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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

25 Days of Laos (Part 13)

This is a journal of our 25-day trip around Laos on a rented Honda FTR that we fondly called Mustafa. It starts with a long bus ride from Hanoi to Laos and ends with a longer bus ride back to Hanoi.

Day 16: Luang Prabang
I began the day with a walk around town, visiting temples. Since I seem to have a problem with directions, following the walking tour in the Lonely Planet was a bit difficult for me so I ended up wandering about and visiting temples that catch my eye. Funny enough, I seem to have ended up visiting the lesser known temples in Luang Prabang.

The first temple I visited was Wat Siphoutthahat Thippharam which had a charming old, temple. I loved the faded drawings on the door and the intricate carvings on the aging posts. Here, I got to have a chat with one of the monks and he told me that there's a newer version of this temple that has been built in the complex. Although I politely told him that I would check it out later, I didn't really feel like taking pictures of new temples. The old ones have more character.

Aging Gracefully

When I left the temple complex, I passed the Nam Khan River on my way to the next temple I was going to visit.

My next stop was the complex of Ban Aham where I found the That Makmo (also known as the Watermelon Stupa), Wat Aham (also known as The Monastery of the Opened Heart) and Wat Wisunalat (also known as Wat Visoun). I probably got there at the right time since I didn't see any tourists in the area. There were some stands selling cold drinks, post cards and other souvenirs though. But, the vendors didn't bother me and I was relieved. Having lived in Vietnam for some time, I've quite gotten used to bracing myself for vendors or stall owners who would actually go in front of your motorbike so that you'd go to their stalls.

The Stupas Around Wat Aham

Wat Aham. The temple has two guardians: Ravana and Hanuman from the Ramayana epic. The white monkey on the left is the Laos counterpart of Hanuman, Phalak Phalam.

The Doors of Wat Aham
On the site where Wat Aham was built there used to be a a shrine for worshipping the guardian spirits, Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). This was built by Fa Ngum, a prince who was raised in Angkor. King Photthisarat, the ruler of the Lan Xang kindom, however, destroyed this shrine and created a monastery. He also banned the worship of guardian spirits. According to local superstition, the destruction of the shrine of the guardian spirits caused the misfortunes that followed: diseases, drought and crop failure. So, after the royal capital was moved to Vientiane in 1563, the spirit shrine was rebuilt. Years later, around the mid-twentieth century, the shrine was once again destroyed. This time, however, no misfortune occurred since the two guardian spirits have now taken the form of the two banyan trees that can be found in the monastery grounds. And, during Bun Pi (Mai Pimay), the Laotian Lunar New Year, the guardian spirits are remembered in the "Dance of the Masks."

That Makmo
Wat Wisunalat. Luang Prabang's oldest operating temple.
At around 10, the grounds started getting filled up with tourists. And, I decided to head back to the Khem Khong View Hotel. From there, my boyfriend and I decided to have brunch at the Cafe Bat Van Sene.

That night, we decided to get a light dinner -- A sandwich from the Scandinavian Bakery. On our way back to Khem Khong View, we ran into some friends from Hanoi. And, we ended up having a chat and some drinks before heading home.

Day 17: Luang Prabang

We didn't really intend on spending one more night in Luang Prabang. As far as we were concerned, we were supposed to be heading back to Vientiane that morning. But, because of the rain, we ended up having a lie in and spending the day chilling and shopping.

We spent the afternoon in Dyen Sabai which is across the Nam Khan River. It's a really serene location with cozy mats and cushions for you to sit on. You get to have two cocktails for the price of one during Happy Hour. And, they've also got some board games for the worn out tourist who just wants to chill.

The Footbridge

The Nam Khan River

On our way to Dyen Sabai, we passed by Wat Xieng Mouane. What made the temple different is that it had Chinese guardians instead of the Ramayana characters or the dragons.

Wat Xieng Mouane

We ended the day with a few drinks at a bar and a last visit to the night market where I got to buy some gifts to send home. 

The Journey Continues:

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