Do you ever play that game of “What Was I Doing A Year Ago Today”? I do it all the time. Well not everyday… but usually in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and I’ve exhausted every other app on my iPhone. That’s when I start scrolling through years worth of calendars past.
Three years ago right now I was methodically (and excitedly) packing for a three week trip to SE Asia. The original plan had been to meet up with a friend who was traveling the world. But plans changed and I ended up traveling alone over the Christmas holidays. To be honest, that was a lot harder than I ever wanted to admit. Spending Christmas eve and Christmas day alone in a foreign country is not for the weary. Watching everyone else have a jolly ol’ time was the hardest part and I still get an uncomfortable feeling just thinking about it. I need to remember that feeling and take advantage of the fact that I will see lots and lots of family this year and enjoy it.
Without further ado, here’s what I had to say back in 2008 during the lead up to Christmas. I spent a few days in blissful Bangkok before heading off to Laos and Vietnam. Now I want to go back…
I flew over the mountains and into the tiny airport for Luang Prabang. It was the luxurious way to arrive, sparing me from a 12-hour bus ride through the fog and along the edge of the mountain to get here. How is it that places and events are never what you expect them to be? Instead of wide boulevards and multi-storied balconied buildings, Luang Prabang is more Carmel, with wooden signs that all look the same naming the restaurants, shops and sights. The entire city of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some argue it is the most beautiful town in SE Asia.
Laos itself is sandwiched between Thailand, Vietnam and China and has remained largely removed from the modern world until recently. But now that it is on the traveler’s map, Laos is changing rapidly, modernizing and sweeping in to reap the rewards of a tourist industry. To be honest, Luang Prabang is almost too discovered. On the plus side, some smart entrepreneurs who understand how depleting to the culture the tourist industry can be, have come in and set up eco-tourism companies and fair trade shops. But it feels as if Westerners are behind many of the businesses here, they too want to make a profit.
The people of Laos are very gentle and calm and perhaps this is because the country is predominantly Theravada Buddhists. It is common for the boys to become monks for several years as part of their education and as a rite of passage, I imagine. (It definitely cuts down on the teenage angst.) The city is dotted with Buddhist temples and wats and lots and lots of Buddhas.
One of the wats I visited is also a school of arts, where young monks can practice the art of wood carving, casting, painting and drawing.
Caves where Buddha slept and imprints of Buddha’s foot are paid homage to at Wat Phu Si.
There are many different Buddhas here… Fat Buddha, Sleeping Buddha, Enlightened Buddha…
Here are some of the young monks as they come down the street waiting to be fed by the people.
The view over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang.
Monks collecting alms.