I’m not getting lazy. Trent just happens to be a great writer with lots of good stuff to say about our sabbatical adventures. So, here is another guest blog post by him, all about our four days in Luang Prabang, which is fun to say and fun for play! Luang Prabang!
Trent just chillin’ with a Beer Lao at Utopia, overlooking the Nam Khang River.
By guest blogger: Trent, my hubs
Our adventure continued with a visit to Luang Prabang, Laos. This is a relaxed, friendly town that sits in a beautiful mountain valley, where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. This area has been inhabited for thousands of years, and is ‘the Jewel of the Mekong’. A British expat who lives in Luang Prabang proudly told us it was the royal capital of Laos for centuries until 1975, and it is still home to many monks, teachers, artists, and traditional craftsmen. For us, Luang Prabang was all of that and also a wonderful place to simply relax.
Us at Utopia, on the same deck that Trent did sunrise yoga the next morning (I slept in). It was a cloudy day, but you can see the mountains in the distance. Oh, and lime juice. Yum.
Songkran (New Year celebration) was still underway when we arrived in Luang Prabang. This festival is about washing away any junk you’re holding onto from the past year, fully living in the present moment, and beginning the new year cleansed and purified. Experiencing this multi-day party in three cities (Bangkok & Vientiane & Luang Prabang) allowed us appreciate the similarities and differences across cultures and regions. People everywhere celebrate Songkran with joyful exuberance and prolific laughter and vast amounts of water.
It’s the Year of the Peacock in Laos.
Everybody got wet in the Luang Prabang Songkran parade, even the monks and the police
In Bangkok, everyone wears brightly colored shirts and carries super soaker waterguns. Massive, multi-block parties spring up and a pervasive energy fills the air. Songkran in Bangkok is big and bright and loud and an incredible experience. Please check out that blog post & all the photos.
Songkran in Bangkok, Silom Road, (and below)
In Vientiane, revelers use water-filled buckets and inflatable pools, instead of waterguns. There aren’t party blocks and (relatively) safe zones. Instead everyone is simply playing. It’s awesome that adults play together and smile and cheer with strangers. We need more of this playfulness in America. I loved it when the staff from our hotel decided to dunk me. Three ladies dragged/pulled me into the bathtub-sized inflatable pool outside the hotel, thoroughly dunked me & then gave me free beer. I returned the fun by dunking each of them in turn. Songkran was successfully. I feel really cleansed and free.
Songkran in Vientiane, Laos
In Luang Prabang, Songkran is celebrated with a massive parade. Monks come from all over to represent their Wats. Provincial leaders ride floats that celebrate Luang Prabang’s numerous awards and distinctions. Hill tribes walk proudly together wearing their traditional costumes and dancing ancient dances. Musicians play instruments unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. My favorite group was two dozen boys wearing monkey costumes (Hanuman’s cadre) followed by two dozen girls in traditional Laos dress (the procession of virgins). Fortunately a kind local noticed my curiosity. He explained the group was dressed as characters from the Ramayana, which I learned is an ancient Sanskrit poem that dwarfs Homer’s Odyssey in both length and cultural importance. Water is still intrinsic to Songkran, but in Luang Prabang the tone is a bit more…reverential. I watched a shopkeeper with a hose respectfully splash the feet of several passing monks. Young people dress up in nice clothes to pour water on Buddha statues & then collect the water, which has now become sacred. There were still plenty of shrieks of joy when one group ambushes another group with water.
Songkran was fun, and it wasn’t the only thing we loved. Here are some of my other favorite memories from Luang Prabang.
There is a big hill in the middle of town, adorned with golden stupa. Local legend says that in antiquity, Hanuman moved this mountain for his queen. Originally, it was in a remote area & it was the only place that her favorite mushrooms grew. So, he moved the entire mountain to Luang Prabang for her and placed it outside the royal palace.
In much of Southeast Asia, the Mekong river has been the center of life and civilization for as long as anyone can remember. It defines the region in much the same way that the Amazon river shapes a large portion of South America. The Mekong forms part of the border between Thailand and Laos. In our travels, we drove past two Wats that stand on opposite banks of the Mekong river, separated by perhaps 1000 feet of water. Both Wats have a large Buddha statue – gold leaf, two stories tall, seated, looking out at the world with endless compassion. The statues are oriented to look out over the river, facing one another. Such a cool sight.
Bamboo bridges like the one behind me provided river crossings.
Oh, the food! We have eaten delicious food all across Asia. In Laos my favorite dish is Laap, which a light, fresh, and healthy meal that we discovered in Luang Prabang. It has lime, garlic, mint, lettuce and chicken (or another protein) combined in a kind of blended salad, served with sticky rice. Simply delicious! I liked Laotian Laap so much that I forgot to try another local dish: ‘Mekong river weeds’.
Now, I’m going to change the tone of this blog to discuss a somber topic. I was surprised when a local told us that ‘Laos was bombed more heavily than any other country ever has been in history, by America.’ Google and numerous credible news sources confirm this shocking statement. The US dropped more bombs on Laos than fell on all of Europe during WW2. We are talking about hundreds of millions of bombs. There are still millions of unexplored munitions scattered across in Laos – mostly tennis-ball sized cluster bombs that kids call ‘bombies’. I’m embarrassed about my ignorance of the conflict that Laos call ‘America’s War’. Today, Lao artists and craftsmen turn bomb casings into planters and jewelry and various items. Several Wats in Luang Prabang make a symbolic statement by growing flowers in ‘bombies’.