Whether Asian or Western the breakfast here is terrible. No matter.
I set out early for Wat Xieng Thong, the richest and most elaborate temple in Luang Prabang. It took a half an hour to get there not the 10 minutes that the hotel manager, Kim assured me. It didn’t matter. It was a pleasant walk along the riverfront.
The the main Temple was begun in the 16th century but other parts of the temple complex were built later. It was every bit a royal Temple. In addition to the gilded wood on the exterior I was also amazed by the mosaic in Japanese glass. It was the style that I had seen yesterday in the Royal Palace but never anywhere else.
The temple is still very much a place of worship. In the chapel of the sleeping Buddha, also called the red Chapel, there were gifts of Buddhas from the villagers in addition to the ancient sleeping Buddha. There was also the Chapel of the Sacred Buddha that had a mosaic with a tree outside which represented the tree of Illumination. On the inside there was a long trough that serve to bring the grand Buddha out on the occasion of the new year. And then there was another Chapel dedicated to the funeral procession of a king. That was built in 1960 and contains an enormous funeral carriage. The style of this temple was so very different from other temples that I had seen in, for example, Taiwan and China.
And then this Laotian lady too stylish not to photograph.
I took a tuk tuk back to the town center to begin the highlight excursion of the day; a trip to Tad Kuanxi Si waterfalls.
It took about 45 minutes to get out there in the minivan and the ride passed through some of the Laotian countryside. Villages were sparse and so were tall trees. It was obvious to me that huge patches of land had been more or less deforested. I surmised that because the vegetation in the Park contained a number of majestic trees, none of which were obvious just outside of the park.
Despite the hordes of tourists descending upon it, the park was magnificent. It was extremely well laid out and well sign posted. The short walk up the Falls began with a visit to a bear sanctuary. The small black bears were mostly sleeping in hammocks or dozing on platforms but they looked extremely well cared for. Signs explained who they were, that is each individual bear had a name and certain habits in the personality which I liked very much. The purpose of the sanctuary was to sensitize tourists to the plight of the black bear which of course is losing habitat and is in danger of disappearing.
Next we began our walk up to The Falls. You start with very tiny Falls and continue up a path along the river to get to the highest level which was really magnificent.
In addition it was even possible to swim! Which I of course did. There was a large swimming area that was also rather crowded so I chose the quieter swimming area upstream a little bit. The water was cold but not as cold as the Roya River ! Also the current was surprisingly strong even in the safe swimming area. Not to say it wasn’t safe. It certainly was.
The only annoying thing about the whole experience was the Chinese tourists who swarm over everything doing nothing but taking pictures. I think that social media has in a certain sense ruined travel. Everyone is trying to be queen of Instagram.
We got back at about 3 which was perfect. I stopped back at the hotel and then was going to make a climb to the other “must see” which was the top of Mont Phousi.
I was standing around the Temple of the Golden Buddha across the street and a couple of Americans stopped behind me and she was red-faced and tired. She said there are so many people up there it’s so hot and so crowded with people. I said could it be Asian tourists snapping pictures? And she said yes exactly. So I watched as dozens and dozens of people continued climbing up the stone steps and decided I had had pretty much enough of crowds of camara happy Asian tourists for the day. Why do I have to climb up there? Just one of those things that all the guidebooks tell you you have to do that turns out to be of course not very pleasant because everyone else has received the same instructions. The hell with it.
Instead I took a walk through the historic quarter, which was surprisingly calm. I stopped at some travel agencies to find out whether it might be possible to arrange a tour of the outlying villages but nothing seems that definite.
One agency called White Elephant offered a 20 km track through the jungle and then an overnight in a Hmong village but frankly I don’t think I could make it. Not in this heat.
Then I fell into conversation with another young couple who had taken the boat ride along the Mekong which frankly sounds fabulous. It was the slow boat and they said it was surprisingly comfortable with bar that sold cold drinks, a toilet and enough space to move around. I so wish I had time to do it. Next time!
I browsed some boutiques and bought a wonderful pair of silk pants and then went for dinner at Bamboo Tree which turned out to be excellent. It was a big splurge that came to a total of $11 but at the food was fabulous. I particularly loved red sticky rice and then the main dish was local catfish with lemongrass and vegetables and I think galangal. They offer cooking classes so that might be another idea for my free day here.