Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last 3 days in Luang Prabang + Bangkok

The day after our homestay in the Hmong village, we decided to have a chill day and went to Wat Xieng Thong because a store that sells ethnic masks was supposed to be right next to it. After much searching, it was double confirmed that the store had closed down. Bummer. We did go inside the Wat though, and it was lovely. It even had some cool images of Buddhist Hell, something you don't normally see represented in temples.

After the Wat we had a lazy time shopping, window shopping, and having lunch by the Mekong. Around 4:30 we headed out for a sunset cruise (1 hour) of the Mekong. Lovely! We were the only 3 passengers on a boat built for 20 and it was really great to get to see monks swimming/bathing, fishermen fishing, and even a gas station on a boat. The sunsets in Laos have been very quick and not very colorful, but this one was at least not overcast and of course very charming. After dinner we ran into Mike from Oregon (who we met a few days before) and he recommended we take a cooking class from the Tamnak Lao Three Elephants Cooking School. This was really good luck because we had been discussing whether or not to go on a boat ride to the Buddha Cave (cave with lots o' small Buddhas in it), and none of us were terribly psyched to go. So the next morning Isaac, Kat, and I went and did the all day cooking class.

Actually, the first thing we did was get up at dawn to see the monks receive alms. This is a really well-known activity that lots of tourists visit and photograph. There are signs all over Luang Prabang asking people to be respectful, photograph from a distance, and not disturb the monks. Let me tell you, it was a circus. We all agreed that it was probably the most disgusting example of "bad tourists" that we have ever seen, anywhere. People in the monks faces, wearing skimpy clothes, having friends take their pictures standing right next to the monks, etc. I took the picture below, which is even before things got really crazy. I wanted to photograph the bad tourists more but I was so embarrassed to be holding a camera at that point I just wanted to put it away and watch the alms giving in silence. I guess not every experience traveling is a good one. According to this link, the monks don't want to continue the charade... it's sad it has become what it is now.

So, back to the cooking class. We learned how to make lots of great Lao food (and ate it!), went to the market to look at vegetables, and had what were undoubtedly the coolest group of people in our cooking class. We had a recovering investment banker from South Africa, A UN human trafficking specialist from Australia via Spain, 2 US Army wives living in Okinawa but teaching in Vientiane for a few months, and an American couple living in Yokohama working for/in the US Navy. Everyone loved the class and afterward Kat, Isaac and I went with Joey and Julia (the American couple) to have Lao Lao and walk through the night market again. It was a really fantastic time with a great group of people.

Our last day in Luang Prabang Isaac and I took off on our own to explore some different areas of the town. We ran into Wayne, the South African, and he suggested that we go to Utopia, a bar/restaurant overlooking the river. We did and it was a really nice way to waste an afternoon, if I do say so myself. Also, Isaac and I went into what I thought was a clothing store and Isaac bought another large awkwardly shaped instrument. I'm serious. Only Isaac could find the one thing in the store that we couldn't bring on the airplane, again. At least they could ship it for us! And it really is a lovely Hmong flute-organ thing. It sounds cool too.
After that we went to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, which had some fascinating exhibits. And...drum-roll... I was able to buy an authentic fair trade mask made in Laos. Score!

We met back up with Kat and hung out a little bit for our last night.
The next day we flew to Bangkok, where we planned on buying some cheap clothes. The first few malls we went to were impressive in their Tokyo-esque new and shininess, but disappointing in that they were more expensive than the US. We went to the Puma store, where Isaac is very familiar with the prices, and confirmed this. More expensive! Lame. But we eventually stumbled on MBK mall, a haven for cheap deals and fake Prada bags. I didn't really want any fake bags but we did find a few items of cheap clothes, had some surprisingly good cheap meals, and hung out in the arcade for way too long. We are dorks. One funny thing was I saw a (fake) Esprit watch that I wanted, and was attempting to talk the woman down from her price of the equivalent of about $23. The watchband, which was embossed with the words "Genuine Leather", was clearly not genuine leather. When I pointed this out, she started saying the thing that all shop keepers seem to say when you question the purity of a silver item: "It's 80%". About half way through saying it she realized how ludicrous that statement was and started laughing. Which made me laugh. We laughed together for a minute, she lowered the price a bit more, and of course I had to buy it then. I mean, come on. The watchband was 80% leather, right?

So that's it - the end of the journey in South-East Asia. For now. It was a very nice trip, and felt great to be back there. :)


dyeve said...

yo're posts all of them are verry interesting..and all the pictures are wonderful..Gratz!

moo said...

Loved ALL the posts, and thanks for the gratuitous photo of Lisa dodging the slipper. we photo junkies need our fixes!