life in laos
luang prabang, laos
life in laos? slower. gentler. more flow, fewer touts. touts = aggressive, vietnamese tourist hawker/scammer/solicitors. what's flowing here? the mighty mekong, biensur. even vientiane, the lao (rhymes with wow!) capital, still seems a run down, laid back, french-asian colonial burg - early baja california - say, 1980. still dirt roads. instead of burros, they have chickens and water buffalo - just roaming the damn streets - along with locals and ex-pats and tuk tuks (here a 3 wheel wells fargo pony express kinda transport). the bamboo stilt cafes and bars even beat dimitri's "la fonda" (my favorite hang in baja) - by about 6000 miles east.
today i went out to the wai-ku waterfalls outside luang prabang, the old lao capital, pre indochine. here you can still see daily parades of orange-clad, shaved-head buddhist monks, walk by the river every morning collecting alms from the generous town's residents. they say a large majority of ordinary buddhist men will serve as monk novitiates sometime during their lifetime, usually when they are young men. fourteen. sixteen. these sweet-faced young boy monk/trainees will even bring gringo westerners like me to see the main buddhist priest in the temple itself - to tie a string prayer bracelet around my wrist for happiness, luck, prosperity anything i want for a small donation to the temple. (now two years later, my bracelet has never been off my wrist surviving showers, sweat, storms, tennis, humidity, cold it's at least durable, if not lucky, happy, or prosperous).
i'll tell you though, anything man can do, nature can do better - and greater, and more beautifully, and more awe-inspiringly. got off the tourist track again - for another perfect moment or two. left the multi-national mini-group i bused to wai-ku with and went off on my own. swam in the freezing cold, but pristine falls. hiked through steep, slick, rugged green terrain. picked and ate green papaya and prickly rambutan and purple mangosteen right from the trees. sat and meditated under the huge quiet of the lao rain forest. not far from the still heavily-contested and land-mined killing fields of recent war and current fighting yet somehow restored today - to its native origins - out here in the eden-like serenity surrounding luang prabang.
but you know what's even easier to do in laos? walk around and spend money - on gorgeous handcrafts raw silk textile hangings, funky hand-made clothes, hand-crafted paper stationery - with pieces grass or leaves woven or pasted right into the "saa". bought a cool pair of brown and white checked shorts trimmed with red dyed lao cotton - draw string comfortable fred segal eat your heart out. just walk and spend, walk and spend. currency exchange - good. holding onto money - bad.
tomorrow, more mekong (if you haven't figured it out, this is southeast asia's mighty mississippi). a two day slow ferry north and west to the thai border, then a little r&r in northern thailand chiang rai, chiang mai - before plunging back south to bangkok and the pleasure beaches of southern thailand. phuket. ko samui. then to malaysia, and maybe even indonesia. if i can make the time. have requested an extension from home base.
but tonight -- you're the only action in town - in luang prabang, that is. time to walk home from the cyber café past a few spectacularly golden-lit buddhist wats (temples), and tumble into bed. gotta hit that mekong tomorrow bright and early.
so sleep tite--