Archive for June, 2010

We arrived at the travel agent’s office at 7:50am and their doors were still closed, so we went for a fruit shake ( a good excuse as any to enjoy a fruit shake). After a brief brain freeze , we returned to the travel agents and lady agent asked we were from and when we mentioned ‘Malaysia’, she asked if she can exchange some RM ( tips from customers) for kips to buy milk powder for her baby.She had RM16 with her, I guess the Malaysians must have ran out of kips guarrr…

 Our receipt from yesterday was collected by her colleague and he wrote our names on pieces of paper ( boat ticket) and  we ( and other travellers that had gathered at the office)  were told to follow him for a walk to the jetty. The walk  took  about 10 minutes  and we saw more people waiting at the jetty . The boat tickets were returned to us with some sequential numbers written on them, and when your number is called, you get to get on the boat lah.

Felt a bit shabby in my RM10 pasar malam t-shirt as I was waiting in queue behind 2 young  French ladies in Miu Miu and NafNaf sunglasses complete with Fila tank tops and Nike sneakers. Finally our numbers ( 26  & 27) were called and we walk down some stairs to get to our royal barge err.r..i mean boat which sat 8 of us ( plus boatman)

 

On the way, we saw nets being cast.. children swimming  in the river and we even had a brief stop at a river-petrol station for refilling. Fellow passengers ( apart from MiuMiu and NafNaf) include Italian man who build expo sites , i forgot what he looked like but to make some of you envious, i can say he looked a bit like Antonio Banderas (although he is not Italian), in his younger days; an Austrian lady based in Hong Kong whose face reminded me of Ma’am Magdeline Albright.

 

After many many minutes -I lost track of time , maybe more than 1.5 hours ( It got a bit sleepy after the initial novelty of the boat and the Mekong has worn off) we stopped at bang Xang Hai village for a visit , this is said to be a village famous for making lao lao – the local rice whiskey

 Lao Lao on display

 

Apart from rice whiskey, I guess you might want some additional add-ons for that extra umpphhh

 

The production facilities ( the vats kinda remind me of Ali Baba and the forty thieves)

 

There was a temple in the village

 

After about 30 minutes we headed back to the boat and continued our journey on the Mekong. This morniong, we left the jetty at about 8:45 and at 12:30 we finally saw white staircase leading to the  limestone entrance of the Pak Ou Caves , before we disembarked, boatman told us ‘come back 30 minutes’, I was like ‘HUH ? travel for >3 hours and we are only to spend 30 minutes here mehh, how come like that one ?’

The stairs leading to the entrance was narrow and not help by the heavy crowd that was coming the other way. We paid 20,000kip (RM8) for the tickets and get all geared up to be wowed.

There were many many many Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes, all over the cave

 

in various poses…

 

made from different materials 

 

did I mention there were many many many statues ?

In various poses

 

made from different materials

Anyway, the cave was actually quite small, one could probably cover the whole area in 10 minutes. This is the lower cave and it’s well lit in natural light.

 The upper cave is a grueling walk uphill, I didn’t count the steps, but they were rather steep and will take a bit ( I mean a lot) of effort to conquer.

It’s pitch dark inside the cave but fret not as with a small donation, one could ‘rent’ a torchlight at the entrance of the cave.

 Similarly , more statues…( but not as crowded as the statues at the lower cave)

 

Frankly, the Pak Ou Caves was a disappointment for me or maybe my expectation was just too high – I guess I was trying to justify the 3.5 hours journey and I wonder would we have made this journey if we knew but then… I think we still would because we are kaypors that need to see things for ourselves and have  that notion that we most probably not be coming to this country again so, better cover everything lah..

 

Read more about Pak Ou Caves by clicking here :

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We decided to have a simple lunch of fried noodles and stopped for lunch beside the stalls along the Mekong.  We have a simple system to gauge where we will have our meal, 1) by the price of the fruit shake ( this should be from 5,000 – 6,000 kip ( RM 2 – RM2.40) and 2) a standard plate/bowl of noodles should be 15,000 – 18,000kip. Above this level, we will move on to the next stall. Most of the stalls have the menu /price list displayed at the front of the stall

Fried vermicelli ( more vegetables than noodles!)

Fried noodles

The noodles  cost 15,000 kip ( RM6) per plate. Rather tasty but a bit salty.

After lunch, we headed back to our room and had a rest as  it was too hot for sightseeing anyway. And re-started our touristy activity at about 3pm and went on our bikes to make arrangements for our trip to Pak Ou Cave and KuangSi waterfall tomorrow. After surveying 3 tour companies, we decide to go with a particular one ( cheaper by 10,000kip) for 105,000kip.we were told to assemble in front of the tour company at 8 a.m the next day. We paid the required sum and as it was already 4p.m, we decide to return our bikes before we visit Mt Phousi.

There are 2 main routes to go up Mt Phousi, we decide to follow the recommendation of one of the guidebook which suggested the use of the route opposite the Royal Palace Museum which is a more straightforward way .

The steps were wide and not too steep, so, it wasn’t a too difficult walk uphill, about 10 mins walk, we arrive a an area where we paid 20,000kip for the entrance ticket. There was a round stupa a few steps beside the counter . There were some offerings place by devotees around the stupa. A flock of chicken was  loitering around as well.

There are a total of 328 steps from the base to the summit of Mt Phouse , where Wat Chomsi is situated.Along there way there were lots of cempaka trees.

The  golden stupa  of Wat Chomsi can be viewed from many locations in Luang Prabang,close up- I  had expected  it will be a rather big golden stupa but errr..it wasn’t as big as I thought lah.

Inside the main shrine hall.

Mt Phousi is said to be a good location to view the sunset, but we were a bit too early but still we get to get a view of Luang Prabang beneath us .

 

For our descend , we decide to take a different route and halfway downhill, we came to Wat Tham Phu Si  which was referred as a small cave temple . Inside one of the cave.

Along the way downhill, it was rather picturesque, with many  golden Buddha statues in various poses.

We end up next to the Khan river bank, while taking a breather we struck up conversation with  a group of young joggers  who were resting  , they  turned out to be university students studying English literature. There are 3 Uni in Laos.

We took a slow stroll back to the direction of our guest house and had a stop at ‘Stay Another Day’ read about it here  –a fair trade project to help the locals, there were a lot of interesting items on display /sale-paintings, handicrafts, clothes, toys etc, we also got to try a variety of teas made from lemongrass, Baekm mulberry, rosella and ginger.

We walked to the night market and as agreed earlier, we took a seat at the stall selling grilled stuff – sausage , fish, ribs, chicken , buffalo meat etc .

 

We chose to have grilled sausage, grilled chicken drumstick and grilled ribs served with sticky rice- the meal cost us 30,000kip ( RM12) cheap horrrr..? the drumstick was well marinated and tender, ribs were really tasty and the sausage was stuffed with flavoured meat, only grouse would be that the sticky rice was rather hard.

There are 2 main entrance to Wat Xieng Thong, one is at the main road next to Wat Xi Buan Heung, and the one we took, the river entry which is above the bank of the Mekong. Before reaching Wat Xieng Thong ( WXT), we stopped at an embankment to have a look at the section where River Khan meet the Mighty Mekong

 

 After climbing up the stairs leading to the wat , we were greeted by 2 large white err..cats statues at the entrance of WXT , the cats ( or tigers)  had red lips, red gums,  red teeth plus red nails. I didn’t quite like the look of them and therefore did not take any pictures ( which I am regretting right now). We paid 20,000 kip to the lady manning the entrance and saw this beautiful temple with the low sweeping double tired roof.

 

From my web search, probably the most elaborate site about WXT is here http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/laos/luangprabang/wat_xiengthong.php , Extracts : It was the site of coronation of Lao kings and also the center of numerous annual festivals honoring the Buddha and various folk spirits. An early legend about the origin of Xieng Thong suggests that two hermits settled on a site (and set the boundary stones of the town and the monastery) near a notable mai thong, or flame-of the-forest tree (the tree is depicted on the rear façade of the sim). The sites were also near the home of two of the city’s powerful nagas that lived at the juncture of the two rivers.

The monastery had its origins in the 16th century. King Setthathilat, or Sai Xetthathilat, (1548-1571) founded it in 1560 to commemorate the memory of the Chanthaphanith (8th century AD?), a betal merchant and the legendary first king of Luang Prabang.

The elaborate black and gold stencils outside of the sim and a glimpse of the interior of the sim. 

 

Stencils inside the temple depicting Buddhist tales and stories of Chantaphanith

 

 A large statue of the Buddha ( and some smaller ones) inside the sim

 

One thing I noticed about some of  the wats in Laos is that they have this golden pointy thingy on the top of the sim.  Only when I am writing this did I find out that…this is called ‘dok so fa’ and symbolizes royal patronage  and if there are more than 10 element, then the wat was built by a king.

 

At the rear of the sim is a tree of life  mosaic arrangement ( building on left), the building on the right is the Tripitaka library.

 

Read more about the Tripitaka library by clicking here, Extracts related to Tripitaka Library are from this site, extracts : Wat Xieng Thong Tripitaka Library (built 1828) . Historically it served as a storehouse for the Tripitaka, the ‘three baskets’ of the Theravada Buddhist canon of scriptures. Although the building possibly dates from 1828, there doubtless were earlier repositories for the sacred texts. In addition to the scriptures, the building houses several important gilded Buddha images.

There is a double-tiered roof with a lower perimeter roof supported by sixteen elaborate gilded eave brackets, and an elevated gable roof with gilded wooden relief sculptures under the gables on the east and west sides.

 

There was another structure with  the similar purple pinkish colouration and coloured mosaics as the Tripitaka library, this is the Red Chapel ( chapel of the reclining Buddha )

Read more about it by clicking here , . Extracts related to Red Chapel are from this link . Extracts : The exterior is covered with a red, sometimes fading to pink, stucco inlaid with brightly colored glass mosaics that illustrate both religious activities and everyday Lao life. The mosaics were added, during the major restoration of the chapel in 1957, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s death and achievement of nirvana.

 

There was a 2 meter long bronze reclining Buddha in this chapel , Extracts : The bronze reclining Buddha about two meters long, is one of the most valuable of Lao Buddhist images. It fashioned in the classic Lao style (rather than Thai or Lanna) and clad in flowing robes. The Buddha is lying on its right side with the right hand supporting the head. The inscription on its base indicates it was crafted in 1569 on the order of King Sai Setthathirat. The figure was taken to Paris in 1931 and placed in a prominent position in the Indochina Pavilion at the International Colonial Exposition. Upon its return to Laos it was placed in the parlor of a French official in Vientiane and then in 1949 was transferred to Wat Phra Keo, also in the capital. The flame unisha (hair knot) was added at Phra Keo. Three years later it was returned to Luang Prabang.

 The exterior wall of the chapel was prettily decorated with glass coloured mosaics, Extracts :   The charming, noteworthy and primitive-style exterior mosaics describe a variety of scenes of traditional village life: trees, boats, carts, elephants, houses, hunting and fishing, working and playing, as well as ethereal religious scenes set higher on the walls. The mosaics also relate the fictional story of Sièo (or Siaw) Sawat, a commoner and son of a rich merchant, who used his wit and common sense to become an important minister of the king. The story presents a period of prosperity, religious ardor, peace and grandeur. It also describes people coming from great distances to consult the wise and clever counsel of the commoner minister. Though the mosaic depicts a cheerful era of religious faith, prosperity, peace and good government, subsequent Lao reality, unfortunately, has not necessarily matched the era of that happy period. The Red Chapel, however, convey a harmony of the sacred and the secular in its structure and in its interior and exterior ornamentation.

 

Opposite the sim was a impressive building predominantly in gold

 

This is the carriage house or Royal Funerary Chariot Hall . Read more about it by clicking here . Extracts related to carriage house are all from this site . Extracts  : It was built to house and preserve the funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong (1885-1959), King of Luang Prabang, 1904-46, and King of Laos, 1946-59.

We could  identify Hanuman from the panels, so, had rightly guessed that these panels tell the story of the Ramayana , Extracts : Uniquely, the façade and exterior side walls are covered with sculpted and gilded teakwood panels. They were crafted by local artisan Thit Tanh (Pae Ton) with the assistance of other Luang Prabang craftsmen under the supervision of the master artisans of the Royal Palace. The panels recount the Lao version of the story of the Ramayana, the Pha Lak Pha Lam. One can follow episodes of Rama, Hanuman, Sita’s judgment by fire, Ravana, and Indra in the form of the golden deer. The right tympanum is stunning in its depiction of the combat between the vulture king and Ravana, the kidnapper of Sita. Ravana’s numerous arms hold many different weapons.

Sita judgement by fire

 

Rama and Sita

 

Once we stepped into the building , we were greeted by teeth baring nagas.

 

It was a carriage of some sort with 3 big urns. Shameful to say, I only found out the details when I am writing this post.

 Extracts  : The almost 40 ft (12m) high gilded wooden royal carriage sets grandly on the body of a six wheel truck at the entry door. It also was the creation of Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). The hearse was used carry the remains of King Sisavang Vong to the field near Wat That Luang for his cremation in April 1961. Highly ornate, it is dominated by seven nagas with gaping jaws and prominent fangs at its prow and an elaborate red canopy supported by gilded and ornate columns at its center. There are three ornate gilded sandlewood funerary urns that contained the remains of the king’s father (in front) and mother (in the rear); Sisavang Vong’s remains are given the central place of honor under the canopy. The remains were placed upright in a fetal position. The ashes of the king, queen and royal brother are at Wat That Luang.

 There are various Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes stored  at the rear of the hall. At the time of visit, a photographic project/ archiving was taking place inside the hall.

 

 There were numerous structures and sights around WXT

 

 

A fascinating experience..