Bridge on the River Kwai
Once I got older and put the movie in the context of World War II history, I always assumed that the bridge was in Burma--until I read The Lonely Planet guide to Thailand, I hadn't clued into the fact that it was so close to Bangkok. So, having all these vivid memories from childhood, I really wanted to visit the area. After leaving Laos, I returned to Bangkok and got a public bus to Kanchanaburi, about a 3 hour ride.
More on Laos
One of the important Buddhist customs is almsgiving. Every morning between 6 and 6:30, the monks in Luang Prabang from various monasteries parade through the street to the main wat, or temple, Wat Xieng Thong, which sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
Along the route, people offer rice, fruit, and other food to the monks. I suppose many do this as a daily ritual, along with the monks. It is customary for young men to serve their time in the monastery--and for some it's exactly that--as in off hours you can see them on the streets talking on cell phones, gathered around a computer terminal in an internet cafe, or laughing and joking among themselves. Below you can see one of the young monks deeply engrossed in a cell phone conversation, with his friend waiting patiently.
Of course, the intrusion of the modern world isn't limited to motorcycles, internet cafes, and cell phones. It's the tourists, too. It was not the high season yet, but still, at least 30 other tourists were out along the part of the route I was on --near my guest house, the Sayo--snapping away. A tourist brochure given to you at the airport has ten tips to help you honor the Lao culture, one of these being a plea not to use a flash and keep a respectful distance during the alms giving. I certainly tried to do this, and used my telephoto lens as well.
There are many wats or temples in Luang Prabang, and there is a peaceful sense being around them. I tried to upload a video, but it's 72 MB and that seems a bit more than Blogger can swallow. So here are a few more pictures (and there are more on Flickr):
Laos was great. On Sunday I took a longboat ride on the Mekong River to a nearby cave with Buddhist statues. The cave was so-so- somewhat of a tourist trap with a sidetrip to a "whisky village" where Lao whisky is made--but it was fascinating watching life along the mighty Mekong. The river soil is very rich, and you see all kinds of vegetables being grown along the riverbank. I took a lot of pictures of the river people going about their daily business, fishermen going out for the day's catch, men, women and children tending vegetable gardens. The long boat itself is a variation on the rice barges you see in India, a place where people not only work but live (no life vests, though). You can see some of these photos on top, in Flickr.
On Monday I took a hill trek into some nearby villages, and then on to the Kuangsi Falls. We visited villages of two of the several hill tribes of Laos--the Khmu and the Hmong.. They live quite differently, but both are animist (not Buddhist) and so there were no temples or other obvious signs of worship in the villages. The Khmu are said to be related to the Khmer people of Cambodia, whereas the Hmong migrated from China several hundred years ago. There were several Khmu about the village when we visited, including a group of women who were preparing vegetables to sell to a nearby market, and many young children--several of whom looked to be of school age. In the Hmong village, on the other hand, there were only a few old people--two women and a man tending a baby--as the children were in school and the able-bodied adults were in the fields.
And this was the reward for the hike--this is a view of the falls from the front, after we had climbed down from the top.
In Luang Prabang itself I visited several of the temples ( the shot at the top of this post is taken from the one at the top of a hill in the center of town) and watched the morning alms giving to the monks. More on that in a separate post.
On the way to Laos
Heading to Luang Prabang and parts east for a few days. Will post when I am back.