Day 313 of 400: Luang Prabang – Laos

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Breakfast was nice and relaxing this morning sitting outside on the river with our coffee and eggs.  Our guide met us after breakfast to show us around Luang Prabang which is well-known for its temples and monasteries, particularly the Wat Cham Si temple sitting at the top of a large hill in the center of town.  Luang Prabang is a world heritage Unesco site and for good reason, it is full of culture and customs…every morning for example, after the bell rings throughout the city, hundreds of monks walk the streets and both locals and tourists place extra food in their bowls to feed them.  Monks do not work, they study buddhism and therefore live with the most basic of accommodations…hard beds, basic foods etc.

As our guide led us from one temple to the next, he explained what the symbols meant and pointed out the differences in the body positions of each statue.  There is so much symbolism within these statues which represents different moments in the life of Buddha.  One shows a meditative state, one shows charity, compassion, protection…the list goes on and on.  Even the amount of fingers the statue is holding up or the way it is holding its hands have symbolic meanings…for example each of the five fingers starting with the thumb represent sky, wind, fire, water and the earth.  It was fascinating to learn about this culture in which we were not accustomed to in the US.  We always had to take off our shoes to walk into each temple and we would stop and look at some of the stories drawn into their walls as our guide explained what we were viewing.  It was really interesting to watch people on their knees praying and lighting candles for loved ones etc.  The amount of elaborate work that has gone into each of these temples was very impressive and intriguing to learn about…between temples we also saw several monasteries with several monks walking around.  The guide pointed out the slight differences in how the monks were wearing their uniforms…whether the shoulder was showing or the difference in how the rope was tied around their waist was a sign of how far along they were in their studies etc.

After visiting many many temples, we walked by a women who was frying long skinny black things in a pot sitting on the ground…we pointed and questioned what she was cooking and although she spoke no English, she smiled and handed us a free bag of it.  The guide told us they were mushrooms…we put one into our mouth and were pleasantly surprised…they were crispy and salty…not a mushroom consistency.  We thanked her and a few more steps down the sidewalk saw a big pile of coconuts waiting for someone to buy them.  We couldn’t resist…they cut it open, placed a straw in it and we were sucking down the soothing coconut juice.  The guide brought us to the market area to show us the various vendors selling their food…we saw all kinds of meats, veggies, fruits, snacks as well as crafts.  The market was coming to a close since it was early afternoon and the guide told us he would see us tomorrow so we could enjoy the city on our own for the rest of the day.

There were tons of little boutique type shops specifically in silver jewelry and antiques.  They are also big into haggling so we had fun finding our treasures and getting good prices for them.  Giff found an antique silver bowl which is really ornate and very oriental in style…it is kind of heavy and something about it was really intriguing to Giff.  We made a deal with the shop owner for the bowl and some jewelry and continued on our way.

After we had done our share of shopping, we had worked up an appetite and found a cute little place who pulled us in by cooking right on the sidewalk.  We sat and ordered the chips they were making from scratch…peeling the potato and dropping the slices into the hot oil.  We also ordered some of the pancakes which were Thai style…little balls  filled with coconut cream and green onions.  After dinner we walked around a bit more and then went back to our place to unwind and settle in for the evening.

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