Thursday, October 29, 2009

Morning markets, temples up high, and Lao traditional ballet

Our first guesthouse in Luang Prabang was conveniently located just a dozen or so meters from the small street that houses the morning market. The morning market in Luang Prabang is primarily a food market for the local homes and restaurants and features both delicious looking and truly bizarre food stuffs. On the delicious side of the spectrum you have the yum-tastic local veggies, including our newly favorite choko (more on that in another post soon), some really interesting and tasty fruits, fermenting fish sauces, more kinds of rice than you've probably ever seen, and grilled meats. On the more eccentric end of the spectrum you'll see dead or dying bats, hundreds of toads in a net covered bucket, buckets of slithering eels, some kind of mole-guinea pig looking things, and what I thought looked like grilled rat on a stick. It was great fun getting to walk around and take it all in.

Since the market is primarily a locals-only sort of vending location, there are a few confused looks that you get as you walk around. You don't feel unwelcome mind you... I don't know if the Lao have it in them to make anyone feel unwelcome ever, but you do get a sense from a few of the vendors that they don't want you to get in the way while they try and real in a sale from locals passing by.

In the heat of the day (in hindsight not the greatest time to do this) the three of us, Kerry, Kat, and I, hiked up the large hill that sits right smack in the center of town. As you make your ascent you see stair counts passed and stairs remaining that both encourages and discourages you as you go. There were around 300 stairs and some of them quiet steep. By about half-way up, we were all gasping in the 100+ degree heat. Once we made it to the top, we found a large collection of shrines, a cave, and a Wat tucked and hidden amongst lots of tiny blind paths. It was really fun to walk along the paths and not know what you might run into next.

The most hilarious thing was that there were all of these signs for "Buddha's footprint". We kept meandering around trying to find it, and we think we did, though it was not what any of us had expected... it was more like what you see when someone finds Elvis giving Jesus a high-five in their toast in the morning than a footprint... There was a rock with a sort of Sasquatch inspired indentation that had been painted in with gold paint... ya... nice... Buddha's footprint. Good lookin' out. WTF right? That was a little funny and disappointing, but the rest of the sights up there certainly were not. I think my favorite thing up there was this really cool looking moth that just sat there next to us as we took photos and tried to cool down. It was there when we arrived, and there when we left, just idly moving its wings now and again and staring longingly West.

That night, the three of us decided to check out the Luang Prabang Royal Ballet. They were performing that evening and Kerry and I wanted to make up for not having seen traditional dance the last time we were in the region. The music leading up to the dance performance was really beautiful and lots of fun to see performed. They were all playing traditional Lao instruments that seem to resemble familiar things, but sounded a little different from much of what we had heard before.

The show was of of the Search for Princess Sida. A tale about a missing princess, a monkey army trying to help find her, red and green birds fighting, and a final showdown with the evil giant Thotsakan. As I understand it, it is a portion of a much longer story, but they show this bit because of all of the fun-to-watch conflict. The overall performance, dancing, and costumes were really great, especially the simian mannerisms injected into the portrayal of the monkeys. What the performers young and old might have lacked in some synchronicity, they more than made up for with pride and showmanship. It was great fun for us and Kerry and I were glad that on this trip, we had made the time to see some traditional dance.

Next up, a homestay in a mountainside Hmong village!


Lisa said...

Such beautiful pictures! Are you guys getting any video too?
So glad your trip seems to be everything you had hoped!

Jenny Peterson said...

Head out to the waterfalls outside town. There are some swimming holes too. It will definitely cool you off and it's lovely out there.

Isaac said...

Lisa: Thanks so much!!! There are soooo many great shots from this trip. I can't wait to dig in and start processing it all. We got a fair bit of video and I did a lot of audio field recording that will also require some post-work but should yield some really inspiring source material.

Jenny: We ended up not hitting up the waterfalls in Luang Prabang. We had seen a bunch so far that trip and were a little waterfalled-out by that point... that and the fact that EVERY tuk-tuk driver we passed was always saying, "Waterfall? Waterfall?" he he...

Donald said...

I'm a bit surprised you were allowed to capture some images of the dance...but glad you did!! Did anyone voice any "concerns" while photographing them? *smile*

Isaac said...

We were not allowed to shoot any photos during the performance, but afterward, the performers all came out and did group poses for us to shoot, (pretty nice of them to do that I thought).