went up to the top of a big structure so I followed them and stayed there for a while. From there, I was able to see the entire park. As for it's name, the place was full of Buddhas in different structure and representations.

The tuk-tuk then brought me to this Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge that is situated over the Mekong connecting Nong Kai provice in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos. As for the history, it was funded by Australian government for 30 million USD to show that Australia is capable of making full structure in Southeast Asia. If you are asking if I had quick cross to Thailand, well I didn't.

I visited next the Lao National Museum and it was the last place where this tuk-tuk left me and to be on my own again. Well, the building was quite old and same to all other museums, camera is not allowed inside. The museum was quite simple but you will see the proudness of Lao people boasting their culture and proud about their roots and origins. Since the museum is quite near to the hotel, I walked to reach it and checked on some travel agent and decided to leave Vientiane that night, freshed up again and checked out from the hotel and started my 12 hour bus ride going to Luang Prabang.

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