A Travellerspoint blog

March 2021

Laos : Ban Long Lao and Kuangsi

Trek and Waterfall

Ban Long Lao Conservation Area and Kuang Si Waterfall 13th August

We woke for breakfast and found our hiking clothes (Steve’s were white which caused a few raised eyebrows).
We drove out of the town and very quickly into the fields outside. It is being to be developed with former french residences being renovated into new hotels and resorts. The worst looking building was the former radio station!
We soon turned off the road and onto a dirt track leading up into the hills. We passed various villages/ hamlets, mainly Khmu (like our guide) on a scenic drive up into the mountains for about 50 minutes. Pretty much all of them had electricity and we later passed the new dam being built in the hills. As it was school holidays we saw lots of children, mainly helping with carrying firewood and fruit/ vegetables in baskets on their backs. Many of the villages banded together to provide infant/primary schools locally.
Khmu houses
KHMU & HMONG- see later
Then we drove into the village, Ban Long Lao(s)/ Tad Fan, from which we were going to start our trek, as well as pick up a local guide. A few chickens and several goats walked by. Some people said Sa-bai-dee (hello in Lao) to us. Our guide explained it was a split village- one part was Khmu (Ban Long) and one part was Hmong (Tad Fan). They would take it in turns to act as guide in the forest and this week was the Khmu turn. Between the two parts of the village was a spirit gate and a small ancestor shrine. It started to drizzle and we briefly waited under a tree in middle of the two villages. When our guide arrived he had a sort of local version of crocs on, no hat or umbrella, T-shirt and shorts. We had walking plimsolls, cagoule, long trousers, hat!
Hmong houses
He set off down a red water-running track on the village outskirts and fairly rapidly uphill. Towards the top it became more foresty, rocky with a stream-filled track. Our Khmu guide cut himself a banana leaf umbrella which was surprisingly effective. He was not the most prolix of chappies and may have said 5 words to us in the entire 2 hours! We had to start climbing over the wet slippy rocks until we got to a stopping point. We stood by a large tree (often used for photos) while our guide went to cut us 2 stout bamboo walking sticks. Then we climbed down the rocky path (now stream) the other side. As we walked our guide imitated bird song- I was quite impressed until we discovered he would use it to trap and eat them. We went on over the red soil until, surprisingly, the forest opened out into steep rice fields with people working! We were quite surprised but apparently they walk there and back (with produce) every day.
We carried on up and into the jungle proper. Steve got left behind but I managed to keep up (ish) with the guide who was happy humming and singing songs. He kept on looking about him and our guide said he was searching for bats because they were a delicacy- I asked how they ate them and he said “whole”. “What about the wings?”- Yes. “The feet?”- Yes. Oh...
Several near slips and 3 hours later we arrived at a halfway station. Steve caught up and we said goodbye to our Khmu guide who went trotting off back the way he’d come. We passed through another spirit gate, careful not to touch it. Our guide took us on, down some amazingly claggy paths with goats around, through slime pools to the top of the waterfalls. We set off down this sort-off path down, until we got to the side of the waterfall where the steps were literally IN the waterfall. On down to the first (and largest) pool. We went onto the bridge for the obvious photo opp, then came back and set off over the rocks at the base of the waterfall which were surprisingly not slippy, but had a good grip. Carrying on 2 pools down it was obviously time for a swim. I had my bikini under my clothes so I stripped off at the edge and carefully went in- rather sharp rocks to start and COLD. I chose to go in quickly! I had a nice swim across the pool until the little fish started to nibble me. The sandy-gravel base meant I could stand but by the time Steve had changed I was ready to come out. He put a toe in, decided it was cold and bottled out.
We grabbed our towels and one more pool down were shown to a picnic table where we were served an amazing fresh lunch with fish straight from the river. A humongous wasp kept bothering us but we ignored it (though later the waitress squished it). Apparently the lady cooking all the barbeque stuff was also the owner of the restaurant at the bottom of the falls.
One nice picnic later we packed up and walked past some further pools down to the Bear Rescue Centre. Most of the bears in the rescue centre were Moon bears who had been saved from bile farming. The centre is funded by donation and local government. http://www.freethebears.org.au/web/Projects/Laos/
We walked past the bears and ended back at the main entrance where there was a small market with HUGE brown bananas. We were messy but happy. Time to go back to the hotel- this time on decent roads! As we crossed the bridge in we saw a long, long, long boat being carried across by a multitude of men; presumably who were taking it for a dragon boat race practise (on the Nam Khan apparently as the Mekong is too strong). Our guide said maybe a 20-30 oar, but they could go as many as 45-oar.
We got back and relaxed by the pool until 6ish when we set off back to the main town for the Night Market. We were dropped off at Joma/ Post Office again, but headed down to the Mekong. We walked along the riverside, but couldn’t find a restaurant we liked, so we looped around back to the main street. As it began to rain we headed down a side street to Rosella Fusion Restaurant. It was a tine cafe with outdoor seating, but cheap and fulfilling. Clean and well-cooked food. A small place (blink, and you'll miss it) that looks like a fruit shake place. Locally owned by a Lao who trained at Amantaka Restaurant. best steaks in town, certainly great cocktails. Slow service, but worth it. The WHOLE time some sleazy older western man was “persuading” some eastern young lady he “wanted” to do something. Luckily the cafe owners were as aware as us.
Then (obviously) a second walk through the market, but no time to stop before (missing) our lift. Luckily it came round again.
The Kingdom of Luang Phrabang was formed in 1707 from the split of the Kingdom of Lan Xang.

  • Kitsarat 1707–13
  • Ong Kham 1713–23 cousin of Kingkitsarat, co-ruled with Inthasom, deposed 1723, later King of Lanna 1727–59
  • Thao Ang/ Inthasom 1723–49 brother of Kingkitsarat and grandson of Souligna Vongsa
  • Intharavongsa 1749. Repelled Vietnamese invasion
  • Inthaphom 1749 son Inthasom, abdicated after 8 months forbrother
  • Sotika-Kuomane 1749–68 (Burmese vassal 1765–68, son Inthasom, abdicated 1771
  • Surinyavong II 1768–88) Burmese vassl, brother Sotika
  • Siamese occupation 1791/2
  • Anurutha (3 February 1792 - 179?) (1st reign)
  • Siamese occupation (179?-1794)
  • Anurutha 1794 -1819 (2nd reign) son Inthasom
  • Manthaturath/ManthaTourath 1819-37 (Regent for Anurutha 1817-19; monk 1825/6, leaving Luang Phra Bang to be administered by Thai officials; vassal under Vietnam against Siam)
  • Unkeo 1837–38 (Regent)
  • Sukha-Söm 1838-50, Soukhaseum, son of Mantha Tourath
  • Chantha-Kuman/ T(Ch)iantharath 1850-68, son of ManthaTourath. PraBang returned by Thai King Chulalongkorn

Oun Kham, King of Luang Prabang 1872-87 and 1889-95. In 1887 Luang Prabang was sacked by Siam and he was imprisoned in Bangkok before returning. After attacks by the Black Flag wing of the Chinese Haw in 1887, he chose to accept French protection, and a French commissariat was established as a French protectorate over Laos. In 1893 a French warship sailed up the Menam River to Bangkok and trained its guns on the palace. Siam agreed to transfer all territory east of the Mekong to France, so Laos became a French colony, with the kingdom of Luang Prabang as a protectorate and the rest of the country directly administered.
Zakarine (Sakkarin(e), Sack(h)arine, Zac(k)harine) (originally Kham Souk) 1895-1904. In 1888, the King of Siam appointed him as regent for his imprisoned father, Oun Kham. Zakarine officially succeeded his father in 1895. He was succeeded by his son, King Sisavang Vong. In 1900 Viang Chan (French for Vientiane) was made the capital of Laos, though real power was exercised from Hanoi, the capital of French Indochina. The French introduced a three-tier system of administration into Laos. Ethnic minorities retained local Lao leaders, supervised by Vietnamese civil servants, answerable to French officials. Taxes traditionally paid in products, were now paid in cash. This caused resentment. The French tried to make Laos economically productive. One plan was to connect the Lao Mekong towns to coastal Vietnam by railway to encourage the migration of industrious Vietnamese peasants into Laos to replace what the French saw as the indolent and easy-going Lao. The railway construction began, but was never finished.
hike-to-kuangsi-waterfall-laos_48885678422_o.jpgForest Spirit gate
Sisavang Vong (1904-46) succeeded his father as King of Luang Prabang. During the early years of his reign, the French built a modern palace for him, the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang. By his rule he united the provinces of Houaphan, Houakhong, Xiengkhouang and Vientiane 1942; Champassak and Sayboury 1946. By WW1 80% of Lao people lived in Siam, while in Laos, ethnic Lao comprised less than 50% of the population and the rest were tribal minorities. In Luang Prabang villas were constructed for senior French officials. Nevertheless Laos remained a drain on the budget of Indochina. Corvée labour was introduced to build roads, and taxes were heavy. Coffee and opium were the most common cash crops. Sisavangvong supported French rule in Laos, refusing to cooperate with Lao nationalists and so was deposed when the Lao Issara declared the country independent. In 1946, the French reinstated him as king, but the Japanese invasion during WWII weakened France’s grip on Luang Prabang, and Laos declared its independence. France insisted Laos remain part of the French Union until 1954 (French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam).
The French population in Laos was only c600 by 1940, mostly in Vientiane. The French justified colonial rule as protecting the Lao from aggressive neighbours, particularly Siam. The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1930, managed to recruit its first two Lao members in 1935. Most ICP members in Laos were Vietnamese civil servants or miners. In 1954 Vong celebrated his Golden Jubilee- the longest-reigning king in Asia. When he became ill, he made his son Crown Prince Savang Vatthana regent. He was buried in That Luang in 1961.

Posted by PetersF 15:36 Archived in Laos Tagged trek laos waterfall luang_prabang bear hmong lao kuangsi khmu Comments (0)

Laos : Museums, Wats, Mekong and views

Luang Prabang 14th August

We woke at a sensible time and had a leisurely breakfast. I decided I really wanted to see the TAEC, so we got a lift into town. I asked to be dropped of at the museum, but they assumed I meant the Palace museum! Luckily it was only a walk around the corner back to the Dara Market, then
left up a short hill to TAEC (Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre)- really interesting http://www.taeclaos.org. We loved this small museum- it was brilliantly presented with LOADS of English information on the main ethnic groups of the area with costumes, customs, display, AV etc. Attached was Le Patio café serving traditional dishes of the 5 main minorities- Hmong, Tai Lue, Akha, Khmu and Tai Dam.

After finishing at the museum we walked back into town, past Wats Pak Khan and Siphoutthabath and right along the Nam Kham river (stopping for a cool beer at the riverside and watching the dragon boats practice), then round to edge to the Mekhong.
Nam Kham, junction of Nam Kham and Mekong, upstream Mekong

At the point there was a monk (ubiquitous in Luang Prabang) and a set of stairs (the back of Wat Xieng). As we watched a boat owner approached us on the steps and offered a (reasonable priced) boat ride down Mekong. An American girl asked if she could buy my elephant jumpsuit locally; but I said no, only in the UK. We agreed a price for the boat trip and off we set. Quite interesting- we were about half an hour in (no, not really any snakes; yes, lots of villas to see; yes, that was a dragon boat hiding in a boat shed away from spies; yes, some people had just left their half sunken boats) when our boat broke down. Ooh er. We watched a local fisherman jumping in and out trapping fish, whilst the boatman kept on hammering his engine into submission. When after 20 mins it restarted we were quite pleased. We got to a turning point where the central river rocks got larger (as did the sand banks) and headed back.

On getting back we set off back down the main road, past Wats Sene, Nong Sikhounmuang, Choum Khong and Pa Huak.
Wat Choum Khong (Chum Khong, Chom Khong Sourintharame/ Sulinthaham), Monastery of the Gong, is a small attractive wat northeast of the Royal Palace. The name comes from the raised centre of a bronze gong. It was founded by Phakhu Keo in 1843 (King Sukaseum). The doors and windows were added by the Venerable Houmpheng. The wat has a common wall with Wat Xieng Mouane, and the sims of the two share similar patterned pillars and facades. Choum Khong has a double-sectioned roof with, unusually no ornamental dok so fa (nhot so fa) on the ridgepole. The sim veranda has 3 doors and is supported by gilded vermillion lotus-topped columns. There is a single stairway in the veranda and one on each side. The facade has an elaborately carved wooden lambrequin (Dok Huang Pheung) beneath the carved central tympanum and carved lambrequins on the facade frame the doors. Above each door of the nave there is a triangular segment that mimics the triangular sections between the columns. There are elaborate carved and gilded doors. The grounds of the wat are attractive with containered flowers. There is a fine garden area in front with gilded statues, stupas, a drum tower and chapel. Of some significance are two carved Chinese stone statues in front of one of the kutis. In 1861 they were presented to King Chantharath (1850-1872) by the Chinese ambassador. Reflecting elements of yin and yang, the statues represent two primary bodhisattvas of Chinese Buddhism: Vajra the lightning or thunderbolt of masculine principles and Ghanta representing the bell of feminine principles (and also the name of the wat).

Wat Pa Huak (Pa Houak), Monastery of the Bamboo Forest, was founded by Phaya Si Mahanam in 1861, during the reign of King Chantharath. The name comes from the bamboo forest previously on the site.
luang-prabang_48884965928_o.jpg The sim is located at the northeast entry to Mount Phousi, across from the main entryway to the Palace. The small sim is in Vientiane or Thai style and has tall unadorned octagonal columns. Pa Huak shows its years of neglect; the bare wooden carvings and heavily weathered. Inside there is an elaborate carved, unpainted wooden facade of Indra riding Airavata that formerly had colourful mosaics. The 3-headed elephant, Airavata, at the rear of the building has remnants of its gold leaf. The interior 19th century murals contain the story of Buddha’s taming of the haughty King Jambupati, with Buddha as King rather than monk. They deal also with Luang Prabang as a heavenly city whose resplendent citizens receive Chinese, European and Persian visitors. There are elephants, horses, tigers, birds and flora.
We saw some more dragon boats practising for the races as we walked on round Mekong until we were back at Coconut Garden where we had lunch (pumpkin in coconut soup). Then we headed back along Phothisalath Road, and called in on the adjoining wats Hua Xiang and Mahathat. Very interesting, and little visited. We thought they were better than many of the more popular ones. Then we turned left past Wat Tat Luang and back to the hotel.
Wat Sene, Wat Choum (2), Wat Pa Huak, Wat Xieng Mouane

Wat Mahathat or Wat That, officially Wat Pha/Si Mahathat, Monastery of the Stupa is one of the more attractive wats. It was founded in 1548 by King Say Setthathirath (ruling from Chiang Mai) who also erected the imposing Lan Na style 'that', or stupa, around the back of the sim. This stupa-prasat style has a tiered square base surmounted by the stupa with square, octagonal and round tiers above. The Thai influence can be seen in the golden umbrellas at the peak of the stupa. The wonderful sweeping stairway from Thanon Chao Fa Ngum Road and its silver coloured seven-headed naga is impressive. The adjoining wat to the northeast, Wat Ho Xiang, has a similar stairway. The present sim, or viharn, was rebuilt in 1907-10 by Chao Maha Oupahat boun Kong to replace the one destroyed in a typhoon. The murals in the portico depict the legends of King Thao Sithoanh and the Nang Manola, the kinnari (divine half-woman/ half- bird reputed for its kindness) in addition to stories from the Phra lak phra lam (Ramayana). The sim's double-tiered roof has 15 segmented Dok So Fa (nhot so fa), a metallic ornament at the centre of the roof beam, symbolising the universe and Mount Meru and is found on most Laotian sims. There are statues of the Earth Goddess, wringing water from her hair, recalling the story of when she saved Buddha from an army of evil spirits. The water from the meritorious deeds in his previous lives, drowned the entire Maran army. Wat That is an important wat in Luang Prabang. During the New Year, leaders of important Luang Prabang wats (along with Mai, Xieng Thong, Aham and Vixun) solemnly visit it by palanquin. The wat houses the ashes of Prince Phetsarath (believed to have invincible powers as a half-deity, half-royal khon kong), who declared Laos independent after the Japanese surrender in 1945, and Prince Souvanna Phouma, his younger half-brother, who served as prime minister.

Wat Ho Xiang/ Siang (Sieng, Sian, Xieng) Voravihane, Lottery Pavilion, adjoins Wat That on a small hill southwest of Mount Phousi. A naga stairway gives entrance. The wat was named in honour of a 1548 ceremony, presided over by King Setthathirat, to choose the site of the viharn of the now adjoining Wat That. Ho Siang was formally founded by Khouane Sene Muxa in 1705/6, though there were earlier buildings on the site. The sim is simple with a central pillar less hall and highly decorated doorway. Murals of Buddhist lore and punishment for evildoers cover the walls.

Wat That Luang (Tat Luang) Rasamahavihane, Monastery of the Royal Stupa. Legend says an early 3rd Century BC monastery on the site was the result of a visit by Buddhist missionaries sent by Asoka, a proselytizing Indian king. Early 12th century artefacts have been found. The town's earliest monasteries, Wat Pasamamm (the first wat in Lan Xang) and Wat Keo Fa, no longer extant, were located in this area. That Luang is elevated overlooking the esplanade. The present sim or vihan was built partially from them branches of a bodhi tree near Wat Keo Fa on a small hill in 1818 by King Manthaturat. The sim has a central 2-sided roof and gables. There are 3 entry doors, and a large hall divided into 3 by a double row of large square columns with flaring gilded lotus capitals. The large bronze Buddha in the nave came from the now defunct Wat Aham Mungkhun. The open field was used for royal cremations. There are two large stupas on the grounds- the golden funerary stupa in front contains the ashes of King Sisivang Vong and the 1818 Grand Stupa, which towers over the rear is said to contain relics of Buddha. There are smaller stupas that contain ashes of royal family members. The wat has a number of traditional living quarters (kuti) on the grounds.
Wat Mahathat and Wat That Luang

We had a chill out until 5.30pm when we got a lift to Phousi Hill as we wanted to walk to top for sunset. The entrance steps, opposite the Royal Palace was past Wat Patouah, 130 steps to the ticket counter, then another 190 to the top with its twisty staircase and small Wat Chomsi at the top.
We took a few panoramas, watched the birds and the sunset around 6:30.
Phou Si/Chomsy Hill — the main hill in the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a steep climb from the bottom and sunrise/ sunset are rewarding times to go up. There is a panoramic view from the top. There are 2 entrances from ground level: 1 north on Sisavangvong Road, facing the Royal Palace, and another East, on Sisavang Vatthana Road.
view-over-luang-prabang-from-phousi-hill_48884992413_o.jpgThe north entrance has 130 steps up to the ticket counter, and another 190 steps to the top. The eastern entrance is twice as long, less steep and has more points of interest along the way, which are perfect excuses for stopping for a breather on the climb. Entrance 20,000 kip.
We headed down and decided to revisit the Blue Lagoon (cocktails inc Blue Lagoon own) for dinner. The owner came to talk and we ended up discussing Switzerland- he was from Zurich so didn’t know Geneva so well. He took our photo for us too! Then the chef wanted to talk too, and the friendly cat came to say hello. After we went back to the night market where we got a naga ring for Emma, a pair of earrings for me and some silk scarves.

The Kingdom of Champassak/ Bassac (1713-1946) emerged in 1713 after a rebellion against Vientiane and comprised the Xe Bang River to the Mun and Xi rivers. The Lao kingdoms remained independent until 1779 when they became vassals to Siam, although they maintained a monarchy and a degree of autonomy.) Champassak became a Lao kingdom under Nokasad, grandson of Sourigna Vongsa, the last king of Lan Xang; and son-in-law of the Cambodian King Chey Chettha IV. The kingdom was on the left bank of the Mekong, but its capital Bassac, was on the right bank, where the Bassac River joins the Mekong. After the Laotian (Chao Anu) Rebellion 1826-29, Champasak was reduced to vassalage; and the Siamese-Cambodian War 1831-1834 reduced the entire region to vassalage, further complicated by the French establishing what was to become French Indochina. Following the Franco-Siamese War 1893, the area fell under French rule, its royalty stripped of privileges. King Ong Keo and Ong Kommandam led resistance against French control of the left bank, which subsumed into the First Indochina War. The parallel right-bank Holy Man's Rebellion of 1901/2 was short-lived. In 1904 the kingdom was reduced to provincial governorship, which included political involvement, by the Na Champasak royal family. The House of Na Champassak ceased to rule in 1946 and the kingdom became a province in the united Kingdom of Laos. 1941–45 Thailand acquired Champasak but it was ceded back to France in 1946 and Chao Boun Oum gave up his throne in order to unify Laos. The Kingdom of Laos (1946–75) was formed under the Luang Prabang line of kings.
● Nokasad 1713–37 King of Champa Nagapurisiri (Champasak), grandson of Sourigna Vongsa (last king of Lan Xang)
Sayakumane 1737–91 son of Nokasat
Fay Na 1791–1811 made king of Champasak by King Rama I of Siam. Son of Phra Vorarat, not royal.
No/Nu Muong 1811-13 (son of Fay Na)
Manoi/ Phommanoy 1813–19 (nephew Sayakoummane)
Chao Yo/ Nho house of Vientiane 1819–26 (son of King Anuvong of Vientiane) 1829–93 Siam annexes Champasak following Chao Anu Rebellion
Huy 1826–41 great-grandson Nokasat
Na(r)k 1841–51 brother Huy
B(o)ua 1851–52 (1851–53 regent, 1853 king, son of Huy)
Interregnum 1852–56
Kham N(hy)ai 1856–58 son of Huy
Interregnum 1858–62
Kham Souk 1863–1900 son of Huy; French divide kingdom in 1893 Ratsadanay 1900–4 son of Khamsuk, king protectorate of French
Indochina; 1904-1934 governor
● Prince Boun Oum Na Champassak prince of Champassak and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Laos 1948-50/ 1960-62. He was the son of Ratsadanay. On the death of his father in 1946 he renounced his throne. He became President and Inspector-General of the Royal Council. Sympathetic to the French, he fought against Japan. He retired from politics to pursue business interests until his exile to France in 1975, the year communist leader Pathet Lao came to power. He died in France 1980.
● Keo na Champassak 1980–present
Laotian Literature Little is known of the history of Lao literature because the parchment deteriorated. The Laotian alphabet has 15 vowels and 30 consonants and was created in the 14th century and is read from left to right. Laotian literature (all non-fiction) dates from the 15/16th century. About 90% of it is Buddhist themed- literature was meant as a teaching tool. Stories were maintained by an oral tradition of folk tales. Festivals The biggest celebration, New Year (Pii Mai), enough takes place in mid-April at the vernal equinox. The Buddha images are washed with holy jasmine water. Then there is the rot nam, where youngsters sprinkle water on their elders and throw buckets of water on everyone else. The New Year celebration is the cleansing of the past year to bless the year to come. Boon Bang Fai (Rocket festival) is an animist celebration with processions, music and dancing, accompanied by the firing of bamboo rockets to prompt the heavens to send rain. The Tat Luang Festival in Vientiane in November has fireworks, music and parades. Festivals in Laos are mostly linked to agricultural seasons and Buddhist holidays. February full moon: Boon Maka Bucha- rice roasting ceremony. May: Boon Visaka Bucha- commemorates the birth, death, and enlightenment of Buddha. July: Boon Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent) August: Boon Khao Phadabdin- offerings to the spirits. September: Boon Khao Salak- harvest. October: Boon Ok Phansa- boat racing. Katin, when the people offer new robes to the monks.

How to be a good Buddhist The minimum requirement for a Buddhist is to follow the five precepts (or truths): not to lie, steal, have improper sexual behaviour, consume mind-altering substances (e.g. alcohol), or take any life. Because people live in the real (material) world, and cannot always follow the precepts (e.g., many people eat meat), ceremonies are important, as a way to gain positive merits. The results in your karma, which determines your rebirth and the nature of your next life. Bad karma results in rebirth at a lower level, maybe even as an animal, or worse-to wander as a spirit without rebirth at all. The best way to get merit is to be kind and compassionate, but you can also make offerings, to monks and Temple (the Buddhist church and clergy are referred to as the Sangha). This can be done daily, as most mornings monks go out on an alms round for food offerings (their sole source of food). On the full, new, first quarter and half moon, the monks stay in. These days; Wan Pra, or Buddha days, are when listening to the monks chanting can bring merit to the listener. Studying the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, is the best way to religious salvation, and a recommended practice for the true believers.
Vipassana, a Pali word meaning "see things as they truly are", is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation, rediscovered by Buddha 2500 years ago. It is self-transformation through focusing on the connection between mind and body- control of the mind. The concentration to detach from reality, and discover the true nature of the mind and body takes a lot of training and discipline. When a strong emotion arises in the mind, the breath loses its normal rhythm and a biochemical reaction starts in the body- sensation. One tries to keep one's attention for as long as possible on the act of respiration- to calm the mind so it is no longer overpowered by strong sensations.
BACI CEREMONY The Tai Baci (Bai si) Ceremony is celebrated on special occasions e.g. marriage, new baby, house warming, recovery, birthday, journey, ordination of a monk. The main purpose is to bind the personal spirits to a person for good luck. The ceremony is also known as Sukwan/ Hetkwan- the calling of the kwan (the 32 spirits believed to watch over your 32 organs). Sometimes the kwan wander from the body, especially when sick, and it is important to call them back. An older man who was/is a monk, assumes the role of Maw Pawn and leads the ceremony. The main item is the pha kwan, a metal bowl piled high with cones of banana leaves, marigolds, white string, candles and incense, on a low round table. Around the base is food and drink - rice cakes, pastries, chicken, liquor, eggs, sticky rice. Eggs and rice represent fertility and prosperity. Everyone gathers in a circle around the pha kwan and those closest have one hand touching the table. Those farther away touch the person in front - to capture the flow of good energy. The Maw Pawn calls on the spirits to return to the bodies of those present, bringing well being and happiness. Once over, the person has symbolic food placed in the hand, while white cotton strings (sai sin) with 3 knots are tied round the wrists to keep in good luck. The strings should remain on the wrists for at least three days.
● Wat Munna Monastery of Ten Thousand Rice Fields was originally constructed by King Phothisarat (1520-48). The name comes from the tithe of 1 meun (12 kg) of rice from each villager. The name Somphouaram refers to the Sangha (community of ordained monks) and where they meet to discuss secular and sacred matters. Wat Munna is town side to Sisavangvong pedestrian bridge across Nam Khan River. The original sim was simple. Next to the sim was a vaulted chapel and stupa. Recent additions are a bright facade in vermillion/ gold. On the pediments, Indra rides Airavata. On front, variety of plant forms flow from central figure of Indra. Murals on the walls depict various early lives of Buddha.
● Wat Pha Baht Tai combines Thai, Lao and Vietnamese styles with hints of European religious architecture. The wat was built on the confluence of Huei Hop and Mekong rivers, by King Samsenthai 1416. It was here that Naga King Chai Chamnong (a guardian Naga) lived on a rock from which he could protect the rivers. When a huge footprint of Buddha was found here it was evidence of the Naga's permission to build a monastery, which still guards the footprint.
● Wat Long Khun Monastery of Blessed Song/ Willow Stream is sited on a flat area at the top of a stairway leading from the right bank of the Mekong, directly across from Wat Xieng Thong. The monastery had important ties with the royal family; the king spent 3 days there ceremonially bathing before crossing the Mekong to Wat Xieng Thong for his coronation. The Luang Prabang style sim is 18th century. It has interior jataka murals depicting lives of Buddha. Two large bearded Chinese guardians flank the main entry. Legend says the hills opposite the city represent a girl leaning against a lad. Wat Long Khun (=flatland near rivers and female abdomen).

Posted by PetersF 16:06 Archived in Laos Tagged river buddhism laos museum luang_prabang mekong wats Comments (0)

Laos Luang Prabang to Phonsavan

Through the hills and woods; villages of many sorts

Luang Prabang to Xieng Khouang 15th August

It was the day of our long drive to Phonsavan, so we set off in good time at 8:15. The car drove us quite quickly on Route 13 out of Luang Prabang and up towards the hills. Our guide explained about villages, towns, districts and provinces in Laos.
We rapidly began to climb and it was only 1⁄2 an hour or so before we could look back at Luang Prabang, the rivers and the valleys. We stopped at a useful vantage point, the Khmu hamlet of Houi Hei, where there was a small “cafe”, lookout post and a family with chickens, songbirds in cages (I don’t like this personally) and a tame macaque (he’d been rescued as a baby, rehabilitated to the jungle and decided he was having none of it).
We continued for another couple of hours looking at the green scenery, the hills and passing the small (mainly Khmu) villages/ hamlets en route. The hills/ mountains were surprisingly well farmed- there were many quite steep cleared areas, which were planted with “upland” rice. We saw how they caught birds and bats to eat by trapping them in nets in large fields overnight when they roost. Rats are also common as a food source, though only those varieties that live off rice.
There are many varieties of rice. In the Far East there is a preference for softer and stickier varieties. Rice is normally grown as an annual, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial for up to 30 years. The rice plant can grow to 1–1.8 m. The edible seed is a grain (caryopsis) 5–12 mm long and 2–3 mm thick. Rice cultivation is well suited to countries and regions with a high rainfall, as it requires ample water. However, rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain area with the use of water controlling terrace systems. The traditional method for cultivating rice is flooding the fields while, or after, setting the young seedlings. Rice is classified as long-, medium-, and short-grained. The grains of long-grain rice (high in amylase) tend to remain intact after cooking; medium-grain rice (high in amylopectin) becomes stickier. Medium-grain is used for sweet dishes. Some varieties of long-grain rice that are high in amylopectin, known as Sticky rice, are usually steamed. Short-grain rice is often used for rice puddings or sweets. There are 40,000 types of rice in four major categories: indica, japonica, aromatic, glutinous. The different varieties of rice are not interchangeable, either in food preparation or agriculture, so each major variety is a completely separate market from other varieties.
We discussed Lao education- most people, apart from the very poorest, have to pay for their children’s primary education (which is mandatory) as well as purchase their books, pencils, text books, etc. You can choose your own school, but the good ones cost more, so inequalities remain. There is no concept of school transport- you are responsible for your children getting to school. This inevitably means the poorest children have to walk, sometimes quite long distances. Generally there is a local village (or villages) school at primary level (5- 11), but secondary schools (11-15) and colleges (15-18) are usually only in towns, so many poorer children (especially amongst the hill tribes) drop out, which of course continues to limit their horizons. The Laos government is very aware of this and taking steps to remedy it. Laos has 4 major cultural/ linguistic groups made up of between 68 (official number) and 120 ethnic groups. They are roughly divided into Lao-Loom (Lowland Lao) who speak Laotian Tai and live along the river valleys (2⁄3 of Laos population), Lao-Theung (Mid Hill Lao) who live c.700m and Lao-Soung (Hill Lao) who live c.1000m (10% of population). The groups are:
● Lao Loum: Lao, Phouan, Leu, T’ai (Dam, Deng, Khao, Meuy, Neua), Yung, Seak.
● Lao Theung: Khmu, Samaed, Bid, Phong, Puak, Yru, Phounoy, Kaseng, Doy, Phai, Makong, Katang, Pakoh, Lawain, Lawae, Nyahern, Trui, Soo, Sapuan, Sok, Trew, Taliang, Taoy, Aluck, Katoo, Yae, Suay, Cheng, Darkkung, Lawee, Lawuck, Oy, Tongleuang, Kado, Thin, Sarmato.
● Lao S(o)ung; Hmong, Yao (Mien), Akha, Dao, Shan (Tibeto-Burman), Lua (Khmuic).

After a wind through the green hills we arrived at the small (by our standards- not so much for them) Khmu village of Sala Ming Ban Kiu Kam Pone (Khmu village), which is based around the River (Nam) Ming (a tributary of the Nam Khan). First up, I did chuckle at the proud sign next to the village sign, proclaiming the Lao Womens Committee Awards over several years!
The village architecture was a transitioning mix of old and new. The older buildings were typical Khmu with woven bamboo walls, simple doors and palm leaf roof, whilst newer ones were of breeze block or concrete.
The people we met were mainly women involved in craftwork, especially sewing, or cooking things to sell at market. Mainly people were dressed in ordinary clothes, though a few older ones were more traditional. The people we spoke to had basic English and understood commerce- they were clearly involved in buying and selling (in contrast to other ethnic group villages we visited). They still practised farming and fishing, but were very clued on to the commercials- we saw lots of huts along the journey selling fruit, veg and meat (they were almost exclusively Khmu and became less frequent as we moved into other ethnic group areas). In the main they had mod cons (fridge, freezer, washing machines etc) and did not look poor. There were quite a number of trucks in each village and fewer animals than later. The children were being taught, even those of 5 or 6 to carry wood or vegetables to road stalls to sell and help with working the fields.
The Khmu (Khơ Mú, Khamu, Kemu, Khammu) inhabit large parts of Northern/ central Laos (88% of Khmu live in Laos), Vietnam and Thailand. Khmu refers to themselves as ‘pru’. In Laos, they are the main Môn-Khmer ethnic group (11% of population) and the 2nd largest group in Laos. Most live in North Laos- Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang, north of Vientiane. This minority is divided into subgroups: Môn-Khmer, Ou, Lu, Rok, Me, Keun, Kheng, Khouene, Klong, Khongsat. Khmu Me and Khmu Ou live around Luang Prabang (Nam Bak). Khmu Ou and Khmu Rok are the largest groups.
The word Khmu stems from kymhmu=people/ khmou=person. Their dialects are mutually understandable, and they use the Latin alphabet to write (unlike the Lao). Stories in Houn district show the Khmu Rok have lived in the region for over 400 years. Khmou are one of the oldest inhabitants of northern Laos, arriving early first millennium AD from Burma.
● House roof covered with wooden tiles/ thatch
● Enclosed village with storage houses grouped outside the village
● Basket ware very important: self-usage or exchange, baskets woven by men Jun/ Aug Hunting, picking and iron smith's activities are important
● Silver tobacco smoking pipe
● Some old people have full tattooed bodies
●Upland dry rice cultures
●Special rice storage houses on pillars protected from mice and rats
●Legends and stories are told during evening time, near the fire.
● Ceremonies for epidemics or natural disasters: buffalo sacrifice occurs exceptionally
Khmu prefer valleys of average altitude on forested slopes, 400-800 m with a slope-basin favourable for grub culture and settlement. The most desirable resource is a large quantity of biomass, which is burned to enrich the soil of an area large enough to provide for a village of 30-150 families. A river and a large territory for upland (dry field) sticky rice growing are the main criteria. They also grow cassava, maize, peanuts, vegetables and tobacco. Traditionally, land was left fallow for 15 years, but now it is 3-5 years (sometimes with slash-and-burn). The Khmu always settle near a river where they can bathe, get water, fish and hunt frogs. During the dry season they harvest seaweed (river algae). In the past, small livestock was raised for consumption and exchange; nowadays, it is an important source of income. Rodents are hunted in the fields. Big livestock (buffalo or cow) are rare. Khmu visit other ethnic minority villages to barter and look for work. Seasonal jobs with Lao and Lue communities are part of the system for many Khmu. Khmou buy cloth from the Lue or Phuan. The festive dress of the women is a dark vest, long sleeved with a dark sarong with embroidered motifs. Usually they wear ordinary Lao sarongs and bright blouses. They like silver and copper bracelets. Older women cover their hair with a headscarf. Traditionally men wore a loincloth and embroidered long-sleeved jacket. The village has a communal house where the young boys live and family houses on low wooden stills with walls of woven bamboo with no windows. There are two rooms; the inner room for the adults, with fireplace for cooking rice; the outer room with a separate fireplace for guests (although it is forbidden to enter without permission). The inner room also has an altar to the house (ancestor) spirits. During daytime, it is taboo to carry raw meat to the house without wrapping it first. After festivals, Khmu restore and maintain their houses or build new ones, after which they celebrate with rice wine. Khmu hold animist ceremonies to ensure spirits of the district, spot and forest were pacified. Khmou are animists (belief in spirits- the house spirit (hrooy gang), water spirit (hom), forest spirit (hrooy prri) etc. Hrooy poop and suu are feared because they can possess people, so every village has a spirit master. The Khmou also practice ancestor worship. Their clans are patrilineal; each named after an animal or plant such as tiger, firm tree, etc. It is taboo to touch, kill or eat the creatures that represent the clan. If you do, bad things may happen such as your teeth fall off. All members of the clan must assist each other, no matter how far away they are. Courtship is fairly open, and they chose whom they like as mates. The elders give names to newborn babies according to the day, month, and year they are born. A pig is sacrificed by the shaman unless it is born feet first (considered unlucky). The Khmou have a short ceremony for the dead. When a person dies, a pig is killed using a rice pestle to hit its head at the foot of the house’s stairs. Bamboo covers the body, which is carried by bamboo sticks to the gravesite by men in loincloths. A close male relative carries a sword. To confuse bad spirits that may follow the funeral party back to the village, the people return by walking in circles.
sala-ming-village-laos_48885877861_o.jpg Nam Ming river
Having walked through the village we rejoined our car and continued our drive up to the highest point in the hills (and a good lookout) where we stopped at a huge (but totally empty) restaurant for coffee and toilets. Nice Laos coffee- strong and condensed milk sweet but very basic hole-in-the-ground (and 1000 kip) toilets. Dok Khoun Restaurant on the main road through town is a simple type of restaurant but does a great job in satisfying appetites. The menu offers Asian and western food and the set menus are real bargains.
While we drank our guide told us about what was being done to stop the drug trade in Laos. Of course traditionally people have always grown opium poppies in this area (mainly for their ceremonies and medicinal use), but in became part of the Golden Triangle in the 80s (the CIA “Secret War” may have had some culpability here). Our guide said the government had done a lot to stop the trade and he felt had made big progress, but some people (like his now rich cousin) were still involved, though based in Vientiane). He felt the biggest improvement was better education and therefore
more opportunities for people and he’s probably right.
I was also surprised to discover that polygamy was not illegal, but could only happen if the first wife gave her willing consent. Our guide said it had become quite rare however, as women’s rights had improved.
We set off again to get to the intersection of Route 13 and 7 (about 130km from LP). One branch went down to Vang Vieng, the other (ours) to Phonsavan. As you’d expect a small town had built up around the intersection with its own (highly regarded) food market. We decided to stop in the town, Phoukoun, for lunch. A small cafe- restaurant was offering basic Lao food, so we had a lovely soup while sitting on huge, heavy, redwood chairs.
After lunch we went for a market trip- wow. Behind the shed facade was a whole dirt packed street of a market with all the fruit, vegetables and meats you could think of! We saw locusts, grasshoppers, silkworms, pickled bees and rat-on-a-stick to eat, all fried and crispy. In chunks of beehive we saw huge wiggling bee grubs, which were cooked in front of us. Further on was worms, crickets, even chrysalis, crab paste, freshwater snails, honey... The town and farming area here is always cool and damp, so the food quality is excellent (which is it’s reputation). The banana flowers and banana leaf wrapped spring rolls were especially nice. Our guide bought us some juicy red fruit a bit like a lycee (he was a vegan). Like Vietnam, foreigners can buy/ own buildings but can only lease the land it is built on.
Our driver said when a new village was started the plants would be planted in the order of
1. coconut
2. mango
3. tamarind
4. banana
After an interesting time in the market we had to leave. It was still pleasantly cool, if not with a slight damp feel to the air. I asked if it was because it was nearly wet season, but was told that this was typical for the area, which is why Phoukoun market was so famed for its fresh produce. Almost everything grew better here, mainly without any chemicals, and many people came on day trips to buy. Commonly in markets in the area there was a rush to buy before work (around 6 am), then it would be very quiet until a lunch rush again, and a lesser bulge around tea time (more often this would be to eat at the market stalls which issued loyalty cards!)
We turned left onto route 7 to continue our journey, very quickly rising to 1500m outside Phoukoun, which was the highest we reached. We passed through mainly Khmu areas (seeing quite a number of their stilt rice store houses to deter rats), moving into predominantly Hmong areas. After another few hours we stopped at the Hmong village of Ban Tajok, Ban Son Boom (Hmong village), again based around a river (the Nam Ming). The difference between this village and the last one was marked. Ban is the Hmong for village. Ban Tajok is MUCH poorer, with smaller houses, more traditional clothing, obvious subsistence farming. The first “house” we went to was a widow with 4 children- little more than a 1-room shack. She spoke no Lao and no English, and we had no interpreter, so it was an odd conversation! She was slicing bamboo stems, which she was then going to boil with some tiddlers (she showed us her small throwing net which was drying) and vegetables to make a soup/stew. The youngest child (a girl of about 4/ 5) was cutting the smallest stems into tiny pieces to use as a glue to help strengthen the walls. The other children were looking after the chicken and her chicks. A goat around the back MAY have been theirs (I wasn’t clear). Inside the house was no furniture beyond roll-up beds and an ancient radio playing Hmong songs (rather nice melodies).
We later found that many TV programmes in the area are transmitted dubbed into Hmong or with Hmong sub-titles (it helps that they are a large ethnic group in Thailand where most regional TV comes from). We carried on over the river and up the slope the other side to say hello to some men (with hunting guns behind them), some younger girls helping each other with homework, or teaching younger sisters to write and some women with babies having a chat. Shockingly this village is not even considered a “poor” one!
The Hmong are originally from Tibet, forced south through Yunnan to Laos by the Chinese (Qing Dynasty). They form 7% of Laos’s population. Their oral language is Hmong-Miao (Iuw Mien Yao family). There are tales that they used to have a writing system, but that while fleeing across the river from the Chinese they strapped their scrolls on their backs and they were washed away (other stories say they laid them to dry and their animals ate them). Another story says that women sewed their alphabet in their cloth (paj ntaub or flower cloth) and that they learnt their oral stories by the cloth of writing. Nowadays they use the Latin alphabet to write their language. Hmong means person and all Hmong groups understand each other. The main Hmong groups in Laos are White (Khao), Striped (Lai) and Black (Dum). Another main group, especially common in Vietnam, are the Flower Hmong (after their bright clothes).
Hmong live in the uplands (1000-1500m) in villages of about 50 family houses, arranged in circles of 7-8 with a leader’s house in the centre. The rectangular houses are made with green bamboo walls (split and tied) and palm thatch roofs. Due to the cold the houses are windowless. The main door opens to the stove (for cooking, heating and making pigswill) and seating for visitors. A mortar or millstone for rice, corn and soya is nearby. Further in is a partition to the left for family sleeping. To decide on a village site rice grains (1 for each human and animal) is put in a bowl and left. If it is there the next day they build there. They practise slash-and-burn of dry rice and maize, as well as growing vegetables. Their livestock is pig, cow, buffalo, goat, dog and chicken. The women embroider and knit, whilst the men are skilled in carpentry and metalwork.
There are 18 Hmong clans (xeem/ takoon) in Laos, mostly with Chinese surnames (Li, Wang, Xiong, Kue, etc). Clan members are considered brothers and expected to help each other. Children take the clan of their father and women join their husband’s clan. Laotian people (including the Hmong) do not change their surname on marriage. Outmarriage (exogamy) is strictly observed- you may not marry in you clan unless you are a widow marrying your husband’s brother. To arrange a marriage a boy will give a girl a gift before ritually kidnapping (zij) her. Her family may save her if a gift has not been given, otherwise his relative will visit the girl’s family to arrange the marriage and dowry price. The marriage is celebrated twice- once at the groom’s and again at the bride’s. The new couple live next door to the groom’s parents. Divorce is rare, but consensual- both parties have equal right. Polygamy is considered immoral.
Most Hmong are animists, believing in spirits (phi) of ancestors, household and village as well as spirits (dab) of forest, river, sky, etc. Spirits of ancestors are believed to keep the family safe and are offered food (often boiled rice), drink (often tea), spirit money and incense on a family altar. A specific ceremony- Eat New Rice- is a time to offer rice to the spirits. Male ancestors are supposed to live in the house pillars. The village shaman (along with the clan leader) is responsible for major rituals and structures. An important part of the village is the spirit gate- these are built at the village entrance and over paths from the forest. They are designed to prevent evil spirits entering the village and bringing illness. They are never taken down, but refreshed every year. Many have figurines, animal parts, carvings or wooden statues next to them. If you enter a gate it is considered good luck to enter at least one house, asking the household spirits for permission of course! Inside the gate is protected; outside are the spirit lands. In sacred areas the shaman will hold rituals to appease these spirits, offering wine to spirits of the forest. They believe everything, even objects, has a spirit and that people have 3-7 souls. These souls may get lost, or stolen by spirits, leading to illness. A shaman will undertake rituals to help find a soul and return it to its body. At birth a baby’s placenta (black jacket) is buried under the house centre post (boy) or bed (girl) and it is here that a soul will return after death. Another soul will go to heaven, another stays to guard the grave and the last one is reincarnated.
Hmong groups are differentiated by details in their clothing. The general dress is (men) long shirts with embroidered detail, baggy trousers and a sash with (women) wearing dark pleated skirts with embroidered front panels and dark blouses. Both wear belts, often hanging at the back. Hairstyles and covering often show which group a lady belongs to.
Our guide was keen to claim the Shan people of Burma as belonging by culture/ language to Laos. These are a Tai ethnic group who founded the Kingdom of Lan Xang.

Lao-Tai, which includes Black and Red Tai (the colour of the women's dress), live throughout the country, especially at higher elevations. Lowland Lao language and customs are the same as the Thai people, having a common origin. The Lao Tai traditionally eat things raw, including game meat, buffalo, fish, vegetables, herbs, grasses, leaves, and roots. This is due to the forested mountainous character of their environment. Laotians eat sticky, or glutinous rice, by kneading a small handful into a ball and dipping it into a dish of condiments. Sticky rice is served in reed baskets with a tight fitting cover that slips on and off. When Lao go to work they hang at their side a small version of these round woven baskets to carry their sticky rice, and a small amount of fish or meat as a mid-day meal. The most ubiquitous sticky rice dish is pa dek, a highly pungent fermented fish sauce commonly seen fermenting on the back veranda of a Lao peasant's house an earthenware jar. In the Plain of Jars area, the most numerous are lowland Lao, Hmong, Black Tai, and Kammu. The Puan people, the Lao of the Plain of Jars, are a group of lowland Lao whose language and customs are slightly different to Lao Loom in other regions. However, in modern times, they have been assimilated into the mainstream Lao, and their language approximates common Lao tongue, with some vocabulary and tonal differences. A distinctive dish of the Lao is tam som (tam makhoong), a salad made of strips of unripe papaya, chillies, pieces of crab, little eggplants, and pa laa, another form of fermented fish. And then there is laap- made with fish, chicken, duck, pork, beef, buffalo or game meat. The meat and innards, often raw, are finely chopped and spiced with onion, chilies and other herbs such as mint and lemon grass.
We left the village and drove towards Lake Nong Tang (Muang Souy), stopping briefly at an Akha village. Nong Tang (Lake Tang: Nong = Lake) is a karst landform on Highway 7, 48km northwest of Phonsavan, the new capital of Xieng Khouang province. The lake overlooks Phukood district. James McCarthy, a British surveyor employed by the King of Siam passed Nong Tang on his way to Xieng Khouang Province in 1884. We did not stay long in the village and around the pretty lake before we needed to leave. The village by the lake was very quiet with only a few grazing buffalo and the odd fluttering butterfly. As we drove towards the last hour the landscape became flatter- more hills and less mountains.

The Akha (Kor/ Ikor) moved from China during the 16th century Haw raids to live in the high hills of North Laos. They speak Akha, a Tibetan language, with no alphabet/ writing but a rich oral history. They represent 1.4% of Laos and are divided into 20 groups, including Ooma/Iko Loma, Nukui, Luna, Iko Eupa, Mochi/ Iko Mutchi. They follow the Akhazang (Akha Way), which dominates how they live their lives. They have many taboos, such as: do not remove your shoes, do not take raw meat through a spirit gate, do not sing or dance, do not allow pigs to give birth in the village, etc. They are animists, believing in good (house, village) and bad (forest, water) spirits. A shaman and clan leader manage the rituals, looking after the spirit gates (2), village swing, water source and spirit places. Water spirits are especially to be propitiated, as they are particularly powerful. Lower spirits can be prayed to by anyone, but upper spirits are limited to shaman. After death a person is transformed to spirit so they will be buried and the grave never visited, but after a year a ceremony will call the spirit to become a household spirit and protector. Akha boys and girls have sexual freedom and choose their own spouse. On marriage the couple will live next to the groom’s parents until they die, when they will inherit the larger house. Twins or malformed children are considered unlucky and may well be stoned to death (as attested to by our guide). Akha men rule the family, either father or eldest son. They can have up to 4 wives.
To choose a new village the shaman digs a small hole and drops an egg in it. If it breaks the spirits have agreed the site. A typical village is on a hillside cleared of trees at 600-1000m. It has 40-50 houses. These may be built on stilts or the ground. The floor is earth covered with wood planks or bamboo mats. Walls are woven bamboo and the roof is thatch. Due to the cold there are no windows, but two doors. Inside the house is divided into an area for men and one for women. Akha practice slash-and-burn with their main crops of dry-land rice, maize, cotton, vegetables, peanuts, spices and tea. They traditionally grow opium poppies. Akha are skilled foragers. They use traps, crossbows and old muskets to hunt large and small game. They breed cows, buffalo, pigs and chickens. They use a back basket with forehead and shoulder straps.
Akha women have the most colourful costume in Laos. Elaborate headdresses are made of a series of bamboo rings covered with straw, silver balls and coins (piastres), with coloured threads at the sides. Colourful short skirts are worn with tight-fitting jackets and leggings. They spin cotton while they walk and add weaving, embroidery, feathers, beads and coins. The men wear modern clothing; or traditional blue loose-fitting trousers and blue jackets over a white vest. They have limited outside contact.

I asked about worries the local farmers might have about unexploded ordnance. Nowadays the local government gives metal detectors out when farmers open up new land or extend their fields/ farms so they can check for mines/ bombies and if it pings they can call the local district to send a bomb disposal team out- apparently it’s speeding up UXO removal. Being safe around UXO is also taught as a school subject. http://www.maginternational.org

It wasn’t long before we rolled into Phonsavan (about 5:30pm)- a small town based on a crossroads. Our guide pointed out a large hotel on our left (only for government conferences, he said) and some good restaurants. I spotted the MAG offices on the left, just before we turned left to our hotel (Anoulackkhenlao). The ONLY hotel in Laos that didn’t care about our passports! It had HUGE redwood table and chair. I was a bit concerned when I read the Lonely Planet comment it was the only hotel in Phonsavan with a lift that had a separate generator.
We said goodbye to our guide and went for a shower before we went for dinner. For dinner we went right and right to the main through road and found a small cafe- the owner cleaned the plastic table-clothed tables and made us a simple but tasty meal (later a huge local family came it and ate, so we knew it was a good choice). Phonsavan is a Hmong dominated town, so the food we chose were Hmong specialities- stuffed mushroom, clear noodles with pickled meat, tofu chicken, sweet caramelised pork.
A stroll around town, time to read and bed.

Posted by PetersF 14:25 Archived in Laos Tagged trees hills village lake rice laos christchurch akha hmong lao animist phonsavan khmu houi_hei ban_tajok phoukoun sala_ming nong_tang muang_souy Comments (0)

Laos Plain of Jars

Xiang Khouan

Plain of Jars and Muang Khoun 16th August

We had an excellent sleep as it was so quiet. The next day we went to find breakfast- in a building opposite and apparently only consisted of badly cooked bread rolls, bright pink savoury jelly (as horrible as it looked), weak soup and over-cooked coffee- all not good. Anyway, we met ate some and went to meet our guide. First he asked if we could go to the market (partly because he’d been asked to buy something and partly to show us). We were
sceptical (as we’d seen a lot of markets by then) but were surprised at how much new stuff we saw and learnt about.
In the early part were reams of different rice and noodles- cooked. We saw the typically Laos sticky rice (aka glutinous rice) with its opaque grains and low amylase; transparent cellophane noodles made from mung bean starch and water; rice noodles; and khao pun made from fermented rice dough which we saw being squeezed through a sieve and boiled. After this was the vegetable area- bamboo shoots, neem (a bitter vegetable), morning glory (convolvus family), garlic, mushrooms, rattan shoots and galangal (a ginger-like tuber), followed by fruit (peach, plum, passion fruit). Then the fish and meats including tiny birds and bats, sausages of something spicy, bamboo rats and all sorts of fresh water life (including some blue shelled crabs). Almost everything was presented in plastic bowls! Just after were the breakfast stalls, many with loyalty cards!
We saw the rice desserts wrapped in banana leaves and all types of crisps- even rice. Past this were the medicine stalls. The medicine was usually a liquid infused with something odd (e.g. bee, bat, snake) and a small beaker was how it was dispensed. The glass beaker would be used to measure up to 3 doses (1 for each arm, 1 for the body, 1 for the legs). The shaman/ medicine man will test the potion first on an if it doesn’t kill me (or even makes me feel better) it must be OK basis. The infusion would relate directly to the ailment e.g. a snake one will stop poison, bees with give me strength.
Around the corner were the non-food items including knock-off DVD/ CDs, household and cooking utensils. The brooms, shovels and gardening equipment were recycled materials e.g. shovels made huge tin cans cut open. There were ethnic stalls with embroidery (Hmong), war scrap utensils, umbrellas of mulberry paper and baskets everywhere. The baskets, mainly made by men, were the bamboo (or rattan) shoulder baskets we saw on our drive to Xieng Khouang.
A special drink is Mastake Whisky made from Hed Wai, a highly valued mushroom from the pine forests of Xieng Khouang.
It was only a short drive out to the first Jar site (known as Jar Site 1). The main road went through the town (which is very small), past a building site (which is going to be a swimming pool and leisure centre) on tarmac roads, then into a small car park where we parked and waited to take an electric road-train to access the site up a track. Some Laotian tourists came with us and walked up the path after we were dropped off just in front of us. This did mean that they got to the first set of large jars just in front of us and wanted to take pictures of each other. Eventually I managed to get a photo without them in it, after they insisted I took a photo of them all!! Surprisingly we suddenly saw a plane fly over and land, and realised the strip of land opposite was Phonsavan airport! We noticed the large ponds (bomb craters filled with water) and the houses dug into the land (to escape detection by American bombers during the war).
We walked on down to the main site with its hundreds of jars (mostly without their lids which had long been taken by locals). Only the largest jars remain; many of the smaller ones were taken in antiquity.
To our left we walked towards a cave. Although the cave was certainly used in antiquity; it may well have been a crematorium associated with the jars; it was still clearly revered today. It is surmised that bodies (probably of the elite) may have been dried out in the jars and subsequently burnt. It is still visited as it has a small shrine inside and was much used during the Secret war as a hiding place. In fact our guide’s parents met in the cave; the Pathet Lao tried to persuade people to move from the area when the bombs started but many didn’t want to leave the land so they hid in the caves at daytime and farmed at night.
All around the path were a variety of large and smaller bomb craters. The paths all had small concrete blocks at regular intervals inscribed MAG to signify that the path had been made safe from UXO.
plain-of-jars-site-2_48886380516_o.jpgOur guide pointed to the hill opposite where we saw two trucks parked and said they were the bomb clearance squad and were clearly dealing with something. We walked back to the main site, past a particularly attractive group under trees and to the top of a small hill (all the jar sites are on raised ground) to look at the jars up there. Then back down the other side to collect the electric train back to the car. Our guide said currently Sites 2 and 3 were inaccessible as he’d checked with the local guides who said the tracks to them were waterlogged clay (slippery and dangerous). One person had tried in a big 4x4 and had to turn back. As we’d heard that they were smaller versions of Site 1 we said not to worry about the other sites, so we drove on.
The stone jars are similar to traditional Southeast Asian Royal mortuary practices and maybe functioned as 'distilling vessels'. In contemporary funerary practices of Thai, Cambodian and Laotian royalty the corpse of the deceased during the early stages of the funeral rites is placed into an urn (while undergoing gradual transformation from the earth to spiritual world). The ritual decomposition is followed by cremation and secondary burial. The royal burials are located across watercourses from the habitation in a geographically high, prominent area. It is interesting to note that the Black Thai/Tai Dam people who have been in the region since the 11th century, cremated their elite to release their spirit to heaven, while commoners are buried, leaving their spirit to remain on earth.

We headed to the old Phuan capital at Muang (=Town) Khoun (previously the city was called Xieng Khouang and had its name changed by the victorious Pathet Lao), driving 28km along pretty and little populated countryside. The small villages economic structure was mainly rice grown in large fields, often with a small bamboo watch hut in the centre. I questioned the size of the field and was told it was usually an extended family or small clan that used it- each person would know which part was theirs but they would all help each other when it came to planting and harvesting. We passed a particularly pretty village (Thuang) by a tranquil lake. A drive for a further 15km and over Nam Ngiap Rv saw us arrive in Muang Khoun. We stopped outside a busy wat, filled with cars, people carrying offerings and the smell of incense. The shoes left outside were several layers deep! Around the back was a huge (ancient) Buddha statue inside the red brick columns of a long-gone temple. The statue had a pleasing lopsided smile and an unusual local Lao style. This is the ancient Wat Phiawat. This town (and temple) was the Phuan ethnic group’s capital and they remain the dominant group in the town today.
Wat PiaWat was built in 1372 in the reign of King Larn Khum Kloung (King of Muang Phoun). The sim (holy building) additions were made in 1882. King Larn Khum Kloung was a great patron of Buddhism and established religious relationships with Burma. The King put the Buddha statue on the back of an elephant and swore he would build a temple where the elephant stopped in Muang Khoun. It stopped at the spot where Wat Peer Wat (Pia Wat) stands. The temple was given the name Wat Peer Wat (Wat Pia Wat) and it was the first temple of Muang Phoun. King Larn Khum Kloung gave instructions to create a big Buddha image in the same style as the golden Buddha statue he brought back from Burma. This statue was granted the name Phra Puttharoub Oung Tuee, and is the statue, which you see today. In 1925, Muang Phoun fought the Muslim Chinese who damaged Phra Putharoub Oung Tuee by cutting the right hand off. In 1953, Wat Peer Wat (Pia Vat) was destroyed by the French. Prince Suthakumarn (Chao sai Kham) encouraged people to contribute towards the restoration of Phra Putharoub Oung Tuee and Wat Peer Wat (Phi Vat). Then in 1968 the vat was destroyed by T28 aircraft gunfire, and now only the pillars of the building and stately Buddha remains. Right by it was That Foun Buddhist stupa aka That Chomsi. It measures 30 m and was built in 1576 the same time as the original That Luang in Vientiane. The stupa was erected to cover ashes of Lord Buddha brought from India. The Lanna-inspired structure stands tall over the town and can be entered by a cavity left by the Chinese marauders a century ago after they looted the stupa and seized the Buddha images enshrined within.
That Chomphet: Built in the same period as That Foun and located nearby. That Chomphet means Jewel Pinnacle (due to a shiny diamond that king Chao Kha Khad installed at its top). That Chompeth was heavily damaged by Haw invaders in 1874 and almost completely destroyed in 1969 during the war.
We walked across the road to the old ruined French Hospital. Apparently the French governor of this province was enlightened and built a hospital for both French and Lao. It had been burnt down (there are no records as to when) but was being kept as a reminder of what was there. There were lovely tiles on the floor and balcony areas. The guide said that a local noble (from the old ruling family) had wanted to make it into a palace. Opposite was a lovely French style building. A huge pipe instrument (7 pipes of different lengths) sat on a nearby stage. Goodness knows how someone would play it-
must have had the lungs of an ox!
We continued walking up a track to the foliage covered That Foun pagoda. It is supposed to have part of Buddha’s breastbone inside, which may be the reason for the hole put right through it. We walked around and through the pagoda to the cows opposite. We noticed the second, more ruined pagoda on a higher hill close by.
Walking back down we went to a local Phuan restaurant for lunch. Outside were large bomb casings- normal for houses/ restaurants in the town. The restaurant was attractive inside with the usual huge heavy redwood chairs- our guide said his father’s house had them & he would not sell even though valuable. Our hostess came back from the temple carrying a large silver offering urn. She showed us a bombie-cup (literally a cup made of a bombie) before our lunch came.

Xieng Khouang, which used to be the old capital of the muang, or territory, of the Tai Phouan people was completely wiped out by the end of the Secret War in 1973. At the end of the war the town known as Xieng Khouang became today’s Muang Khoun while ‘Xieng Khouang’ is now the province. Originally famous for its 62 golden stupas, only the Buddha statue of Vat (temple) Piavat and the Taht (stupa) miraculously remain standing. Everything else is recent. Muang Phouan was once “a large and beautiful city protected by wide moats and forts occupying the surrounding hills and the opulence of the sixty-two pagodas and their stupas, of which the flanks concealed treasures, obtained the capital a fame that spread wide and far”.

Xieng Khouang was the seat of the old Tai Phouan family, which ruled for centuries over the territory of the Plain of Jars. The Tai Phouan are one of the Tai ethnic groups chronicled as descending from Khun Borom (Khun Boulom) whose offspring founded Tai principalities throughout the region- the Tai Lao, Tai Phouan, Tai Shan, Tai Siamese, Tai Lue, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Pou Tai. The first written evidence of Tai Phouan are inscriptions in the Buddhist cave, Tham Phra. The dates inscribed on the walls are 6th/7th century AD as is That (stupa) Foun; its shape is early ‘Phouan’ architecture. This surviving remnant of a substantial structure gives testimony to the advanced civilisation at the time. The Phouan people prospered from overland trade in salt, metals and forest products.

Muang Phuan/ Xiang Khouang 1651-1899 polity was based in modern Xiangkhouang Province. The Phuan are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated to Laos from southern China in the 13th century to form the independent principality of Muang Phuan at the Plain of Jars, with a capital at Xieng Khouang (Muang Khoun). In the mid-14th century, Muang Phuan was incorporated into the Tai-ethnic Lan Xang Kingdom under King Fa-ngum. The Phuan (Pu’on) monarchy claimed descent from Khun Borom. Muang Phouan became the second of the four (not the historically incorrect ‘three’) kingdoms of Lan Xang, with Champasak and Viangchan following in the early 1700s; all four ‘houses’ intermarried. Although they paid tax/ tribute to Lan Xang, they retained a high degree of mandala-model autonomy. During the 16th century the capital was dotted with temples in a distinct Xieng Khouang style; simple low roofs with a characteristic ‘waist’ at the foundation. To maintain independence Muang Phouan would pay off one or two stronger neighbours; at one time in the 1800s the whole family got carted off for an extended ‘visit’ to Vietnam. With the Lan Xang succession dispute, Phuan took the opportunity to reassert its independence (1707). This Golden Age ended in the 1770s when Muang Phouan was weakened by its own succession issues. It was twice devastated by Siam (1777-9, 1834–6, 1875-6) who deported large numbers to dig the famous klongs of Bangkok. As a result there are more Phouan in Thailand than Laos. Later Haw raiders from China laid waste to the countryside. With the French arrival and occupation of Indochina, Muang Phouan was restored as a principality with the ruling house appointed as governors (not princes unlike 16th/17th C when the Phouan family ruled as kings under the Vietnamese while paying tribute to Luang Prabang). The Franco- Siamese treaties of the 1890s placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until after WWII. 1949 it became part of the Kingdom of Laos).

  • Kham Sanh 1651–88, father to Ken Chan the Pearl of Tran Ninh
  • Kam Lan 1688–1700, son of Kham Sanh
  • Kham Sattha 1723–51, grandson Kam Lan, tributary to Vietnam, Luang Prabang, Vientiane
  • Ong Lo 1751–79
  • Somphou 1779–1803
  • Noi (Southaka Souvanna Koumar) 1803–31, nephew of Somphou, executed by Emperor Minh Mạng
  • Vietnamese control Xiang Khuoang annexed as Tran Ninh province in Vietnam 1832
  • Po 1848–65, son of Noi, vassal to Siam and Vietnam
  • Ung 1866–76, son of Noi, Haw pirates invade Xiang Khouang in 1874
  • Khanti 1876–80, son of Ung, vassal to Siam
  • Kham Ngon 1880–99, French protectorate ends autonomy


The Puan State
The Lao, originating from Dai-speaking peoples in modern Yunnan, emigrated south, along the Mekong, and settled the river valleys, where they practiced wet rice cultivation, pushing the Austro-Asiatic indigenous people towards the mountains. In the early centuries AD, tiny kingdoms emerged, consisting of small communities in river valleys and the mountains. City-states were formed, called muangs, with larger ones dominating weaker ones as vassals. The Phuan Principality of Xiang Khuang on the Plain of Jars was a contested area, which at various times paid tribute to several powerful muangs, especially Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), which became Lan Xang. Much of the history of Puan state is characterised by external power struggles to control the area, and internal rivalries, with various contenders for the throne seeking support from larger neighbours; Lan Xang, Siam and Annam. In the 15th century, Muang Phuan enjoyed semi-independent status as a result of having been annexed by Vietnam. The Puan kingdom on the Plain of Jars was reaching its apex, due to the trade route, which flourished, and the abundance of paddy land for rice cultivation. The capital, Xieng Khouang or Siang Khuang (now Muang Koon) was resplendent with golden jewel encrusted pagodas and ornate temples. At the end of the 18th century, there were competing candidates for the Phuan throne, with various factions seeking support from outside. A Vietnamese force intervened on behalf of one candidate, while the Vientiane prince supported another. To complicate things, the Siamese had captured Vientiane 1778/9, and it was now a vassal of Siam. In 1799, the Vientiane/ Siamese army raided and took prisoners, including the Phuan king, Chao Somphou, to Vientiane. One year later, the King of Vientiane tried to directly administer Siang Khuang, but the Vietnamese intervened. Vientiane was persuaded to release Chao Somphou, who later died back in the Plain of Jars. Chao Noi came to the throne at the age of 14. He imposed heavy taxes, used to build a huge palace based on that of Vientiane. Chao Anou, the next King of Vientiane, was more successful at dismantling the royal government of Siang Khuang. He dethroned Chao Noi, the legitimate heir, and reduced Siang Khuang from kingdom to province of Vientiane. Chao Noi took refuge in Vietnam, where he requested assistance. In 1828, Chao Anou rebelled against Siam and was defeated by them. He fled to safety in the Puan Kingdom of Siang Khuang. The arrival of Chao Anou on their doorstep with a Siamese army in pursuit presented the leaders of Siang Khuang with a dilemma. When the Siamese commander issued an ultimatum to surrender Chao Anou the Puan leaders quickly accepted. By the mid 1800s Vietnam ruled directly, appointing local officials as administrators. Siam still held influence in the area, as Siang Khuang was also a vassal of Luang Prabang (Lan Xang), itself a vassal of Siam. The Haw, marauding bandits from China, also known as the Black Flag overran the Plain of Jars, looted and destroyed the beautiful temples and pagodas, stripped the gold and jewels inlaid on walls and roofs, and burnt them to the ground. Siam sent an army up the Ou River to attack the Haw and drive them out. The King of Siam blamed the Puan for having brought trouble on themselves by giving rice, silver, and horses to the Haw. The Siamese army took Puan prisoners and brought them to Bangkok as slaves, including Prince Kamti, the last ruler.
We had a nice lunch and came back along the same road, stopping for a few photos. We stopped at Thuang village to watch the monks and nuns parade. Many of the women were carrying photos of recently deceased family members as is common in their style of Buddhism. They would be saying prayers for them at the nearby temple.
By the time we got back we wanted a nice drink, so we stopped at a cafe for an iced coffee (delic as usual), then found the MAG office. We made a donation and picked up two T-shirts, but the show had been suspended due to lack of numbers.
After a stroll around town we found Nisha’s curry house for a vegetarian curry (our guide turned up too, much to our surprise), then next door to Bamboozle for a pudding. Then we retired to our hotel, the Anoulackkhen Lao Hotel.

Prehistory of Xieng Khoung and the Stone Jars- The original inhabitants were hunter-gatherer Austro- Asiatic people. They traded using water routes through the mountains, including the Mekong and its many tributaries, the chief northern one being Nam (River) Ngum. These allowed them to penetrate deep into the hinterland, from where they bought products such as cardamom, gum, and foods. Because sites of funeral urns similar to those on the Plain of Jars are found in India, and Sa Huynh, it is probable that prehistoric salt traders followed a caravan route from Vietnam to India, through Xieng Khouang with its salt deposits. The Laotian upland is still an important local resource for making fermented fish paste (pla ra), a dietary staple of the region. The Plain of Jars people imported items such as cowry shells and glass beads. The Plain of Jars is an important site in late prehistoric Southeast Asia, when advances in agriculture, metal production, and long-distance trade were transforming local society. The local inhabitants say the jars were made for brewing alcohol to be consumed at a great feast to celebrate a military victory thousands of years ago. A wicked king, Chao Angka, oppressed his people so terribly they appealed to good king Khun Jeuam to liberate them. He fought a battle on the plain and defeated Chao Angka. Perhaps 2,000 years old, the relics are an archaeological wonder. In the 1930s Madeline Colani discovered some jars contained bronze and iron tools, bracelets, cowry shells and glass beads, while the rest had been looted. She concluded they were funeral urns of a vanished Bronze Age people. This theory is strengthened by the recent discovery of underground burial chambers. A little more than a mile northeast of Phonsavan the principal jar site, Ban Ang, known as Site 1, contains over 250 urns. There also is a cave, which may have served as a crematorium, as ashes and bones are found inside. A recent excavation exposed a carving of a human figure on the side of the jar, the first anthropomorphic image discovered at the site. 12 inches below the soil, flat stones covering 7 pits were discovered- 6 contained human bones and the last, a 2ft burial jar, had pieces of bone and teeth inside. These pits may be sites of secondary burials, in which the corpse is left to decompose or 'distil' into its essence, a practice common in Laos (to dry out the body and rot the soft tissue before cremation). Maybe the corpses of poor people were placed in pits, while those of the nobility were placed in the urns, which would explain their large size. Once cremated in the cave, the ashes of the elite were returned to the urns, or buried in a sacred place, freeing the jars for re-use. More than 60 jar fields have been identified on promontories and strategically high places. The tallest jars are more than 3m and weigh several tons. A few have carved symbols still visible. Circular stone discs found near the jars, presumed to be lids, are sometimes carved (one has a monkey). A distinctive figure on several urns, known as 'frogman', may link to cultures in Yunnan. There are thousands of tons of unexploded bombs, making the Plain of Jars the most dangerous and contaminated archaeological site in the world. Undetonated bombs, land mines and unexploded military ordnance contaminate +35% of the province and threaten the 200,000 people in Xieng Khouang.
Paris Peacock, Yellow Pansy

First Indochina And The Secret War
The Hmong tell of a warrior, Sin Sai, who defended the first people of earth against evil giants. He left in a flash of lightning, telling his people to stay on top of the mountains to be safe. He promised that if giants returned, he would come from the sky with an army to lead them to a kingdom of their own. This promise led to an armed movement during the French occupation. The French, finding nothing in Laos, chose to produce opium for export to China. Since the Hmong already grew opium for medicinal use, the French exacted a tax of 2 kg of opium for every person, to be collected by lowland Lao officials working for the colonial government. An acre of poppies produces only 1k of opium, so a family would need acres of poppies in addition to food crops- slave labour. There was also forced conscription to build roads. In 1917, a man called Baa Chai claimed he was in contact with Sin Sai, and called himself Chao Fa, Prince of the Sky. He led a revolt against the French until crushed in 1920. Craters from saturation bombing echo the horrors of the past- 450,000 civilians in Laos lost their lives. Refugees exceed a million. Widespread use of toxic chemical defoliants created a massive health crisis, which still persists.1954-The French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam fell to the Viet Minh. The Geneva Convention called for a cease-fire between the French and Pathet Lao. The attendees, including America, China and USSR, agreed to the formation of a coalition government, and prohibited foreign military presence in Laos.
1955 America paid the salaries of the Royal Lao Army, and created a secret Project 404 in which military officers resigned to be reassigned as civilian military advisors. Elections were held but excluded the Pathet Lao. Vietnam started moving troops. Prince Souvanna as Prime Minister tried to integrate the Pathet Lao into the Royal Lao Army. He visited Hanoi and Beijing, which annoyed America. When Pathet Lao dominated the election, Eisenhower said the communists had to be stopped.
1960 The CIA rigged the election so their choice, Poumi Nosovan, came to power. The State Department supported Souvanna, but the Department of Defence/ CIA were behind Poumi. A disgruntled army captain, Kong Le, took Vientiane and drove out Poumi (who fled to south to Savannakhet). Kong Le asked Souvanna to come back as Prime Minister. America gave aid to Poumi who drove Souvanna/ Kong Le out of Vientiane. They joined Pathet Lao and took the Plain of Jars (with Vietnamese help). Britain, France and America accepted Souvanna as the legal government of Laos, but America continued its clandestine support of Poumi. The CIA established a secret guerrilla army of Hmong, led by Vang Pao. The Hmong believed they could make a piece of Laos their own kingdom. The Soviets began supplying arms to Kong Le and the neutralists. The CIA as Air America (Sky Men) sent secret missions to carry food, arms, spies and radar to allies and drop napalm on enemy positions. The State Department switched to Poumi, while the CIA continued with Vang Pao. The Soviets supported Kong Le. North Vietnam and China aided the Pathet Lao, and Britain was on Souvanna's side.
During the 1965-73 civil war in northern Laos, 3 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos. The war in northern Laos was led by the Hmong Maj. Gen. Vang Pao. His tactics resulted in heavy casualties, so eventually only children and men over 45 remained to serve as soldiers. He would withhold rice from communities that shielded their young. The Hmong fought bravely, but WWII carbines given by the CIA were no match for the Pathet Lao carrying AK-47’s, and Soviet tanks. Towards the end, children under 15 constituted the bulk of the Hmong force. In 1973 peace was signed in Vientiane. A coalition government was formed. The Pathet Lao sent troops to secure Sala Pu Koun, so the Hmong took up arms to help the Royalists defend the Plain of Jars. Vang Pao's forces were routed and Long Chieng was about to be overrun. The US offered to airlift Vang Pao to Thailand, and he requested help in airlifting 5000 of his people to safety. The CIA sent 4 planes. They mobbed the planes with people thrown out as they flew off. The thousands left tried to flee to Thailand, but were met by communist troops at Hin Heup Bridge and dispersed. Many hid in the jungles and formed the Chao Fa resistance at Pu Bia.

Posted by PetersF 16:48 Archived in Laos Tagged laos plain_of_jars archaeology phonsavan field_of_jars xiang_khouan Comments (0)

Laos Vientiane

Wats and Buddha Park

Xieng Khouang to Vientiane 17th August

We got up early enough to at least get some breakfast- although a couple of large families were hoovering all up in front of them. Then we were collected and driven to Phonsavan airport QV402 12:20-12:50. A bit of wait ensued. Unbelievably they still use TYPEWRITERS to deal with flights/ ticketing there. Anyway we were told that the flight would now go via Luang Prabang because not enough people wanted to go to Vientiane (which was odd because EVERYONE on the plane was going there). They DIDN’T tell us we’d have to get off at Luang Prabang and recheck in- oh no, they just stopped at Luang Prabang and said everyone off & no further information which would have been more than useful. Cue a variety of non-locals wandering around an airport (security!!! ha ha) wondering what to do. Then, having hung around for a couple of hours we then reboarded the same plane we’d got off (which had not even been cleaned) for Vientiane Wattay airport.
When we FINALLY got back on the exact same plane with the exact same people we had a pleasant flight to Vientiane. As we stayed quite low we were able to see a lot of Laos from the air- over LP, the hills/ mountains, the rivers and river deltas and down over the Mekong into Vientiane airport at 1.50 (so an hour wasted).

The guide who met us (seriously middle class) explained Laos had a communist political system but capitalist economic system (with no trace of irony in his voice!) and god forbid anyone thinks they are remotely like North Korea- clearly they have a serious dislike of NK. He was scathing on corruption in government & fairly outspoken, but clearly deeply admired Kaysone.
It was a much busier town compared to Luang Prabang, but still not a long drive. The place was bustlier, more traffic, more modern buildings, until we arrived at the old quarter where our hotel was (the Lao Orchid, Chao Anou Road). This was really nice hotel with a fountain outside, the Mekong only 1 min walk and a golden temple opposite (Wat Ong Teu). We settled in to a very pleasant room (view so-so and teeny tiny safe), then went to find a late lunch. We’d had so much Asian-fusion we wanted something different and only 5 buildings up from us found a nice pizzeria (the Gondola).

Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan (Temple of the Heavy Buddha) is one of the oldest in Vientiane as the site was first used by Settathirat in the 16th century although it has since been rebuily (19th/20th century). The original Luang Prabang I style has been kept, including the rectangular sim. The bronze Phra Ong Teu Buddha is the largest in the city. It is on a cardinal point with three other wats. As with all wats, the complex contained a sim (ordination hall), ho rackhang (bell tower), ho kong (drum tower), that (stupa) and kuti (monastic house). It was a typical wat of Laos with its highly decorated complex. The green background of the entrance and temple had carved and gilded vine leaves (similar to lotus leaves). There was the typical double archway with its six Buddhas and the guardian nagas (although they pre-date Buddhism, they are often seen as representative of Shiva). Often nagas in Laos were multi-headed, but this one was singular.
Then we walked around the block, finding an outdoor restaurant we booked for the next evening (though their English was very limited, unusual for a hotel) and came around back to the Mekong front. It was odd to realise that the opposite bank, whose buildings and even cars we could see so well, was in fact Thailand! We walked along the attractive front watching the locals activities- outdoor Zumba, badminton, jogging etc. As the sunset we looked back to watch it dip into the river for a glorious colour.

Carrying on along the riverfront we stopped when we got a huge statue of Chao Anouvong. We turned back and walked through the park of the same name until we arrived at the Night Market as dusk fell. Not a patch on the market in LP and much more expensive and so much tat! After a snack in the hotel we strolled along to the final end of the night market, which was close to our hotel, then wandered back the opposite way past the shops and temples (there are a LOT in Vientiane).
In 2012 Vientiane completed a massive redevelopment along the riverside. Previously home to rustic sunset shacks and simple eateries, the river was higher, as the Chinese had not yet damed upstream on the Mekong. The western strip of Fa Ngum was a small dirt road, lined with ramshackle restaurants out over the water. At the far east end of the park is a large statue of King Settathirath, the king who established Vientiane as the capital in the 16th century and is revered today.

Kingdom of Vientiane- Vientiane was originally a Mon city named Chandapuri or City of the Moon. The Lao changed the name to Vieng Chanthaburi Sisattanak or “Walled City of Sandalwood and a Million Nagas,” later shortening it to Vieng Chan (Vientiane). The kingdom was formed in 1707 as a result of the split of the Kingdom of Lan Xang. The kingdom was a Burmese vassal 1765-78 and a Siamese vassal 1778-1828 when it was annexed by Siam. The Kingdom of Vientiane was formed as a result of the succession dispute between Sai Ong Hue (backed by the Vietnamese court at Huế) vs Kingkitsarat (backed by the Tai Lü kingdom of Sipsong Panna). The kingdom was at various times rivals with the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Champasak. By the mid-18th century, the Lao kingdoms were simultaneously paying tribute to Burma, China, Siam and Vietnam. Following the Rebellion of Chao Anouvong in 1828, Vientiane was destroyed and the kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak annexed by Siam.
● Setthathirath II 1707–1735 aka Ong Lo/ Sai Ong Hue/ Trieu Phuc; nephew of Souligna Vongsa (1698–1706). Sethathirat II was the king of Lān Xāng. He spent his early years in exile at Hue while his uncle King Souringa vongsa was King of Lan Xang. His father, Prince Som Phou, fled to Vietnam when nobles placed his younger brother Vongsa on the throne. On the death of Vongsa, a noble, Tian Thala ascended the throne, but was deposed by Prince Nan Tharat, King of Lan Xang (1695–1698) and grandson of Vickhsai (King of Lan Xang 1633–1638). In 1698 Ong Lo attacked Vientiane, the capital of Lan Xang, and with help from Vietnam ousted Nan Tharat. Ong Sethathirat II and in 1705 he moved the Prabang Buddha from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. His cousin Prince Kitsarath, grandson of King Vongsa, refused to recognise him, asked for Siamese help and was granted independence from Lan Xang, which was thus divided into rival kingdoms of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Another grandson of Vongsa, Prince Nokasat Song also saw the opportunity to break away from Lan Xang and was granted independence by Siam to form the kingdom of Champasak. King Sethathirat II’s sons Sadet Chao Fa Anga Lankaya (Ong-Long) and Sadet (Ong-Bun), succeeded him in Vientiane.
● Ong Long (1730–1767) (Burmese vassal, 1765–1768)
● Ong Bun (1767–1778) (1st reign) (Burmese vassal)
● Interregnum (1778–80) General Yaksin (Phraya Supho), Siam’s governor, drove Ong Boun into exile and held hostage his three sons, Nanthasèn, Inthavong and Anouvong.
● Ong B(o)un (1780 - 1781) (2nd reign) returned as a Siamese vassal, but in 1782, King Rama I (Siam) ordered Prince Nanthasèn to take his father's place.
● Nanthasen (1781 -1795) ruled as a Siamese vassal until 1793 when he rebelled, but was defeated. He was imprisoned in Bangkok and Prince Inthavong (Phrachao Xaiyasetthathirath) took his place, with Anouvong as his assistant.
● Intharavong Setthathirath III (1795 -1805)
● Setthathirath IV 1805
● Chao Anouvong (1805 -1828)
Chao Anouvong (regnal name Setthathirath V) led the Laotian Rebellion (1826–9) as last monarch of the Kingdom of Vientiane.
Vientiane had a tributary relationship with the Vietnamese at Hué, a relationship that, in the wake of the failed Laotian Rebellion for independence (1826–1829) of Anouvong, the last king of Vientiane, became a casus belli for the Siamese– Vietnamese War (1831–1834). Anouvong succeeded to the throne 1805 on the death his brother, Chao Inthavong Setthathirath IV, who had succeeded their father,
Phrachao Siribounyasan Xaiya Setthathirath III. In the first Burmese–Siamese War (1548/9), the upper Mekong had been subject to Burmese and Siamese corvée labour, slave raids and forced migration. Pra Chao Siribounyasan (Ong B(o)un) had sought a
middle ground, but only succeeded in angering King Taksin of Thonburi (Siam).
On the death of his brother 1805, Anouvong ascended the Vientiane throne. Prince Anou recognised the suzerainty of the Siamese and assisted them against Burma. In 1819 Champasak's aged ruler died. With the support of Krommeunchetsadabodin (later King Rama III), Anouvong persuaded Rama II to appoint his son, Ratxabout, to the throne in Champasak. Anou intended to invade Thailand and repatriate the ethnic Laos but failed
with a mutiny among the non-Lao. Rama III ordered Vientiane sacked. Anouvong gained Vietnamese assistance and recovered Vientiane. However, the Thai army defeated and captured Anouvong, before completely destroying Vientiane apart from the Buddhist temple Wat Si Saket. Anouvong was taken to Bangkok where Rama III kept him in an iron cage, until his death the following year at age 61.

Vientiane- Wats and Buddha Park 18th August

We had an excellent breakfast on the outdoor veranda, then met our guide for the day. First we drove a short distance to Wat Sisaket - an old and interesting temple close to the river. Amazingly the cloisters (fairly unique to this area) are filled with double statues of Buddha in niches. When it was being built the king asked people to put Buddhas in and many couples did just that. In front of the wall were lots of larger Buddha statues in various positions, of various styles and dates and of various materials. Some were very old, others more modern. As before we saw two long naga-decorated poles (hanging horizontally), which were used to carry out the Buddhas to parade them and ceremonially wash them during New Year celebrations. The central sim was being restored, with artists recreating the wonderful wall paintings of animals (especially elephants) and foliage. Outside were several stupas. I asked how one got to be buried by an important temple and was answered that it was generally head monks or rich people who had donated a lot (even today). The most modern still had their photos on the stupa’s exterior.
Wat Sisaket (Wat Sisaketsata Sahatsaham) is Vientiane's oldest surviving monastery. Built by King Anouvong in 1818, the Siamese style perhaps saved it from the destruction that came with the Siamese armies in 1828. It is located near the Presidential Palace. A restoration took place in 1935. The inner sanctuary contains an extensive display of Buddha images from the 16th to the 19th century--6840 such images. The grounds are richly planted with a variety of vegetation as a restful retreat.
Buddhist sculpture in Laos The earliest Buddha images found in Laos are those of the Mon and Khmer kingdoms of the first millennium. Dvaravati-style Mon Buddha images are carved into the rock face at Vangxang, north of Vientiane, and several sculptures have found their way into museums, the most noteworthy being housed at Ho Phra Keo in Vientiane. According to legend, Laos’ most famous Buddha image - the sacred pha bang - was cast in Sri Lanka, but its typically post-Bayon Khmer features betray its real origins. The design of the earliest indigenous Buddha images dating from the period 1353-1500 is heavily influenced by that of the pha bang, but by the early 16th century a distinctive Lao style had begun to develop. From the reign of King Wisunarath (1501-1520), Lao Buddha images began to display a characteristic beak-like nose, extended earlobes, tightly curled hair, and long hands and fingers. At this time there also appeared two mudras (gestures) found only in Lao Buddhist sculpture - ‘Calling for Rain’ (in which Buddha stands with both arms held stiffly at the side of the body, fingers pointing downwards) and ‘Contemplating the Tree of Enlightenment’ (in which Buddha stands with hands crossed at the wrist in front of the body). The period 1500-1695 is regarded as the ‘golden age’ of the Lao Buddha image, and many magnificent examples of religious sculptural art from this period may still be seen in Ho Phra Keo, Wat Sisakhet and Luang Prabang National Museum. However, with the demise of Lan Xang and the growth of Siamese influence during the 18th century, Lao sculptors fell under the influence of the contemporaneous Ayutthaya and Bangkok (Rattanakosin) styles. By the French colonial period decline had set in, and Buddha images were cast less frequently. The Laos Buddha sculpture uses a variety of mediums, including bronze, wood, gold and silver and precious stones. Of these, bronze is by far the most common and was used to create many important Buddha statues, including the colossal images at Wat Manorom in Luang Prabang (14th century) and at Wat Ong Tu and Wat Chanthaburi (Wat Chan) in Vientiane (16th century). Smaller images were often cast in gold, silver or precious stone, while wood and ceramics were popular for the tiny, votive images found in cloisters or caves.
Just across the street from the Presidential Palace is Vientiane's oldest surviving monastery, Wat Sisaket. The temple was built between 1819 and 1824 by King Anou. According to tradition, this was where the Lao lords and nobles came to swear allegiance to the King. When Siam sacked Vientiane in 1828, they spared this temple, perhaps because it is built in a style similar to Thai temples. The French restored the temple in 1924, and again around 1930. The main feature of the temple is a square cloister that encloses the sim (ordination hall). This is a common feature of large Thai temples, but uncommon in Laos. A very unusual feature in any temple is the thousands of small niches in the outer wall, each of which houses a small Buddha image. On shelves in front of the wall are three rows of larger Buddha images, in various styles and materials. In a converted entrance portico west side of the cloister is a sort of "Buddha bin" holding hundreds of broken images discovered during excavations in support of one of the restorations. At the centre of the cloister is the ordination hall (sim). An outer gallery is lined with inward leaning 12-cornered columns, topped by elaborately carved wooden brackets and fretwork. Inside the hall, the walls are painted at eye level with scenes from the jataka, a series of stories about the past lives of the Buddha. The life illustrated is an unusual choice. It is the story of Prince Pookkharabat, who appointed an "honest thief" as chief minister and defeated enemy armies with the assistance of a magic fan. Above the murals are more small niches holding Buddha images. West of the cloister, straddling the outer wall of the temple, is the former library where the palm leaf manuscripts documenting Buddhist philosophy were once held. The square building houses a massive cabinet that once held the books. Although now faded, the cabinet was once finished in black lacquer with delicate golden designs. Behind the library, between the wall of the cloister and the outer wall of the temple, is a dirt path lined with small stupa containing the ashes of cremated temple devotees. Although ostensibly a museum, Wat Sisaket is still a working monastery, with several monks and novices in residence.
We walked across the road to the former presidential palace. The beautifully manicured gardens were filled with flowers, birds and butterflies with the palace to the right (not open to the public) and the royal temple Wat Hor Pha Keo/Kaew. A huge Golden birdwing butterfly fluttered past us. This impressive temple has a long flight of steps up and is now filled with a variety of mismatched artefacts, sadly with no labelling whatsoever.Haw Phra Kaew was built 1565/6, on the orders of King Setthathirath. The temple housed the Emerald Buddha figurine, which Setthathirath had brought from Chiang Mai, then the capital of Lanna, to Luang Prabang. When Vientiane was seized by Siam in 1778, the figurine was taken to Thonburi and the temple was destroyed. After it was rebuilt by King Annouvong of Vientiane in the 19th century, it was again destroyed by Siamese forces when King Annouvong rebelled against Siam in an attempt to regain full independence. The revered Buddha now resides in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok. The temple was rebuilt for a third time by the French between 1936 and 1942, during the French colonisation of Indochina.
We then drove down the wonderful French boulevard Lane Xang to the Patouxai Monument. This is a Lao take on the Arc de Triomphe, decorated inside in true Lao fashion! The coloured glass mosaics shone in the sunshine. We walked up the stone steps inside to the top, up one side and down the other. Originally it was designed to house an unknown soldier monument, but now almost every level we got to was filled with gift shops. We got an elephant and a silver Lao zodiac bracelet before coming back down.

Wat That Luang
We then drove to a huge car park and walked through Saysettha Park (with Wat Neua That Luang on our left) and past the huge statue of King Sayasetthathirath down to Wat That Luang- a huge golden temple. Inside were cloisters on all four sides and a golden central sim. The sim itself, quite large, was built literally on top of the earliest sim (which is still there). The temple was originally built to house (yet another!) breastbone of Buddha.
All spaces outside of Pha That Luang (gardens, temples / Wat, monuments, statues, Palace) are free with open access. The Palace Wat Neua Thatluang has an impressive facade, but inside there is hardly anything outstanding. Most striking are the small temples around Pha That Luang.
Pha That Luang, according to Lao story, is a 3rd century Hindu temple. Buddhist missionaries (inc Bury Chan, Praya Chanthabury Pasithisak and five Arahata) from the Mauryan Empire were sent by Emperor Ashoka, with a holy relic (breast bone) of Buddha to the stupa. It was rebuilt in the 13th century as a Khmer temple, which fell into ruin. Recent excavation has found the original temple is actually inside the new temple, intact as the new one was built around/ over it. In the mid-16th century, King Setthathirat relocated his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane and built Pha That Luang in 1566. It was rebuilt four km from the centre of Vientiane at the end of That Luang Road and named Pha That Luang. Its base is 69m, its height 45m, and it is surrounded by 30 small stupas. A covered cloister ran all round. In 1641, an envoy of the Dutch East India Company, Gerrit van Wuysoff, visited Vientiane and was received by King Sourigna Vongsa at the temple in a magnificent ceremony. He was very impressed by the enormous pyramid covered with gold leaf. However, the stupa was plundered by the Burmese, Siamese and Chinese Haw. Pha That Luang was destroyed in a Thai invasion in 1828. In 1900 the French restored it to its original design based on the detailed 1867 drawings by French architect-explorer Louis Delaporte. During the Franco-Thai War, Pha That Luang was heavily damaged in a Thai air raid. After the end of WWII, Pha That Luang was reconstructed. The architecture includes many references to Lao culture and identity, as a symbol of Lao nationalism. The stupa consists of three levels, each conveying a reflection of Buddhist doctrine. The second level is 47x47m and the third is 29x29m. From ground to pinnacle, Pha That Luang is 44m high. The encircling walls are 85m long and contain large numbers of Lao and Khmer sculptures including one of Jayavarman VII.
We left the cloisters on the right to the buildings at the back of the wat, whose gardens were filled with beautiful statues with Lao Buddhist (and Hindu) themes. Many had stories attached.

Hindu and Buddhist stories
In Hindu Vaishist mythology Vishnu defeats Indra (although Brahma remains the Supreme Being). His consort is Lakshmi and is generally seen with his mount, Garuda the eagle. Vishnu is often seen as a previous incarnation of Buddha, and has many avatar forms, as does Lakshmi. Followers of Shiva, however, regard Shiva as the Supreme Being rather than Brahman. Indra, who may or may not remain defeated depending on local traditions, is often seen riding his 3-headed elephant, Airavata. Other stories commonly known in Laos include deities of Hanuman (Monkey god), Rama (an avatar of Vishnu), rakshasi (demons like Ravanna) and other lesser gods.

Patuxai is literally Victory Gate, and formerly Anosavari (memory) Monument, was known by the French as Monument Aux Morts). It is a war monument built 1957-68 and dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Aka Patuxai, Patuxay, Patousai, Patusai, Patuxai Arch or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, it is typically Laotian in design, decorated with mythological creatures such as the kinnari (half-female, half-bird). The monument has gateways on four sides towards the four cardinal directions. In front of each gate, there is a pond. The four ponds represent the open lotus flower. The four corners of the gateways are adorned by statues of a Naga King (mythical symbol of Laos), with a depiction signifying spraying of a jet of water (nature, fertility, welfare and happiness). Two concrete staircases wind up from inside the main structure, passing through each floor, right up to the top of the monument. Viewing galleries are provided on the upper floors. The first floor has mainly the offices of the management of the monument; the kiosks dealing with tourist paraphernalia (artefacts, souvenirs and refreshments) are also housed on this floor. The next level is an open space with four corner towers decorated with frescoes of foliage. The small towers, with temple like ornamentation, are Laotian style and provided with spires. Each tower has a stairway. Another central larger tower above this floor has a staircase, which leads to the top floor that has the viewing platform from where a panoramic view of Vientiane can be seen.
We collected our car and drove to Nong Chan market- finally a shopping mall! Our car dropped us off. Inside it was upmarket stalls and we headed upstairs to the jewellery area where at last I managed to buy a golden elephant charm. To the right side and behind was the old Khua Din Market, which was being slowly moved into the new mall. We had a wander, but it was not very impressive, so we found our car again.
We went past a large school and I asked about schools. Our guide said that although he lived in the suburbs, his daughter went to this city centre school because it was the best (parent power- no league tables) in his opinion and in Laos you had the choice of where to send your children, as long as you paid (this was the most expensive). All schools have a uniform set by the head and some curriculum freedom within a set framework. Our guide said in Vientiane he’d noticed families getting smaller (he had no plans for another child) and that far more women worked (this was in marked contrast to LP where our guide said hardly any married women worked).
We arrived at Kualao restaurant (one of the best in Vientiane) where we ordered their regal meal (we were told 1 between 2 was fine and they were right!). Our guide told them 1 spicy and 1 not (mine) and the fish was brought in 2 different bowls, thank goodness. We tried some unusual vegetables like Midnight Horror, turkey berry, yanang, acacia and scarlet wisteria. The pudding was sweet purple sticky rice (which we’d had before)- a Lao speciality. http://www.kualaorestaurant.com/gallery.html

After lunch we set off out of Vientiane along the banks of the Mekong. Two shopping malls were being built on the outskirts and we noticed some very
smart houses along the banks. The tarmac road became a very rutted and bumpy track along to the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan). We loved this park, filled with a variety of images spanning Hindu and Buddhist as well as Lao stories. The laying Buddha was the one of the most significant, but we saw plenty of Ravannas, Hanumans, Sitas, Ramas, Ganeshas to mention just a few. The most ambitious was a Tree of Life. It was by far the largest and we were able to climb inside (also carved) and sit on the top.
It was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism. This explains why his park is full not only of Buddha images but also of Hindu gods as well as demons and animals from both beliefs. The most outstanding ones include Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant (aka Erawan and Airavata), a four-armed deity sitting on a horse and an artistic deity with 12 faces and many hands, each holding interesting objects. They are all equally impressive not only because of their enormous size but because they are full of interesting details and interesting motifs. As we drove back we stopped to admire Friendship Bridge. This was built quite recently between Laos and Thailand. Our guide said many in Vientiane would use it as a day trip to Thailand. Next week he and his family would use it to go and buy school supplies (schools in Laos expect children to provide everything themselves). For a trip a Lao family would go to the bridge and present their passports (this took about 30 mins-1 hour depending on queue lengths), then drive an hour to the shopping centres at Udon. Since it would be lunchtime by that time most families would now stop for a lunch or picnic before commencing an afternoon shop. Then they would return.
As we stopped for me to take a photo of it the driver leapt out and pay a man on a bicycle. I wondered why until I realised he was a mobile baguette seller! I asked if we could go back via the Black Stupa and the driver kindly detoured so we could stop and have a look.
Black Wat That Dam Stupa (built before 1828) That Dam (Black Stupa) reportedly houses a seven- headed dragon that protected local citizens during the 1828 Siamese-Lao war that destroyed much of the city. The protective 7-headed naga water serpent supposedly had the power to protect Vientiane from invaders; perhaps its failure to do so is why this stupa receives no upkeep!
We now drove back to the hotel. After a rest we went for stroll to the wat directly opposite- Wat Chantha(buri). As we walked through we listened to the beautiful chanting. In the grounds was a wooden burnt-looking Buddha, which was clearly popular with worshippers. Wat Chanthaburi or Wat Chan is a magnificent Buddhist temple built in the middle of the 16th century. It was destroyed during the Siam invasion of 1928, but has since undergone numerous restorations. The temple is highly rated because of its elaborate decorative features such as carved wood designs, as well as for the well- known huge seated Buddha sculpture made of bronze in the 16th century. The image is said to have survived numerous calamities.
We walked up the old quarter and arrived at a restaurant area filled with what was for them, ethnic restaurants e.g. Vietnamese, Japanese, German, French, etc. We were peckish, so we stopped for a Danish and Lao coffee- iced, local style at the Scandinavian Bakery the opposite side of the fountain in this pedestrianised square. The food was lovely, but there was no air con and it was way too warm, so we left as dusk fell. The changing lights on the Nam Phou fountain had been turned on and it looked pretty. Nam Phou fountain is the most famous fountain of Vientiane not so much for its beauty but for its unbeatable location in the heart of the Laotian capital. The square with the fountain, Plaza/Square Nam Phou, is one of the most popular restaurants of Vientiane zomas.
As we walked down towards the Mekong a massive storm brewed with massive shots of lighting (but no thunder). We landed up at Lane Xang hotel, hoping for a show but only got a few dances before all the audience started joining in. We drank our beer and left for our dinner at La Signature. We sat outside and had an amazing French dinner, including a wonderful salmon. It began to rain so we asked for a plastic bag so we could get back without getting our cameras wet. Then after a long day, bed!

Lao folk songs are passed on by word of mouth and rarely written down. The basis of Laotian music is the Khene: a series of bamboo sticks of different lengths, consisting of around 14 bamboo tubes connected to a mouthpiece. Other traditional Lao instruments are: Khouy (Bamboo Flute), Saw (aka Saw-Oh or Saw- Ai) violin, Nang Nat Row (bamboo xylophone), Khong Vong (series of 16 cymbals struck by a cloth covered mallet). Traditional folk music, invariably associated with dancing, or drama, is most commonly referred to as Lam or Maw Lam, where Maw is the word for expert. The oldest and most well known dance is the Lam Vong, the Circle Dance. Lam Salavan style has recently appeared. Classical dance or court dance was performed for the royal family of Laos, and dancers act out classical stories from famous Lao legends. Some ethnomusicologists believe that Laos has preserved the ancient art music of the Khmers. Folk music maintains a distinctly Lao flavour, bawdy and informal, pelvis-gyrating, foot-stomping music. In general, Laotian music has a happy and energetic sound and most people absolutely love to dance to it. Dancing to Lao music involves rotating your hand in a circular motion to the beat of the music while keeping rhythmic time with your feet. Laotian music generally speaks about rice farming, flirting with each other while farming rice, and falling in love.

Leaving- August 18th

We left after a late breakfast to arrive at the airport with plenty of time. It was a comfy, unbusy place, but what amused us most was a “student” trying her best to get us to fill in a questionnaire designed mostly to make us say what a great place Laos is. The funniest multiple choice was “Do you agree/ disagree that the LDR has a transparent democratic government?” We chose not to answer!
The Kingdom of Laos was a constitutional monarchy 9/11/1953- 12/1975 when its last king, Savang Vatthana, surrendered the throne to the Pathet Lao, who abolished the monarchy in favour of a Marxist state called the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Given self-rule, the new Constitution of 1947 did not stipulate a ruler. In the years that followed, three groups led by The Three Princes, contended for power: neutralists under Prince Souvanna Phouma, right-wingers under Prince Boun Oum of Champassak, and left-wing Vietnamese-backed Lao Patriotic Front (now Pathet Lao) under Prince Souphanouvong and future Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane. Sisavang Vong Sisavang Vong succeeded his father as King of Luang Prabang 1904. He united the provinces of Houaphan; Houakhong, Xiengkhouang, Vientiane, Champassak and Sayboury. He supported French rule in Laos, refused to cooperate with Lao nationalists and was deposed when the Lao Issara declared the country independent. 1946, the French reinstated as king. When he became ill, he made his son Savang Vatthana regent. His son succeeded on his death in 1959. He was cremated and buried in That Luang. Sisavang/ Savang Vatthana (full name Samdach Brhat Chao Mavattaha Sri Vitha Lan Xang Hom Khao Phra Rajanachakra Lao Parama Sidha Khattiya Suriya Varman Brhat Maha Sri Savangsa Vadhana) was the last king of Laos (1959- forced a abdication 1975). He was active in Lao politics, trying to stabilise his country after the political turmoil started at the Geneva Conference 1954. Neutralist Prince Souvanna Phouma from Vientiane claimed to be Prime Minister and was recognised by the USSR; Prince Boun Oum of Champassak in the south, right-wing, pro-USA, dominated the Pakse area, and was recognised as Prime Minister by USA; and in the far north, Prince Souphanouvong who led the left wing resistance movement, Pathet Lao, claimed to be Prime Minister with the backing of the North Vietnam communists. All sides dealt through the pro-western King Savang Vatthana. 1961, the National Assembly voted Boun Oum into power and King Savang Vatthana left Luang Prabang. He wanted the Three Princes to form a coalition but it collapsed. 1964 a coup resulted in the Pathet Lao on one side and the neutralist + right wing factions on the other. Pathet Lao refused a coalition and Laotian Civil War began. August 23, 1975, Pathet Lao forces entered Vientiane and Sisavang Vatthana was forced to abdicate after the Pathet Lao abolished the monarchy. He was given the meaningless position of Supreme Advisor to the President. He refused to leave the country and in 1976, fearing he might escape house arrest and lead a resistance, the Communist authorities arrested him, the Queen, Crown Prince Vong Savang and the older princes and sent them to internment (re-education) Camp Number One, where important political prisoners were held. He was 70. 1978, it was reported that he, Queen Khamphoui and Crown Prince Vong Savang, had died from malaria. On hearing the news, the King's youngest son Sauryavong Savang (who had escaped by swimming across the Mekong to Thailand) became the head of the Laotian royal family, and acted as regent to his nephew Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, who had escaped Laos in 1981. However, others say Vatthana really died in 1984, age 77. Soulivong Savang (b1963) lives in Paris.
Sukhothai Kingdom (Sukhodaya) 1238-1438 was based in the area around the city Sukhothai (now in Thailand). The area included modern Luang Prabang. Prior to the 13th century, Tai kingdoms in the northern highlands included Ngoenyang (centred on Chiang Saen- the predecessor of Lanna Kingdom) and Heokam (centred in Chiang Hung, modern Jinghong in China), both run by Tai Lue people. Sukhothai had been a trade centre and part of the Kingdom of Lawo, a Khmer vassal. Historians believe the secession of Sukhothai from the Khmer c1180 AD took place during the reign of Pho (=father) Khun (=King) Sri Naw Namthom (ruler of Sukhothai and the peripheral city of Sri Satchanalai). Two brothers, Pho Khun Bangklanghao and Pho Khun Phameung took Sukhothai from Mon hands in 1239 AD. Bangklanghao ruled Sukhothai as Sri Indraditya (founding the Phra Ruang Dynasty) and by the end of his reign 1257, Sukhothai covered the entire Chao Phraya River area. Pho Khun Ban Muang and his brother RamKhamhaeng expanded the Sukhothai kingdom, subjugating the kingdom of Supannabhum and Sri Thamnakorn (Tambralinga) and adopting Theravada Buddhism as state religion. Phrae and Muang Sua (Luang Prabang) became vassals. He helped the Mon under Wareru (who had eloped with Ramkamhaeng’s daughter) to free themselves from Pagan control and established a kingdom at Martaban (later Pegu) as a Sukhothai tributary. Relations with the Yuan commenced and Sukhothai sent trade missions to China. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai tributaries broke away. Ramkhamhaeng was succeeded by his son Loethai. The vassal kingdoms; Uttaradit in the north, Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan) liberated themselves. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 Lanna placed Tak, one of the oldest towns of Sukhothai, under its control. The powerful city of Suphanburi broke free, reducing the kingdom to local importance only. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya rose in strength, and in 1378 King Thammaracha II submitted to this new power when Ayutthaya invaded. In 1424, after the death of Sailuethai, two brothers, Paya Ram and Paya Banmeung fought for the throne. Nagarindrathirat of Ayutthaya intervened and divided the kingdom between them. Their sister married Borommaracha II of Ayutthaya and produced a son, Prince Ramesuan. When Borommapan died in 1446 without an heir, the throne passed to Ramesuan/ Trailokanat. Ramesuan was also crowned King of Ayutthaya in 1448, thus uniting the Kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.
Political Organisation
The Mekong River formed the political and economic artery of Lan Xang, so much so that the Chinese for the river Lán Cāng is synonymous with the Lao kingdom. The river provided the means for people, commerce and armies to move. It was a geographic and defensive barrier with major rapids between Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak. The Khone Falls and Si Phan Don region were not navigable and provided a natural defence for Lan Xang. The major cities of Lan Xang were Luang Prabang, Vientiane (inc the towns in Nong Khai), Xieng Khouang, Muang Sua (Muang Champa Nakhon/ Champassack), Nong Khai, Sikhottabong (later Thakhek, Nakhon Phanom, Sakhon Nakhon), and Xiang

Hun (Jinghong/ Muang Sing) in the Sipsong Panna. These 6 major cities were known as muang or vieng and had substantial fortifications and city walls. Lao chronicles record 5 supporting cities, and 97 border muang:- Say Fong Khmer trading post became a Lao cultural centre, Vieng Khuk was the port for Vientiane 1827. Nong Bua Lamphu (Muang Dan) was a fortified city traditionally administered by Lao crown princes. The cities or muang formed independent city states bound to the regional power of the king in a system known as a Mandala. Each city was headed by a city lord or chao muang. The mandala formed a system of trade and tribute. In Southeast Asia it was common practice for an invading army to forcibly move a population to where it was more accessible for taxation, conscription or corvee labour. War was an important means of generating wealth via tribute, and it was not uncommon in the mandala system to pay tribute to more than one regional power at a time. The succession of monarchs was never based solely on primogeniture, as both Sena (council of senior royal family, ministers, and generals) and Sangha (senior clergy) would choose a suitable successor based on legitimacy and merit. The state bureaucracy was originally designed by Fa Ngum and Samsenthai on a military basis to include social mobility through meritocracy. Over time the bureaucracy became hereditary.

Theravada Buddhism was made state religion of Lan Xang by King Photisarath 1527. In the villages, monasteries and towns daily life revolved around the local temple or wat. The temples were centres of learning, and all males were expected to spend at least some of their life as monk or novice. Kings established legitimacy through supporting the sangha and supporting/ constructing temples. Lan Xang had several powerful Buddha images, which served as royal palladia/ spiritual symbols, including the Phra Bang, Phra Keo (Emerald Buddha), Phra Saekham, and Phra Luk (crystal Buddha of Champassak). Animism was the earliest belief system to the Lao-Tai groups, and its traditions and practices remain a vital part of Lao spirituality. Among ethnic hill tribes of the Lao Sung and Lao Theung, animism is the dominant religion. Lao Loum believe ancient mythical serpents known as ngueak inhabit waterways, carving out the surrounding countryside and protecting key points on rivers. The earliest name for the Mekong River was Nam Nyai Ngu Luang Great River of the Giant Serpent. Ngueak. The nāga, tamed by Buddhism, were believed to bring rain, change shape, and be protection spirits inhabiting the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Nāga became a potent symbol of the kingdom of Lan Xang, so that when Siam was forced to cede territories to Laos 1893, Siam ordered state seals, which showed the garuda symbol of Thailand feeding on the nāga of Lan Xang as a thinly veiled threat. The natural world was home to spirits, which are part of the Satsana Phi. Phi are spirits of buildings or territories, natural places, etc; and ancestral spirits that protect people. The phi, which are guardians of places or towns, are celebrated at festivals with communal gatherings and offerings of food. The spirits run throughout Lao folk literature.
Economy of Lan Xang
The principle Lao crops are sticky rice and timber. Both were labour intensive and difficult to transport overland. Subsistence farming consisted of root crops, bananas, gourds, cucumbers, yams, water buffalo, chickens, pigs and domesticated animals indigenous to Lan Xang. Forest products traded at a high value. Elephants, ivory, benzoin resin (similar to Frankincense), lac (used in lacquer production), cardamom, beeswax, rhinoceros horn, porcupine quills and skins were commonly traded, especially deerskin, which was in high demand in China and Japan. Lao silk, weaving, gold, silver was in high demand. Villages would specialise in a particular craft or skill (eg tools, weapons, pottery, paper, jewellery, alcohol (lao-lao), elephant training). Iron ore was mined in Xieng Khouang, tin and gems north of Luang Prabang/ Annamite Range. Luang Prabang was the religious and royal capital of Lan Xang, but Vientiane was the most populous (and political capital from 1560).

Posted by PetersF 17:48 Archived in Laos Tagged buddhism laos vientiane wat lan_xang Comments (0)

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