Previous month:
December 2012
Next month:
February 2013

Laos: Monks, Temples, and Touring



 Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Laos

November 2012


Highlights from our trip....



Monk procession 19

The procession of the monks.  This ritual takes place every single day in Luang Prabang.  It is called "tak bak", or the gathering of alms.  It starts around 6 am, rain or shine.  Unfortunately, two of our mornings it was in the rain.  And I did ask the monk above if I could take his photo by pointing at my camera.  



Monk procession 2


We were surprised at the quantity of monks.  All walking silently, single file, collecting food in their bright saffron robes.  The procession is ordered from the oldest to the youngest monk. 


Monk procession 3


Each monk carries a large bowl, attached to a strap hanging from his shoulder.  Sticky rice is the most common food given, but they also receive fruit, crackers, and cookies.


Monk procession 8


It is thought, that if you feed the monks, it will bring you good karma.  We both took turns feeding them, but not for that reason.  We just wanted to help.



Monk procession 11


Locals feed them everyday.  They sit down on a mat, take off their shoes, and kneel to feed them.  We wondered if this little guy did it with his grandma every day?



Monk procession 12


The first day D fed them from a bowl of rice we purchased from a local woman.  He was giving out pretty big fistfuls, and then we realized just how many monks there were.  He ran out very quickly.  We then watched the locals give out a tiny pinch. 



Monk procession 15


With almost eighty temples in Luang Prabang, this adds up to hundreds of monks, who take different routes depending on where their temple is located.



Monk procession 4


Most practice Theravada Buddhism.  Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and it is the "oldest" school.  



Monk procession 6


Unfortunately, with the increased tourism in Luang Prabang it has endangered the tak bat ceremony, as many tourists view the ritual as a tourist attraction, not as a religious ceremony to be respected.   We tried to respect them and stay off to the side (the photos were zoomed in).  


Monk procession 7


They say that Lao's officials are considering stopping the ritual as too many tourists are interrupting the ceremony and using flash, which distracts them from their meditation.  We did not use flash on our cameras.  See my dos and don't list so we can all help to preserve this ceremony.


Monk procession 1


An interesting thing is that most of the locals are poor themselves.  We watched the monks give food back to young children and dogs.  It was a fascinating system.



Monk procession 14


Here you can see the older monks dropping large handfuls of rice into the children's baskets.



Monk procession 9

I love this shot with the monk looking up at us.  The ritual is done in silence; the alms givers do not speak, nor do the monks. The monks walk in meditation.


Monk procession 10


This ritual has been going on for many centuries.  It is a symbiotic relationship between the monks and the alms givers.   Tak bat supports both the monks (who need the food) and the alms givers (who need spiritual redemption).


Monk procession 5


I wondered if it bothered the monks to have to eat food handled by so many different people (referring mainly to the tourists).


Monk procession 13


The dogs have become very smart and follow the monks for small treats.  D made a little friend.


Monk procession 16


It surprised me that in such a poor country a dog would have a dress???  And then the condition of it... notice how tattered the little dress is.  Like so many of the children, she has worn her dress very hard. 


Monk procession 17



Here is a list of "dos" and "don'ts" to help you, if you plan to visit:

 When you give alms:

Kneel to feed the monks.  Take off your shoes.  Make sure your head is not higher than theirs.  Bow to show respect.  Make sure you are properly dressed i.e. no shorts or sleeveless shirts (same rules as when you visit a temple.  Do not make eye contact.  Do not touch them.  Do not talk to them.

When you are not giving alms: 

Keep a respectful distance.  Use your camera zoom.  Do not use your flash.  You will be tempted as they walk at sunrise and there is little light.  Do not make eye contact.  Do not touch them.  Do not talk to them.



The Elephants


The other highlight was our fabulous elephant ride.  Click here to read the full post on this adventure.





The Children


We enjoyed getting off the beaten track to see how the local live.   We took several photos of the village children.  To see these photos, click here.



Laos 62



Temples and Buddhas


Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia.  It is bordered by Burma, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  Its population is close to 6.5 million .  You can trace Loas history to the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century.


Laos 15



I love the shape of the Temples in Laos.  Their architecture is a mix of French colonial and Buddhist with some influences from Thailand.  The Haw Pha Bang or Royal Palace is a relatively new structure, built in 1963.   

 Laos 2


Up until very recently, Laos was difficult to travel to because of war and politics.  Now, Laos is considered a hot spot for travelers.  We were walking around Vientiane for about 15 minutes and I turned to D and said I have not seen a single Laos person – I have only seen tourists.  And most were young backpackers.  This surprised us.  I love this image below.  The young monk with a cell phone!  It shows how times have changed.


Laos 9

The main attractions for tourists include food, temples (wats), Buddhist culture and architecture.  Luang Prabang was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.  


Laos 3


Wat Xieng Thong was built in 1559-1560 and is one of the most important temples in Laos.  During the 1960s it was completely remodeled and redecorated.  The image above shows its famous Tree of Life mosaic in colored glass on a dark red background, created in 1960 by a Laos artist.  


Laos 4


It has intricate, colorful mosaic on the exterior walls.   



Laos 5


Of the people of Laos 67% are Theravada Buddhist, 1.5% are Christian, and 31.5% are other.  Laos is a Communist state with the official language of the government being Laos, however only slightly more than half of the population can speak Lao, the remainder speaking various ethnic minority languages, particularly in rural areas.  



Laos 6


Wat Nong Sikhounmuang (above) is one of the bigger temples in Luang Prabang. It was built in 1729, burned down by a fire in 1774, and restored in 1804.  The temple below is an older temple, off the beaten path, so it does not receive the donations like the better known ones or ones in the main part of town.  It therefore has not been restored.



Laos 7


That Pathoum, or Stupa is known as That Makmo (Watermelon) because of its rounded dome


Laos 8


Most of the doors to the temples have elaborate carvings painted in gold leaf.  They depict scenes from Buddha's life.


Laos 10


Laos 11



Laos 12


Laos 14


The Naga, a mythical multi-headed snake. You see these at most temples.


Laos 16




Buddha images are not just for decoration, they are objects of religious worship. 

 Laos 27

 Laos 22



Laos 24


 Laos 1



Touring around town......


Laos is known for its silk and local handicrafts.  I bought several beautiful scarves for gifts. It is rich in natural resources like timber, gypsum, tin, gold, and other gemstones.




These tortilla-like food objects lying on grass mats to dry in the sun facinated us.  They even put them on the roofs.


Laos 35


We never did get to taste it, and I could not find anything about them on the internet.


Laos 36


This was a parade of some sort - there were about 10 trucks filled with people and plants.  All singing and laughing and having fun.  The Laos people in general are happy helpful people.


Laos 66


A little food and drink.....


We discovered a very modern wine bar where the inside was set up outside. 


Laos 87


Sticky Rice is served everywhere in Laos and this is very different from other Asian countries.  Sticky rice cultivation and production is thought to have originated in Laos.  I really liked the sticky rice.  It is always served in little baskets and is brown.


Laos 89


Grilling was very popular here.  They had a unique way of tying them up with a bamboo skewer.


Laos 88

We enjoyed all of the food we ate.  They tend to eat more salads than other Asian countries.  


Laos 91


Laos 92


Looking back at Luang Prabang from across the river.  We really enjoyed our trip to Laos, especially the visit to the elephant reserve.  


Laos 85


Please continue to the next blog post to see some sweet photos of children in Laos.


Laos: Children of the villages


We love to get off the beaten track and find small villages where tourist don't normally roam.  You can tell this by the reaction of the children.  If  they ask for money to take their photo, they are used to seeing tourists....  If they are happy to just see their image in the camera... then they are not used to seeing tourists.  



Laos 53


The following photos were taken in a little village just outside of Vientiane. We had so much fun photographing the children as they were so happy to see us.


Laos 57



Laos 58


This little guy caught my eye.  I loved his handmade necklace!


Laos 60




Laos 59


 D having a chat... the children spoke a little English.



Laos 61


Their moms were nearby so we asked them if we could take the children's photos.  Notice the house in the background. 


Laos 63




Laos 64

 As soon as you hold up your camera, they give the peace sign.  This is universal in most Asian countries.



Laos 56


This was another group.


  Laos 41



Love this little one peeking out from behind his big brother.



Laos 42


  Laos 44



Such a little old man!



Laos 45



This group was precious!  They were squealing with excitement... wanting us to take their photos, yet a little bit afraid. 



Laos 46




Laos 48



Their mother was right by them, but they were still shy.   



Laos 49



This photo deserved to be blown up to see the middle girls face - priceless!



Laos 50




Laos 51


There seemed to be more boys than there were girls.  Unfortunately, mortality rates for children under five in Laos are the highest in Southeast Asia (70 per 1,000 births) and second highest in all of Asia, behind only Afghanistan (stats as of 12.12).


  Laos 83



Laos 54



Laos 55


The next set of photos was taken in the little village across the river from Luang Prabang.  We had heavy rain the day before, so the streets were very muddy.


Laos 78

A beautiful child!


Laos 73



Look closely at the photo below - the little girl is playing with her doll on the porch next to the family rooster.   



Laos 74


D loves to buy food and give it out to the children.  Below, he is buying popcorn balls and peanuts.  He tries not to buy candy and buys from the local shops to help support the community. 



Laos 79


Here he is giving out popcorn balls to children coming home from school for their lunch break.  Even the dog wants to see what is going on. 


Laos 80


This yound boy is so serious.  D tried to get him to smile, but he wouldn't.  



Laos 82



The pied-piper... children and dogs following D.



Laos 84


Where are all the mothers?  Gambling!  We couldn't figure out what the game was, but they were busy playing it.  I love how they all are so busy except the older woman in the middle - she is watching us.


Laos 76



Laos 75


The last few photos are of children in the main town of Luang Prabang.  The first one is one of my favorites.

 Laos 67


Laos 72


 The snack cart at recess.


Laos 71

 To read all about our fun adventure in Laos, click here.




Udon Thani - Northern Thailand


Udon Thani, Thailand

November, 2012


There were no direct flights into Laos, so we flew to Bangkok, then to Udon Thani.  From there, we crossed the border into Laos by bus.  Udon Thani, the 4th largest city in Thailand, is known as a gateway to Laos.  Since we were not in a hurry, we opted to spend two nights there.  


Udon thani 4

It was special for us because Don Senior was stationed there during the Vietnam War at a major Thai & US Air Force base.  

We stayed in a B&B that was way off the beaten path from the main part of town.  Love the little dog in the middle and the driver is holding the baby.




Here we are eating Belgian food.....did I say Belgian food?  Oddly enough our B&B was owned by a Belgian couple (Tony and Chris)  and Jet, a Thai lady.  Chris was an awesome cook and we were nostalgic for a little "belgian taste".


Udon thani 1


We had great fun at the B&B (Homestay STC).  We rode bicycles and a scooter.  I have not been on a bike since I was 7.....well maybe once in my 20's   :  )   And I am not a BIG fan of scooters - but there was no traffic where we were riding.



Udon thani 10


 And I did not ride alone....I was on the back of D's.



Udon thani 9


 Loving this and easy!


  Udon thani 11



Just chillin' - watching the sun set......



Udon thani 32


This guy was the only fisherman out on the lake that evening - it was so serene.



Udon thani 31



The colors were really this intense.  We took over 600 photos that evening - be thankful I am only sharing four  :  ). 



Udon thani 34


We decided it was one of the "top 5" most beautiful sunsets we have seen.


Udon thani 33


The next day we toured around town and hung with the locals.  This gentleman lived across the road from the B&B and he made beautiful baskets by hand.


Udon thani 2


He did not have any finished when we visited, but said he would have one in the morning for me.  The cost $1.50 USD.  REALLY.  I gave him $3.00.


Udon thani 21


Here is a close up of the basket.  It is a very common basket in this part of the country used for serving rice.  This one was special for me since we got to meet the artist who made it.


  Basket (1)


Local shops around town...

It was fun to see some of the local businesses.

The butcher...


Udon thani 15



The gas station...



  Udon thani 16


Ths snack shop...


Udon thani 22

The auto mechanic...


Udon thani 18


The farmer...


Udon thani 19

We visited a dragon fruit farm which was fascinating as we did not know how they grew.  I did a post on it back in february, click here to read more about this exotic fruit. 


Udon thani 6


They grow on a cactus like treeD just read an article in Time Magazine that said this is going to be the next new "super fruit" in the United States.  Have you tasted one?


Udon thani 7


Udon thani 8



We visited a few temples.  All were very quiet with only locals.


Udon thani 24



Udon thani 26

 A favorite temple of the dogs!


Udon thani 23

We took a one-hour bus ride to cross the border into Laos.  The bus was very local with only one other tourist.  D was taking a photo of me by the bus when this guy said he wanted to be in the photo.  Then.....



Udon thani 35


The women who was selling food on the bus jumped down and said she wanted to be in the photo too!  Look closely in the windows where all the locals are watching.  Priceless!


  Udon thani 36


 Next Stop....Laos!


Recap of 2012 - A Year of Adventure!


2012 - what a fun year





Singapore 71



I can't believe a year has gone by.  On December 30, we moved across the world to Asia..... Singapore to be exact.  We spent most of January discovering our neighborhood, our bus and metro routes, and shopping for food and household items.  Everyday was a learning experience! 

Our first trip was Bangkok, Thailand in February.  We ended up visiting Bangkok 4 times over the year.  I calculated a few fun facts about our travels:


Singapore 82 


Countries visited:  10 

China, Indonesia, India, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia,

Thailand (5x), US (2x), Vietnam (2x)  

Continents:  4 (well, if we count New Zealand)

Hotels:  28  (34 for D)

Airplane flights :  40 (52 for D)

Nights away from home:   117 nights

We selected a favorite photo from each place we visited.  If you click on the country link in red it will take you to the full post on the trip.

Our favorite???  SO hard to pick.  We can say the elephant ride in Laos was the highlight for the year.  And the surprise sight was the Taj Mahal, which was absolutely stunning in person.  A must see!



** February **


Thailand - Bangkok



Grass 66



** March **


New Zealand - North and South islands



New zealand blog 38



Thailand, Bangkok



Temple 6


** April **


Thailand - Bangkok





** May **


Vietnam - Hanoi



  Vietnam people 36



Vietnam - Ha Long Bay



Ha long bay 15



Indonesia - Bali



Bali blog 66



** July **


Russia - Moscow



From russia



** August **


Russia - St Petersburg



Tt looking down



China - Yangshou



Yangshuo china 107



China - Longji



  Rice fields china 31



** September **


Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)  


Saigon lady on bike3



India - New Delhi and Agra



Taj altered 2



** November **


Thailand - Bangkok



Bangkok nov 3



Thailand -  Udon Thani

tbp (to be posted)



Sunset copy




the elephant ride






More on Laos in January




We can't wait to see where 2013 takes us.  So far, we have trips scheduled for Myanmar, Bangalore (India), Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Bali, and Jakarta.  On my quest to reach 50 countries by 50 - I am at 48, I am pretty sure I will make it in 2013 (D is already at 50).



Texture tuesday greetings from asia



Happy New Year to you!  A big "thank you" for taking the time to stop by our blog to read about our travel adventures.  We hope it inspires you to see the world!