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Cruising the Mekong to Luang Prabang (part 2)

Be lucky, visit Phra Thad Hariphunchai Temple

Cruising the Mekong to Luang Prabang (part 2)

Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

We were part of a two-day cruise down the Mekong River, and had just spent the night at the Luang Say Lodge at Pakbeng, Laos. After breakfast, most of the group walked to the village morning market, but we opted to go to the boat and cruise with it from the lodge landing to the village dock. Big teak logs were being unloaded from barges to be trucked to China, and we wanted to watch the process.

We were enchanted by the friendly novices and their attention to a 93 year old monk who couldnít quit smiling at us.

The unloading proceeded slowly but the Luang Say captain knew just where we were going to dock. We tied up not to a dock but to a barge loaded with teak logs, which was also tied to a barge loaded with teak logs. The intrepid market passengers had to climb over and around enormous logs, pass through a barge kitchen and then climb aboard the boat. We waited for them with ready cameras and much laughter. Cold towels and drinks were offered, and we began our journey again.

Within moments we spotted elephants working with teak logs on the side of the river. It was good to see that they were well nourished. More elephants appeared on the other side of the river, along with water buffalo and a herd of goats. A few men panned for gold, some filled bags with sand and loaded it onto boats. Fishermen were there in abundance, and children ran across the sand dunes. We saw peanut plants growing in the sand. Our guide told us they would later be transplanted. Our next destination was Pak Noi, a Lao Luang village where we were eagerly anticipated guests. A rice whiskey tasting had been arranged.

We tied up not to a dock but to a barge loaded with teak logs. Intrepid market passengers had to climb over and around enormous logs, pass through a barge kitchen and then climb aboard the boat.

This village was far easier to access, only about a hundred steps straight up, and far more interesting. Children greeted us with small flowers and followed us everywhere but didnít beg. Like most of the villages on the river, there are no roads leading in and out. Products were off-loaded to villagers from our boat, and loaded onto the boat. A small textile market had been set up for our visit, as well as the rice whiskey tasting. Every family seemed to have its own still and the villagers were eager to watch as the few and the brave tried the whiskey. The resulting puckered faces caused much laughter. An amorous male turkey displaying his plumage for his bored female companions attracted just as much attention as the textile market. We were enchanted by the friendly novices and their attention to a 93 year old monk who couldnít quit smiling at us. Deaf and almost toothless, he nevertheless communicated with our guide.

Tropical plantings surround the small, elegant boutique hotels in Luang Prabang. Second level balconies are set for dinner.

Our journey began again, this time to the caves of Pak Ou. Set into a high vertical cliff, there are two caves. They can be reached by steep steps that wind up the face of the rock, and contain thousands of Buddha images. The cave/temples were originally dedicated to the spirits of the river but were converted into Buddhist temples in the 15th century. Heavy rain began to fall, so we just pulled further back into the caves and waited. Smaller boats tied up to ours and waited also. Most of us were eager to get to Luang Prabang.

As soon as we docked in Luang Prabang, older children began scrambling down the steps to the pier to carry our luggage. Our boat crew carefully supervised their work, but they were little experts. We again exchanged email information with our new friends. Our bags loaded onto a truck, we climbed in the back for the ride to our hotel.

The cave/temples were originally dedicated to the spirits of the river but were converted into Buddhist temples in the 15th century.

Luang Prabang was declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations in 1995. The architecture within the site is French, and reminded us of a kinder, gentler New Orleans. Tropical plantings surround the small, elegant boutique hotels. Second level balconies are set for dinner. What would be ornate wrought iron in Paris or New Orleans is carved of teak and set above arched doorways. The predominant mode of transportation is the bicycle; the few trucks and motorcycles we saw in heritage site were surprisingly quiet. We did not miss the noise of tuk tuks. The French brought an amazing cuisine with them in addition to beautiful architecture, and we eagerly sampled it. Sitting in an elegant, open-air restaurant that could be found in almost any sophisticated city, we completely enjoyed our smoked duck salad, duck confit and grilled shrimp. And we loved that our entrees were served with sticky rice!

In Pak Noi, children and novices greeted us with small flowers and followed us everywhere but didnít beg.

We wandered the little lanes, visited markets and museum and, of course, ran into our friends from the Luang Say. They shared our enchantment with this tiny city. I believe weíll all come back.

For more information on the Laung Say, visit www. asian-oasis.com.


Be lucky, visit Phra Thad Hariphunchai Temple

Preeyanoot Jittawong

Visits to the Phra Thad Hariphunchai Temple, Lamphun and important temples in Chiang Mai have been arranged by the Tourism Authority of Thailand Northern Office Region 1, in cooperation with Air Asia and Chiang Mai Association of Travel Tours.

These trips are to encourage Thai citizens to travel on weekdays instead of working, to persuade Buddhists to experience the Lanna land in which Buddhism has been flourishing, and to view art and architecture in temples such as Phra Thad Lampang Lung Temple (one of the unseen Thailand places), Chedi Sau Lang Temple, Phra Thad Hariphunchai Temple (a temple of the year of the Cock), Phra Thad Doi Suthep Temple, Phra Singh Temple and Jet Yod Temple.

TAT will accept bookings now, and the exact period over which the trips will take place will depend on the number of participants. At this stage, no date has been set. Those interested should contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand Northern Office Region 1 telephone 0 5324 8604 and 0 5328 4607 or at Chiang Mai Association of Travel Tour by 0 5381 9314-5.