Today, February 2nd 2014 is election day throughout Thailand. We live in Bangkok, Thailand much of the year. For those living in the USA or other western countries, particularly those who don’t possess a passport, that may be difficult to fathom in the best of times and impossible to imagine during times of civil unrest, which presently exists including a government mandated State of Emergency prohibiting any meeting of 5 or more persons, among other draconian measures currently in place.
The above picture shows where we “lived” from January 15th, 2014 to January 28th, 2014, a river view place in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you look closely you can see the alarm clock, caged on the sidewalk. The two cities could not be more different. I have no idea what the future of Bangkok holds, including the next 6 hours when I am to meet two Facebook friends for a scheduled first face to face meeting. Face to face beats Facebook, most every time, but the political situation is making those meetings more perilous than one would like. So, I’m taking the time today to look backward at Luang Prubang, rather than look forward. Call me a contrarian.
As peaceful as Luang Prabang was it is difficult at times like these to understand why a Buddhist country like Thailand has so much difficulty finding a middle path?
Luang Prabang is known for its temples and many monks who live and study in those temples. We saw plenty of both during our two week stay.
The picture above was taken in the morning as monks proceed up the stairs to an older temple for their morning study session.
It was the everyday life that I enjoyed most. Sure, we partook in the touristy stuff. But it was the in between moments that linger in my mind. Above is a picture of a typical street you would find in the UNESCO World Heritage city.
Boys and girls on their bikes on the way to school or back from school or just for fun on a weekend, everywhere. 1950s California images kept conjuring up in my mind – all good ones.
Cultural sightings, for which I make no judgments, like this friendly cock fight we saw at a local village just 20 minutes outside Luang Prabang.
This cock fight was strictly recreational. They wore no fighting gear other than what nature gave them. The real cock fights, the ones held in villages throughout Laos, take place every Saturday and Sunday afternoon in their own special stadium with seats for the viewers and an arena for the fighting cocks. Gambling, of course, takes place as does drinking. I passed on the opportunity to go – too many other things I’d rather see and do. One local told us that foreigners are welcome and do go, occasionally. The last one he saw there was from Australia. Oie, oie, oie.
This site is about the people, places and things in South East Asia as well as literature and music. When traveling locally or afar it is the people you meet that can make your day. Here is one such person, named Mikan. A Laos national he worked for the communist government during the Viet Nam War, had to escape the country in the mid 70s to Thailand where he spent two years before gaining refugee status in France. He spent over 30 years in France, has two children living there and returned to Laos less than 10 years ago to retire. Mikan is 67 years old. We ran into Mikan after the morning alms ceremony for the monks, which Luang Prabang is noted for. When I asked Mikan how often he and his wife participate in the alms giving ceremony he repied, “Every day.” He seemed like a peaceful man who believed, sincerely, in merit making.
Mikan and his wife owned an older property not far from the Khan River, one of two rivers Luang Prabang is situated between – the other being the mighty Mekong. Mikan operated a simple cafe, open for breakfast and lunch only. This is the breakfast he prepared for me for about $3.00 USA.
When I worked as a paralegal in California my boss would come into the office in a good mood and say, “We’re all in our places, with bright shiny faces.” It wasn’t always true but in Luang Prabang you got the sense that everyone knew their place and seemed content with their lot in life, at least on the surface. This woman’s job, which she did everyday at the same time and place, was to separate “river weed”. The nutritional equivalent of seaweed, I would surmise. It could be found on many of the local restaurant menus. We tried it – It’s tasty.
We also met and talked with two Thai musicians who performed 7 nights a week at a Khan River restaurant. They had signed a 5 month contract to work in Luang Prabang for the high season for room and board and salary. Not a bad gig if you ask me. When in Bangkok they told me they played at a club on Khao San Road.
There were cultural events that we attended, including a Laos version of the Ramayana an epic play which I am very familiar with and have seen performed over 20 times. I actually knew what was going on with Prince Rama, Princess Sita and Hanuman, King of the monkeys and his many loyal followers. Thailand needs a politician with the character of Hanuman. And I am serious.
The play was performed by the Laos National Ballet company on the grounds of the former Royal Palace, which has been converted to a National Museum and Theatre.
Memories of Luang Prabang would start as soon we awoke and got out into the streets, which we did before sunrise on two occasions – here a man warms himself beneath a string of the many lighted lanterns found on the streets of Luang Prabang.
Sunsets were also memorable and we caught as many as we could including one on a riverboat dinner ride. Here is a typical Luang Prabang sunset taken from the bank of the Mekong.
The local markets, another part of everyday life, were also memorable. Luang Prabang is a paradise first and foremost but a photographers paradise to boot.
All good things come to an end and after our two weeks in Luang Prabang we had to leave the fireworks above, which we saw on our last night there as part of a military holiday celebration, to the more damaging fireworks of Bangkok. As I write this I can hear the (literal) whistle blowers, anti-government demonstrators from our condo. Just two days ago the constant firecrackers of Chinese New Year could be heard. Now one hopes the sounds of gunshots will not ring out. At least 10 have already died and there were shoot outs last night.
It took us over 12 years of living in Thailand, part-time, to get to Luang Prabang. If you get a chance to visit, go or better yet make it happen. I found it telling that not one person I communicated with who had been to Luang Prabang – and there were many – had a single bad thing to say about the place. Jame DiBiasio, the author of Gaijin Cowgirl, may have summed it up best for me in a discussion we had on his excellent blog, www.asiahacks.com. Jame told me he vowed never to go back because, “Some experiences can’t be topped.” I liked that sentiment at the time. I understand it even better, now.