Peaceful Buddhist Scenery in Luang Prabang in Laos
07-24-2018    www.news.com.au
<DIV align=center><STRONG><BR>Handouts ... Buddhist monks receive gifts of rice and food in Luang Prabang</STRONG><BR></DIV>

<DIV align=left><BR><SPAN lang=EN-US>By Trevor Seymour, <A href="http://www.news.com.au/">www.news.com.au</A>, November 29, 2006</SPAN></DIV>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Luang Prabang, Laos -- The temperature is almost 30 Celsius degree and the sun has not yet risen as I drag myself out of bed and set off to "feed the monks".</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>In the pre-dawn, the normally bustling streets of central Luang Prabang in northern <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Laos</st1:place></st1:country-region> are silent except for the distant sounding of gongs from a number of Buddhist monasteries.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>I make my way to one of the main intersections in the heart of town and, shortly after 6am, the first Buddhist monk appears through the hazy light. He is a wizened old man with grey hair, bare feet and a heavily lined face.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>He heads a line-up of monks that stretches back hundreds of metres.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>As he approaches the kneeling crowd, this clearly very important individual slows, adjusts his brilliant orange robe and then whips the lid off an elaborate bowl he is carrying by a shoulder strap and begins to collect small offerings of food from the kneeling faithful.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>For the next 10 minutes hundreds of monks of all shapes, sizes and ages file past in silence, collecting food before going their separate ways to the many other monasteries.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>It is a moment of enormous peace that is over far too soon, but it is also typical of the many surprises that await visitors to a South-East Asian country where traditional ways and practices are only slowly giving ground to the modern world.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>At the junction of the Mekong and Khan rivers, Luang Prabang was the traditional royal capital of <st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region> until the coup shifted the seat of power to the much larger <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Vientiane</st1:City></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Tourism has taken a long time to gain momentum in one of the world's most undeveloped countries, closed to the outside world until 1986.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Luang Prabang boasts 66 wats (Buddhist temples) and some of the best examples of French colonial buildings in <st1:place w:st="on">Indochina</st1:place>, and in recognition of this was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1995.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The elaborate temples in what is called "the City of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Monks</st1:City></st1:place>" are simply stunning in all their multi-coloured glory, while the centre is remarkably well preserved and thankfully remains free of fast-food franchises.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Architecture aside, the most wondrous thing about <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Laos</st1:place></st1:country-region> is the people. Whether it is the energy-sapping heat or their gentle nature, Laotians are happy, gentle and beautiful souls.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>A good example of this is the wonderful open-air night market that stretches the length of <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Sisavangvong Rd</st1:address></st1:Street> in Luang Prabang.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>A huge array of woven silks is on sale, together with clothes, hand-painted lamp shades and local crafts.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Unlike other countries, the vendors don't aggressively tout for business.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>All are happy to chat and smile and won't pursue you down the street if you don't buy.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>While the many temples offer delights, visitors should not miss taking in the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Royal</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Palace</st1:PlaceType> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Museum</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Boasting neatly tended gardens -- the grass is cut with scythes rather than noisy lawnmowers ĘC it has a hoard of ancient treasures and artefacts from the deposed monarchs.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Another highlight is to hike Mt Phousi in the centre of town. More a large hill than mountain, on a clear day it offers spectacular views across the region and is also home to a huge reclining Buddha statue.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>It is easy to become fixed in the one spot eating delicious $5 meals, drinking large bottles of the local beer for $1 and watching life pass by, but getting out of town gives a view of the less sanitised parts of a country and how the majority of people live.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>A <st1:chmetcnv w:st="on" UnitName="km" SourceValue="30" HasSpace="False" Negative="False" NumberType="1" TCSC="0">30km</st1:chmetcnv> trip to the Tad Kuang Si waterfalls covers some spectacular countryside scattered with small rice paddies and thickly timbered hills.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>It also clearly illustrates how poor <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region></st1:place> is, with peasants still planting rice fields with wooden ploughs behind the family cow.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Probably the most popular trip out of Luang Prabang is a boat ride up the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Mekong</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">River</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> to the Pak Ou Caves in huge limestone cliffs. The muddy <st1:place w:st="on">Mekong</st1:place> is shallow in parts in this area, but remains a vital lifeline for the locals.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Small junks carry freight and timber between towns and many fishermen make their living along the shores. The Pak Ou Caves are about <st1:chmetcnv w:st="on" UnitName="km" SourceValue="25" HasSpace="False" Negative="False" NumberType="1" TCSC="0">25km</st1:chmetcnv> upstream and house more than 4000 Buddha statues placed there by worshippers.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Several plaques commemorate the work done by an Australian team in the early 1990s renovating the upper cave complex that requires a heart-starting hike up hundreds of steps to near the top of the limestone cliffs.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Boats often stop at several of the smaller villages on the trip where locals make a living from weaving silk or making potent rice whisky.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Luang Prabang offers a wide range of accommodation for all budgets, ranging from a few dollars to hundreds per night.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>One of the best hotels in the top end of the market is the newly opened Maison Souvannaphoum.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Part of the Banyan Tree chain, it is a boutique, four-star hotel with 22 rooms and suites and is set in a colonial style building that was, until the 1970s, the royal residence of Prince Souvannaphoum.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Next door is the Wat Ho Xeing monastery, where I meet novice Monk Phetpasert Valhovong, 18, who invites me to visit the room he shares with two other monks. Their accommodation is in striking contrast to the hotel where the cheapest rate is more than $<st1:chmetcnv w:st="on" UnitName="a" SourceValue="150" HasSpace="True" Negative="False" NumberType="1" TCSC="0">150 a</st1:chmetcnv> night.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The monks' few possessions are scattered around the plain wooden room with a tin roof. Pictures torn from magazines colour the walls and handwritten signs proclaiming such worthy thoughts as "I shall love you forever" cover the walls.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Phetpasert's five years as a monk are drawing to a close and he will soon have to consider leaving the monastery to work. He would like to continue studying, but the $1000 it would cost to attend university is beyond his means.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Vientiane</SPAN></st1:City></st1:place><SPAN lang=EN-US> is a 40-minute flight from Luang Prabang or up to 10 hours on a bus.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>While still a peaceful city by Asian standards, it is more modern and quicker paced than Luang Prabang.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Again it boasts many marvellous temples, including the enormous Thad Luang, or grand stupa, and the Ho Phakeo shrine, both built in 1566. Unfortunately much of the colonial architecture is now overshadowed by more modern and generally uglier buildings.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The centre is generously endowed with bars and street cafes, although a night out in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region> can feel a bit like <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Australia</st1:country-region></st1:place> 20 years ago.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Laos</SPAN></st1:country-region></st1:place><SPAN lang=EN-US>'s National Tourism Administration says visitor numbers are up 28 per cent, with tourism now the country's leading income earner.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>But mass tourism remains a long way off for <st1:country-region w:st="on">Laos</st1:country-region> and of the 550,000 visitors in the first half of 2005, most were short stays from <st1:country-region w:st="on">Thailand</st1:country-region> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Vietnam</st1:country-region></st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>The country will no doubt retain its charm for a some time to come. Don't leave it too late.</SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></SPAN></P>

<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Sunday Herald-Sun</SPAN></P>
Editor: Wang Xinyu
   
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