Living it up in Luang Prabang. Days 14-15, Pt 2

Undoubtedly, being awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO does gives a destination a very big plus point. With recoqnition comes fame, followed by fortune in the form of tourist dollars. Unlike so many cities that suffer the inevitable decline into more glitz and kitzch than the tourist can handle, the likes of Luang Prabang will, hopefully, stay the same, thanks to the strict guidelines that UNESCO insists upon.
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And so, with thoughts of enjoying this lovely town, I took an extra day off and roamed the streets soaking in the rich culture and heritage that it had to offer. Of course, there was no better way to start the day than with an excellent local breakfast ….

Breakfast Pho -- clear tasty soup with strips of tender pork garnished with crunchy bean sprouts, spring onions and pungent coriander leaves, accompanied by...

...sweet, thick Lao coffee. Quite often, coffee came with a complimentary glass of light but flavoursome Lao tea, possibly to balance the strong taste of the coffee.

This nice lady ran the shop I had breakfast at on both days I was here. It's just a few doors away from the tourist information office, and opposite the day-market. One of the boys who was playing with the oil lamps at the temple the night before turned out to be her son; I recoqnised his mischievous face as he was getting on his bike to go to school.

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The tourist belt of Luang Prabang -- guest-houses, shops, Internet cafes, laundry and more

An obviously French remnant of Laos' colonial past in excellent running condition.

As far as Buddhist temples are concerned, it’s a been-there-done-that thing for me, having seen my fair share of them across Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.  Still, I did a quick tour of a few that were located in town. Monks were, of course, a common sight and they are much revered. Every morning at dawn the faithful laity would wait reverently for the monks to come by, earning for themselves valuable karma in their present life.

But today was different. It was the Buddhist Lent, a kind of celebration after the rains, and the town was in a celebratory mood…

Brightly coloured flowers were sold everywhere on the streets; to be used as offerings no doubt.

Patiently waiting for the monks. Patience is a virtue that seems to be prevalent among Buddhists in these parts of the world, unlike the Vietnamese who worshipped mainly Chinese gods.

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The saffron parade making its way across town.

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One of them seems to have a disdain for the rice that was being served

This was a scene outside of town. Monks, as far as I know, weren't supposed to desire anything worldly, let alone money. I had no idea what this bed-like structure was all about. I suspect it was used for the faithful to show their faith.

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A little later, they took the whole thing apart, and of course, the money.

Even monks chill ... with a ciggie. no less.

One of the many Buddhas residing in serene splendour on Phu Si hill.

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A elaborate paper boat waits to be launched into the Mekong that night.

A beautful example of Lao temples. This one was an elaborate work of golden art.

This temple, the name of which I can't recall, is very old, and wasn't as fancy as the modern ones.

Besides Buddhist attractions, Luang Prabang has its fair share of oddities, like this one: located inside the grounds of a museum, these petrol pumps stood forlorn against the greenery that surrounded them.

And the popular potent brews of deadly reptiles that never ceased to amaze me. Unlike the ones in the night market which sold whole bottles of the stuff, this stall located on the banks of the river offered to cheer you up for only 5,000 Kip per shot.

That afternoon, I decided to contribute a little more to the tourism industry. I had read about the cave of a thousand buddhas and I was fascinated. It was called Pak Ou caves and it was located about 20km out of town, half of it on a rutted country road. Earlier, I had also bumped into 2 fellow Malaysians and we all decided that it might be fun to check this place out. After some typically Malaysian-style bargaining, we headed out to the caves on a tuk-tuk, or 3-wheeled taxi.

After a bumpy, bone-shaker of a ride, we arrived at the village facing the caves on the other side of the Mekong. To get across, one had to hire a boat.

It wasn't often that I was on the other end of the camera. This was shot by my Malaysian friends as we were crossing the river to Pak Ou.

The entrance to Pak Ou caves

Just as I had feared, it turned out to be an over-hyped attraction and, in my book, a tourist trap. The entry fee was 20,000 Kip, and together with the tuk-tuk's 180,000 Kip which was shared among the 3 of us, and the additional 10,000 KIp each to cross the river, I didn't feel it was worth it. It was nothing more than a cave filled with retired Budhha idols. The story behind it was fascinating, but then again it would still be as fascinating just reading about it.

... I guess I was just a little bored with one Buddha idol too many.

Next: A long ride up into the mountains of Kiewkacam

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