Laos

Laos: Early Morning Photographs of Alms-giving to the Monks

We arrived in Luang Prabang and had a look around the evening tourist markets.  There is a lot of tourism here, so all sorts of businesses have sprung up to service the industry. I was keen to see the Pak Ou Caves (Buddha Caves), but we were both tired and decided to give it a miss, particularly as we knew it would be full of people. We were experiencing a feeling of ‘tourist overload’ after the calm of Northern Laos.

Getting up at the crack at dawn, we set out to watch the ‘giving of alms’ to the monks.   The practice of getting up before daybreak to donate food to the orange-robed Buddhists of Luang Prabang is as ancient as some of the city’s temples.  Those who participate hope that they will earn a few credits to come back as a higher life form.

What we didn’t expect was for every other tourist to be up at the same ridiculously early hour with the same intention. We were glad to have our long lenses, so we could photograph from a distance without disturbing the proceedings. As more monks appeared, more tourists (and cameras) filled up the streets, and the mood began to change a little.  There was a little jostling for space, as everyone frantically tried to grab their photographs.  A few times i had people stand directly in front of my lens so that they could get their shot. Those with compact camera and shorter lenses had to stand very close to the procession, and i was beginning to wonder what the monks thought of all this.  I never cease to be amazed at the politeness of the people from SE Asia, and the bad behaviour of some (mainly western) tourists.  After a while we began to feel quite uncomfortable to be a part of the crowd, and decided to leave and grab some breakfast.

Below are some photographs taken of the monks receiving rice, which are probably exactly the same as everyone else’s 😉

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Nong Khiaw Bridge

I took a few shots from Nong Khiaw bridge, which squeezes between fantastic limestone mountains. I’m really happy with the colour one but thought i’d play with some black and white too.

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The next day i got up really early to get some morning photos. As the bridge is shrouded in cloud at this time I would advise anyone thinking of doing this to stay in bed where it is nice and warm.

We checked out of our accommodation with the intention of completing the journey to Luang Prabang by boat. The trip from Nong Khiaw would be wonderful, starting on the Nam Ou and finishing on the Mekong. Unfortunately, the improved roads in the area and ‘backpacker’ shuttle buses mean that no-one wants to do the journey by river any more. We managed to pull together 4 others who would do the journey by boat, but they wanted around 8 other passengers to depart. Reluctantly, we boarded the local bus for the journey to Luang Prabang.

Laos: Down the Nam Ou River

Day 1: From Hat Sa to to Muang Khua

Just a few short days in the north, but it was time to leave. It looked to us that we may be able to get to Luang Prabang by boat, so we thought we’d give it a go.  After all, we already knew a road trip back south would be a very long one.  The road network in northern Laos is still not up to the standard of neighbouring countries, so many people still travel by boat. Road building is progressing at a fast rate so it won’t be long before more people abandon this fantastic way to travel.

We caught the bus from Phongsali to Hat Sa (around 6 hours) as we were told a boat would leave at around 9.30 to take passengers to Muang Khua.  There is a faster boat that roars down the river but the slow boat is much more relaxing and also cheaper.  To our dismay there were 2 other tourists doing the same thing. This turned out to be quite handy though as there was no-one else to take the slow-boat, and they won’t make the journey unless there are enough people. Because there were only 4 of us we had to pay 175,000 instead of 120,000 kip but that was still a bargain. The scenery is spectacular and you pass many small villages on the way. Every now and again you see a kingfisher sitting on a branch, looking over the waters. There are some sections of minor white-water that the boatman expertly navigated. This is definitely the way to travel.

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Day 2: Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw

At Muang Khua was noticed there were more tourists around than we had been seeing during much of our trip around Laos. There were 9 of us wanting to take the boat to Nong Khiaw in the morning, which was handy as the boatman was reluctant to move with fewer people. We set off around 10 am armed with our cameras and feeling very much like tourists on our boat of falang.

The river journey was much the same as the previous day but no less enjoyable. We had fewer areas of white-water and there were also fewer villages to pass by. As we moved south we noticed it was getting warmer. At last!

Around 6 hours after departure we reached Nong Khiaw. This place is hailed as the ‘new’ Viet Vieng of Laos so there were plenty of backpackers around and tours and activities on offer. We found a place to stay with hot water showers and relaxed. The bridge that crossed the Nam Ou has a very nice view. A few shots from the bridge in the next post.

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Laos: Trekking in the North, day 2

After a very strange night, where we shared the bamboo ‘bed’ platform with some of our hosts, we went on to the next village. Anke’s knee had began to really hurt from walking down the steep slopes with heavy backpacks, and so we decided to shorten our trek by a day. This meant our next night was not in an Akha village as per the initial plan. However, the people at the next village were so incredibly friendly we had a great time.

We stayed at the village chief’s hut, which he shared with his wife and just one son. It was at this point that we were about to give up hope on our guide. Despite requests on this and the previous night, he seemed incapable of relaying to our hosts the questions we were asking. Instead, he just made up the answers himself. He also answered our host’s questions about us himself, leaving us out of the conversation and frustrated. That evening our guide met a friend and got completely paralytic. On return to our hut he mistakenly got into bed with the chief and was promptly kicked out. He then tried to wake me up but i pretended to be sound asleep and eventually, after urinating in the corner, he crashed out. The next morning the chief had ‘a quiet word’ with him about his behaviour, and also apologised to us on his behalf.  No big deal really -pretty funny actually – and we were enjoying the trip so much it really didn’t spoil things.

The next morning we headed out to Phongsali, with us leading our guide, who stopped periodically to puke. We hobbled into town having had a great time, but also wishing we had gone with a better guide who could help us get the most out of the experience.

Photos below:

  • The village
  • Some people meeting in the morning to go to work
  • A friendly kid
  • Taking a rest and admiring the view, whilst our guide has a short sleep

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