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Laos: Luang Prabang

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11th August 2014- Flight VN2905 from Hanoi, arriving at 19.50. Arrival at Luang Prabang
12th August- City Tour of Luang Prabang, visiting the Morning Market, and wats of Xieng Thong and Mai, touring the Royal Palace and Night Market.
13th August- Kuangsi Waterfall and Ban Long Lao Conservation area. A trek through the jungle, to Kuangsi Pools and Bear Rescue centre. The Royal ballet evening.
14th August- A day exploring Luang Prabang wats and cruise down the Mekong.
15th August- A drive from Luang Prabang to visit Khmu, Hmong and Akha villages, the market town of Phoukoun and Nong Tang Lake and arriving at Phonsavan.
16th August- We visited the Plain of Jars and the former capital, Muang Khoun
17th August- A flight to Vientiane, followed by a sunset stroll along the Mekong.
18th August- City tour of Vientiane to Wat Sisaket, the Royal Palace, Wat That Luang, Patouxi and Buddhaland.
19th August- flight to Saigon.

Luang Prabang 11th August

We arrived at Hanoi airport with plenty of time, more than we expected, as the traffic had been so good. As it was too early to check into our Lao Air flight we went upstairs with our guide to have a drink while waiting. The upstairs area was quiet and cool with plenty of cafes, so we ordered some iced coffee. Finally we decided it must be time so went back down- the desk was not open as the previous flight (to Vientiane) was still being boarded (by the same staff). Luckily after a short wait we could check in and go through. The flight was late, but the waiting was cool.
The plane, a twin prop ATR Turboprop 72 (French Italian made) took off in the light (just) and we touched down an hour later in Luang Prabang. The flight over northern Laos showed how little occupied the land was as we saw hardly any lights.
Luckily I’d pre-filled most of the visa documents and even remembered the passport sized photos so it was a quick process through the immigration. It had gone up to $35 each (but no exit payment, so worked out roughly the same and I’d already put all the visa money in a separate envelope). Three immigration desks later we were through- our luggage was there too so we checked it through and met our guide. I told him I was wearing a 100-elephant jumpsuit to celebrate Lan Xang (Land of a Million Elephants).
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The car, a massive Hyundai, whisked us along Phetsarat Road for 15 mins to our hotel, the Le Sen Boutique Hotel (113 Manorom Rd, Ban Mano, PO Box 234, Luang Prabang, Laos Tel: +856.71.261 668). A lovely reception area, thin outdoor pool and a room with a very smelly drain just outside. A lick of paint on the concrete walls would have been a nice touch too! Still, the room was huge, the shower warm, the wifi (when we got it working) was OK. The TV choices were, well, limited (Thai TV, state-sponsored Lao which even they didn’t watch, BBC World (yawn) and some american news)- lucky we don’t watch TV! We decided not to bother going out, but got room service instead (forgetting that the Lao staff weren’t allowed in the room at the same time as us). Nice meal, cuddle, sleep!

Luang P(h)rabang (ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ), is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. It is at the confluence of two rivers that almost surround it, beneath a temple-topped Mt Phousi. Luang Prabang is a patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and French colonial architecture. Luang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom (Lan Xang - land of the million elephants) from 1353. The city owes its present name to the Pha Bang, a Buddha image (now in the Royal Palace Museum) brought to the city by King Visoun in the early 1500s. At the end of the 16th century, Lan Xang kingdom became a weak independent city- state paying tribute to several surrounding kingdoms. The 1887 attack by the Chinese Haw led the Luang Prabang monarchy to accept the protection of the French. The city fell into decline in the late 20th century following the withdrawal of the French, and the 1975 revolution, which brought an end to the Luang Prabang monarchy. The reopening of Laos to tourism in 1989 resulted in a turnaround in the city's fortunes.
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Ancient History- In 2009 an ancient skull (+46,0000) found Tam Pa Ling cave (north Laos) is the oldest modern human in Southeast Asia. Archaeological evidence suggests an agricultural society existed in the area by the 4th millennium BC. Burial jars and sepulchres show a complex society in which bronze objects appeared c1500 BC, and iron tools c700 BC. During the 4th-8th century, communities along the Mekong River began to form into townships, or Muang.

Tai-Lao migration
Hoabinhian hunter-gatherers were the ancestors of the present-day upland minorities, known as Lao Thoeng (Upland Lao), speaking Austro-Asiatic languages; the largest group being the Khamu/Khmu/Kammu of north Laos. Southern Laos is the probable birthplace of the Khmer, spreading south to establish Funan. The earliest kingdom in southern Laos in Chinese texts was Chenla, 5th century. Its capital was close to Champasak. A little later the Mon people (also Austro-Asiatic) established kingdoms on the middle Mekong; Sri Gotapura (Sikhottabong in Lao), with its capital Tha Khaek and Chanthaburi near Viang Chan (Vientiane). Tai peoples migrated from south China in the 8th century, including the Tai-Lao of Laos and Tai-Shan of Burma.
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All spoke Tai languages, practised wet-rice cultivation along river valleys, and organised themselves into small principalities (meuang), presided over by an hereditary ruler (chao meuang=lord of the meuang). The Tai-Lao, or Lao for short, moved down the rivers of north Laos- the Nam Ou and Nam Khan until they arrived at the Mekong (Great River). They worshipped ngeuk, powerful snake deities believed to inhabit rivers. An early Lao legend, the Nithan (story of) Khun Borom is the creation myth of the Lao. It tells how two great gourds grew at Meuang Thaeng (Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam) from inside which sounds could be heard. Divine beings (khun) pierced one gourd with a hot poker, and out poured dark-skinned Lao Thoeng. The khun cut a knife hole in the other gourd, through which escaped the light-skinned Tai-Lao (Lao Loum, Lowland Lao). The gods sent Khun Borom to rule both groups. He had seven sons, whom he sent to found seven Tai kingdoms. The youngest son founded the kingdom of Xieng Khuang on the Plain of Jars, and the oldest, Khun Lo, went down the Nam Ou, seizing Meuang Sua from its Lao Thoeng ruler and renaming it Xiang Dong Xiang Thong (Luang Prabang).

Muang Sua (Luang Prabang) was conquered in 698 by a Tai prince, Khun Lo, who seized his opportunity when the king of Nanzhao was engaged elsewhere. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom (Lao/ Shan creation legend). Khun Lo established a dynasty whose 15 rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for over a century. During the Chenla kingdom (south Laos/ north Cambodia) 6th- 8th centuries, Luang Prabang became known as Muang Sawa, the Lao rendering of ‘Java’. Possible this referred to Javanese sponsorship of Chenla. Late 8th century Nanzhao intervened frequently in the affairs of the principalities of the middle Mekong Valley, resulting in the re- occupation of Muang Sua in 709. Nanzhao prince-administrators replaced the Tai overlords. This occupation probably ended before the northward expansion of the Khmer Empire to Sipsong Panna under Indravarman I (877-889). The Khmer founded an outpost at Xayfong (Vientiane) and in 1070 Chanthaphanit, the local ruler of Xayfong, moved north to Muang Sua, threw out Nanzhao and took over. Chanthaphanit and his son had long reigns, during which the town became known by the Thai name Xieng Dong Xieng Thong. The dynasty seems to have lost to Khun Chuang, a ruler from the Khmu tribe, ruled 1128-69. Under Khun Chuang, a single family ruled a large territory and reinstituted the Siamese administrative system of the 7th century. Muang Sua next became the Kingdom of Sri Sattanak, a name connected with the legend of the naga said to have dug the Mekong. Theravada Buddhism was replaced by Mahayana Buddhism. Muang Sua experienced a brief period of Khmer control 1185-91 under Jayavarman VII. By 1180 the Sipsong Panna had regained their independence from the Khmers and 1238 an internal uprising in Sukhothai expelled their Khmer overlords. Yuan Mongols, who destroyed Nanzhao in 1253 made Yunnan part of their empire. They exercised a decisive political influence in the middle Mekong Valley. 1271 Panya Lang, founder of a new dynasty headed by rulers bearing the title panya (lord), began his rule over a fully sovereign Muang Sua. 1286 Panya Lang's son, Panya Khamphong (personal name Souvanna) was involved in a coup d'état instigated by the Mongols and exiled his father. On his father's death, 1316, Panya Khamphong assumed his throne. Ram Khamhaeng (1282-4), an early ruler of Sukhothai, eliminated Khmer and Cham power in central Laos and obtained the allegiance of Muang Sua as a vassal. 1286-97 Panya Khamphong's lieutenants, acting for Ram Khamhaeng, pacified vast territories. 1297-1301 Lao troops under Mongol command invaded Dai Viet but were repulsed. 1308 Panya Khamphong seized the ruler of Muang Phuan (Plain of Jars), and made this principality a vassal state of Muang Sua. Mongol overlordship was unpopular in Muang Sua and internal feuds among members of the new dynasty resulted in family upheavals. Panya Khamphong exiled his son Fa Phi Fa (aka Chao) and wanted to leave the throne to his younger grandson, Fa Ngieo. However Fa Ngieo was involved in a coup, so in 1330 he sent his two sons to a Buddhist monastery for safety and then to Angkor in 1335 under King Jayavarman IX Paramesvara, whose kingdom had acknowledged Mongol suzerainty in 1285. The younger brother, Fa Ngum (b1319), married the king's daughter, Keo Kang Ya. 1343 Khampong died and 1349 Ngum set out from Angkor with an army. For the Khmer provided a buffer between them and the growing Kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna and Ayutthaya. Fa Ngum’s request for help from Vientiane went unanswered, but Prince Nho of Xieng Khouang (Muang Phouan) offered assistance and vassalage to Fa Ngum in return for help with a succession dispute of his own and to secure Xieng Khouang from the Dai Viet. Fa Ngum agreed and moved his army to Xieng Khouang, Sam Neua and several smaller cities of the Dai Viet. Continuing his conquests Fa Ngum turned along the Red and Black River valleys (Lao people), then moved down Ou River to take Muang Sua. The King of Muang Sua, Fa Ngum’s uncle, committed suicide and his elder brother stepped down. Fa Ngum was crowned king of Lan Xang at Vientiane in 1354.
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Lan Xang Hom Khao

(Lao: ລ້ານຊ້າງ lâansâang - ລ້ານ million + ຊ້າງ elephant + under the White
Parasol) 1354-1707. For 350 years Lan Xang was one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia. It was the precursor of Laos, and the basis for the national historic and cultural identity.
1. Fa Ngum 1353-1371 In 1353 Fa Ngum (supported by the Khmer?) was crowned, and renamed his Kingdom Lan Xang Hom Khao and Luang Prabang as Xiang Dong Xiang Thong (City of Gold). Fa Ngum secured the areas around the Mekong by taking the Sipsong Panna and King Phayu of Lanna was
curtailed by Fa Ngum. 1351 King Rama Tibodi, who was married to a daughter of the Khmer King Suphanburi, founded the city of Ayutthaya. 1356 Fa Ngum marched south to punish Vientiane for failing to support him, took Vientiane and marched south to assert Lao control over areas seized by Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya acknowledged Lan Xang’s control of the Khorat Plateau. King Rama Tibodi betrothed his daughter Nang Keo Lot Fa as a second wife to Fa Ngum.
2. King Samsenthai 1371-1416 Fa Ngum successfully led Lan Xang 1360s against the Kingdom of Sukhothai, but the court factions and war weary population deposed him in favour of his son Oun Huean. Fa Ngum became an exile in Muang Nan, where he died c1373-90. 1371 Oun Huean was crowned King Samsenthai (King of 300,000 Tai) a carefully chosen name for the Lao-Khmer prince, showing preference for the Lao-tai population over the Khmer court. Samsenthai fought back the Kingdom of Lanna in Chiang Saen 1390s. 1402 he received formal recognition for Lan Xang from the Ming Emperor. 1416, Samsenthai died and was succeeded by his song Lan Kham Daeng.
3. Lan Kham Daeng 1416-1428 The Viet Chronicles record that 1421 the Lam Sơn Uprising took place against the Ming, and they sought Lan Xang’s assistance. An army of 30,000 with 100 elephant cavalry was sent, but instead sided with the Chinese. The death of Lan Kham Daeng ushered in a period of uncertainty and regicide.
4-. Queen Maha Devi/ Nang Keo Phimpha 1428-1440 In this period 7 kings ruled Lan Xang, all assassinated by a Queen known by her title as Maha Devi. Possibly 1440-42 she ruled Lan Xang as sole queen, before being drowned in the Mekong 1442 as an offering to the naga. 1440 a Vientiane revolt was suppressed. 1448 Xieng Khouang/ Black River was annexed by the Dai Viet and skirmishes took place against the Kingdom of Lanna along the Nan River. An interregnum 1453-6 ended with the crowning of King Chakkaphat (1456-1479).
● 4a. Phommathat 1428/9, reigned 10 months, son of Lan Kham Deng. Beheaded by Nang Keo Phimpha, his paternal aunt, in her successful attempt to seize power. Succeeded by her son, Khamtum.
● 4b. Kham Teun 1429, son of Samsenthai and Nang Keo Phimpha, sister of king Samsenthai. Before he was king he was Governor of Pak Houy Luang, so Khamtum was referred to as King Pak Houy Luang. After only 5 months he was forced to abdicate. He was succeeded by Meunsai.
● Yukorn/ MeunSai 1429–30 reigned 8 months, son of Lan Kham Daeng. Governor of Muang Kabong before king. He ruled 6 months but Nang Keo Phimpha (de facto ruler) planned his removal. He committed suicide in Wat Xieng Thong instead.
4c. Khon Kham 1431/2, reigned 18 months, son of Samsenthai)
4d. Kham Tem Sa (1433, reigned 5 months, son of Sam Sen Thai) 4d. Lu Sai (1434, reigned 6 months, son of Sam Sen Thai)
4e. Khai Bua Ban 1435–38, grandson of Sam Sen Thai. At the time of his succession, governor of
Chiengkai. His reign ended after princess Nang Keo Phim Fa ordered his death
● Khong Keut/ Kham/Keul 1436–38, illegitimate son of Samsenthai and a palace slave. On his
accession 1436, he claimed to be his father’s reincarnation. His died from a fit 1438.
● Nang Keo Phimpha (1343–1438) was the sister of Samsenthai. After her nephew, Lan Kham Deng died, she seized control of Lan Xang and the next 4 kings were under her control. She sole reigned
for a few months 1438 at age of 95, before she was deposed and killed.
● Interregnum (1438–41, rule by Sena and members of Sangha)
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5. Chakkaphat 1438-79 He was Sai Tia Kaphut, Governor of Nongkai before his accession. In 1471 Lê Thánh Tông of the Dai Viet destroyed the Kingdom of Champa and Xieng Khouang revolted from Dai Viet. 1478 the Dai Viet prepared an invasion of Lan Xang, in retribution for the rebellion in Xieng Khouang and for supporting the Ming in 1421. At the same time a white elephant was captured and brought to King Chakkaphat. The elephant was a symbol of kingship in Southeast Asia, and the Vietnamese king, Lê Thánh Tông ‘requested’ the animal as a ‘gift’. The request was seen as an affront, and a box filled with dung was sent instead. A Viet force marched to subdue Xieng Khouang, and met a Lan Xang force led by the crown prince. The Dai Viet won and went north to Muang Sua. Chakkaphat and the court fled to Vientiane. The Dai Viet took the capital of Muang Sua/ Luang Prabang, and then divided- one branch continued west taking Sipsong Panna and threatening the Kingdom of Lanna; the other headed south to Vientiane. King Tilok (Kingdom of Lanna) destroyed the Dai Viet army. The forces around Vientiane rallied under King Chakkaphat’s younger son Prince Thaen Kham and destroyed the Dai Viet army, which fled to Xieng Khouang, which they destroyed before returning to Vietnam. Chakkphat abdicated in favour of his son Prince Thaen Kham, who was crowned as Suvanna Balang (Golden Chair) in 1479. 48885145618_ecf9b4fbf6_o.jpg
6. Suvanna Balang/ Theng Kham 1479-85 (son of Chakkaphat)
7. La Sen Thai 1485–95, 6th son of Chakkaphat, Laasaenthai Bouvanaat succeeded his older brother King Suvarna Banlang. He enjoyed peaceful relations with neighbours Annam and Ayudhya, spending much of his time contemplating religious matters, spreading Buddhism and building. Succeeded by his only Son Prince Sompou.
● ● ● ●
8. Som Phou (Samphou) (1496–1501, son of La Sen Thai. Succeeded on the death of his father King La Sen Thai Puvanart 1495 under the regency of his uncle, Prince Laksana Vijaya Kumara [Louxé Phe Sai], until he came of age and assumed sovereign powers, 1497. Deposed by his uncle Visoun in 1500.
9. King Visoun 1500-1520 Vixun (Visoun, Visunarat) (son of Chakkaphat) 1st Golden Age of Lan Xang. He was a major patron of the arts and classical literature. Theravada Buddhist monasteries became centres of learning. The Nithan Khun Borom (Story of Khun Borom) first appeared in written form, along with the Lao version of the Ramayana (Pra Lak Pra Lam). Lao court music was sponsored and the classical court orchestra took shape. King Visoun sponsored major temples/ wats throughout the country. He chose as an icon the Phra Bang (a standing image of Buddha), which had been brought by Fa Ngum’s Khmer wife Keo Kang Ya from Angkor. It is traditionally believed to have been forged in Ceylon, the centre of Theravada Buddhism. The Phra Bang had been kept in Vientiane partly due to the strength of traditional animist beliefs in Muang Sua. The Phra Bang image was so revered that the capital city was renamed in its honour from Muang Sua to Luang Prabang. King Visoun, his son Photisarath, his grandson Setthathirath, and his great grandson Nokeo Koumane provided Lan Xang with a succession of strong leaders.
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10. Photisarath 1520-50 was a great king of Lan Xang. He took Nang Yot Kham Tip from the Kingdom of Lanna as his queen as well as lesser queens from Ayutthaya, and Longvek. He was a devout Buddhist, and made it the state religion. 1532 peace ended when the rebuilt Xieng Khouang rebelled, which took Photisarath 2 years to suppress. 1539 Photisarath accepted a Thai noble seeking asylum from King Chairacha of Ayutthaya for a failed rebellion. This resulted in an invasion of Lan Xang, which was defeated at Sala Kham in 1540. 1545 Lan Xang dispatched reinforcements to support the Kingdom of Lanna against Chairacha of Ayutthaya, who was defeated and forced to retreat. In recognition for his assistance against Ayutthaya, and his strong family ties to Lanna (he was married to the only child of the King of Chiang Mai= Lanna), King Photisarath was offered the throne of Lanna for his son Prince Setthathirath, and 1547 Setthathirath was crowned King of Lanna in Chiang Mai. Setthathirath took possession of the Emerald Buddha as his personal palladium (later the palladium of Vientiane) and married the princesses Nang Thip and Nang Tonkham. 1548, Photisarath was approached by Burma with offers of an alliance against Ayutthaya. He neither accepted, nor rejected. 1550 he returned to Luang Prabang, but was killed in an accident while riding an elephant.
11. Setthathirath I 1550-71 (King of Lanna 1546-51) 1548 Setthathirath (as King of Lanna) took Chiang Saen as his capital. Chiang Mai (Chiang Saen was the old capital, replaced by Chiang Mai) nobles were powerful at court, and the threat from Burma and Ayutthaya were growing. On the death of his father, Setthathirath left Lanna with his wife as regent and was crowned as King of Lan Xang. The rival factions 1551 crowned Chao Mekuti as king of Lanna. 1553 Setthathirath sent an army to retake Lanna but was defeated. 1555 he retook Chiang Saen. 1556 King Bayinnaung of Burma invaded Lanna. Chao Mekuti surrendered Chiang Mai and was reinstated as a Burmese vassal. 1560 Setthathirath moved the capital of Lan Xang from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. A building programme included a massive formal palace- the Haw Phra Kaew to house Emerald Buddha, and renovations to That Luang. In Luang Prabang, Wat Xieng Thong was constructed. 1563, a treaty between Lan Xang and Ayutthaya was to be sealed by the betrothal of Setthathirath to Princess Thepkasattri of Ayutthaya. However, her father, King Chakkraphat tried to exchange her for Princess Kaeo Fa, which was rejected. In the midst of the disagreement, Burma invaded Ayutthaya and Chakkraphat sent Princess Thepkasattri to Lan Xang along with a dowry to buy back the alliance. She died en route. King Chakkraphat became a vassal of Burma. The Burmese deposed King Chao Mae Ku (Mekuti) of Lanna. King Setthathirath, realising Vientiane could not be held against Burma, ordered the city evacuated and organised guerrilla attacks, forcing King Bayinnaung (Burma) to retreat 1565 leaving Lan Xang the only remaining independent Tai kingdom.
● As King of Lanna: Aka Chaiyachettha/ Chaiyaset(thathirath)/ Jayajestha, he was crowned King of Lanna after the death of his grandfather, King Ketklao, who died without a male heir. His daughter Princess Yotkamtip was Settathirath's mother, which made Settathirath heir to the throne of Chiang Mai. After Chaiyasettha assumed rule of Chiang Mai, his father, King Phothisarath (of Lan Xang) died in Luang Phrabang. Concerned that he might be prevented from returning to Chiang Mai, he took the Emerald Buddha with him to Luang Phrabang 1547. The nobles of Lanna felt that Chaiyasettha had stayed away too long, and sought another descendant of the Mangrai dynasty to take the throne; a distant relative, a Shan Prince known as Mae ku/ Mekuti. However, the Burmese took Chiang Saen, north-east of Chieng Mai, and attacked down the Mekong. After 12 years of moving his capital between Chiang Rai and Luang Prabang, he finally moved to Vientiane in the 1560s.
● As King of Lan Xang: After the death of Photisararath, the nobles of Lan Xang divided, one group supporting Prince Tarua, another Prince Lanchang (whose mother was an Ayudhya princess). Tarua and Lanchang split the Kingdom between them while Settathathirath was in Chiang Mai. He returned to Lan Xang leaving the affairs of Chiang Mai under his grandmother, Princess Chiraprabha. Settathathirath subdued Tarua in Luang Phrabang, and Lanchang was arrested, but pardoned. Setthathirath united Lanna and Lan Xang under his rule. Setthathirath, hearing of the heroic Queen Suryothai of Ayudhya, requested the marriage of her daughter Princess Tepkasatri. 1572, a conspiracy between Lord Phya Nakhon and the abbot of Wat Maximavat, led to the king's murder.
12. Sen Soulintha (Saen Surin) (1571/2, regent) (1572–75, crowned king of Lan Xang) 13. Tha Heua/Tarua (1575–79, son of Photisarath, Burmese vassal)
12. Sen Soulintha (1579–82, reinstated)
14. Nakhon Noi (1582–83, son of Sen Soulintha)
● Interregnum (1583–91) Because Setthathirath left a toddler prince, Noi Hno Muang Keo Koumane, the child's grandfather, Saensurin (or Sene Soulintha), declared himself king. This began a period of turbulence, with different kings ruling for short periods, which ended with conquest by the Burmese under King Bayinnaung in 1574, and the prince taken to Burma.
15. Nokeo Koumane 1591–1598 (son of Setthathirath). For 9 years Lan Xang had no king and Burma effectively ruled Laos for 18 years. Prince Noi Hno Muang Keo Koumane (Nokeo Koumane) was recognised as rightful King by the people of Laos. 1590 he was released from captivity in Burma by King Nanda Bayin, and returned to Vientiane where he was crowned 1591 and declared his independence from Burma 1593.
16. Voravongsa/ Thammikarath 1598–1622 nephew of Setthathirath
17. Oupagnouvarath 1622/3 son of Voravongsa
18. Photisarath II 1623–27 son or grandson of Sen Soulintha, not of royal descent
19. Mon Keo/ Mongkeo 1627 son of Voravongsa
20. Tone Kham 1627–33 son of Voravongsa
21. Vichai 1633–37 son of Voravongsa
22. Sourig(y)na Vongsa 1637-1694 son of Tone Kham. Second Golden Age of art and architecture. The new legal codes applied to the nobility and peasantry equally (when the crown prince committed adultery Vongsa ordered his death). When Vongsa died 1694, he left two young grandsons (Princes Kingkitsarat and Inthasom) and two daughters (Princesses Kumar and Sumangala) with claims to the throne. A senior minister, Tian Thala briefly usurped the throne (6 months) 1694/5. Nan Tharat (1699) briefly took Vientiane. The king’s nephew Prince Sai Ong Hue claimed the throne and Vongsa’s grandsons fled into exile in the Sipsong Panna and Princess Sumangala to Champassak. In 1705, Prince Kingkitsarat took a small force from Sipsong Panna to Luang Prabang. Sai Ong Hue’s brother, the governor of Luang Prabang, fled and Kingkitsarat was made crowned as rival king Ong Lo 1694-98. In 1707 Lan Xang was divided and the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane emerged. Suriya Vongsa had only been on the throne three years when there arrived in Viang Chan the first European, Gerrit van Wuysthoff of the Dutch East India Company, who wanted to open a Mekong trade route. He was entertained in the Lao capital. A year later the Jesuit missionary, Leria, stayed in Viang Chan for five years. He liked the Lao people and left a wonderful description of the palace. Four years later a French expedition sent to explore and map the Mekong River arrived in Luang Prabang, then the largest settlement upstream from Phnom Penh. 1880s the town became caught up in a struggle that pitted Siamese, French and roving bands of Chinese brigands (Haw) against each other. 1887 Luang Prabang was looted and burned by a mixed force of Upland Tai and Haw. Only Wat Xieng Thong was spared. The king escaped and with him a French explorer, Auguste Pavie, who offered him the protection of France.
23. Setthathirath II (Sai Ong Hue) 1700–07 (nephew of Souligna Vongsa whose father was exiled to Vietnam)

Posted by PetersF 17:40 Archived in Laos Tagged temples market buddhism laos prabang luang lao Comments (0)

Luang Prabang - Markets and Wats

Luang Prabang markets and wats 12th August

We woke up at normal time and strolled past the pool to breakfast on the patio= the usual fare of fruit, cooked eggs, Asian food and French breakfast. After breakfast we made sure we had appropriate clothes (sleeved shirts, trousers, skirt) and met the guide in reception. We drove down Bounkhong and right to join the main road in Luang Prabang- Phothisarath Rd- Chao Fa Ngum- Sisavangvong Road.
Luang Prabang is on a long isthmus almost surrounded by the rivers Mekong and Nam Kham. It’s a small town, and easily navigated.
Our first port of call was to Luang Prabang’s Morning Market. This takes place on the left down two pedestrianised roads leading in a loop from Sisavangvong road (the “High street” of LP). Our friendly guide pointed out the huge baskets of dried rice in the entrance and explained that you could buy different varieties of rice (the most common being long grain and sticky). The first part of the market was dried or packaged food including buffalo EVERYTHING (the dried skin to chew- a local delicacy, buffalo sausage, buffalo steak, buffalo fat...). Following this was a breakfast buffet, then the sweet things (such as cakes) followed by eggs (some of which had been coloured a very vibrant neon pink- why, we never discovered). This part of the market was the only bit with non-local wares (mainly from nearby Thailand).
market-luang-prabang_48885966017_o.jpgBamboo- Only new bamboo shoots are edible and the new growth must be harvested immediately after it shoots from the ground (usually at the crack of dawn). Within two days the tender insides become hard and inedible.
The shoots are cut and boiled quickly to stop them hardening, then cut into chunks and kept for many months.
After the dried/ packaged goods, came fresh meat of various animals, some easy to work out, others less so. The fish (sometimes still alive in the basins) were first, all from out of the local rivers. Beside it was kaipen- an edible algae from the Mekong dried into sheets. The most popular, by masses, is yes, you’ve guessed it, buffalo! The large polystyrene boxes filled with a gelatinous substance was congealed ox-blood. This was followed by other meats including giblets (with flies being wafted off), pig’s head (caramelised), chickens, etc. Uncomfortably close to this were a number of fast food breakfast/ brunch outdoor seating areas. The good news was that the food was certainly fresh and cooked to order; the bad news was you could see where it came from (and which flies had walked on it). Still, since all the restaurants and hotels buy from the market and we were not ill at all in Laos I guess it must be OK.
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Around the corner it was the turn of the vegetable and fruit stalls (well, actually spots on the side of the road now as we left the table stalls behind). Now the goods were placed onto rattan bamboo mats and all business was done by the ladies on low plastic stools or crouched down. There were salads, morning glory, aubergines, chilli peppers, cucumbers, ginger roots, beans of all types, onions, brassicas, and a purple flower like one that turned out to be an edible banana flower. Fruit too came in all types- mango, papaya, tamarind, tomatoes, lemons and limes... Then the herbs/ spices like coriander, dill, basil, mint, the ubiquitous lemon grass.
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The last area consisted of the live (at the moment) produce such as basins with prawns in, covered baskets of jumping frogs and toads, coiled baskets filled with snakes, crabs and so on. The final area, before getting back to the main road was for non-edible items, such as bunches of flowers or paper money both for temple offerings. When we arrived at 8 am it was bustling, but by 9 it was almost empty- everyone has gone! Pretty much all the vendors were women who arrive at 4-5am from the highland and lowland villages every day to sell the small surplus they have produced (so almost everything is seasonal). Unless they have walked most women are dropped of by the men who drive them down in their small trucks and then go on to their own jobs- usually casual construction work. At 7 am the monks arrive to collect their alms and this is the busiest time for the market. We left the market heading next door to the Wat Mai Temple and Monastery.

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (Si Souvanna Phommaram/ Phoun Ram), or Wat Mai (New Monastery), is one of the largest, most picturesque wats. Located along the popular street of Sisavangvong and adjoining the compound of the National Palace Museum, it is important for both religious and aesthetic beauty. The wat, founded 1796/7 by King Anourout (Anurat 1795-1817), dates mostly from 19th century. Restoration of the wooden sim started 1821/2 during the reign of King Manthatourat (1817-1836), when it was given the name New Monastery.
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The double colonnaded porch in front and a similar, less elaborate, porch in the rear were added at that time. Work on the sim, library and ancillary
building continued until the 1890s. A number of other structures are 20th century. There were major restorations in 1943 and 1962, as well as in
more recent times. The sim is built in traditional Luang Prabang style with added porches on the two sides. The monastery has special significance. It
served as a temple for the royal family and has long been the residence of the Pra Sangkharat, the highest Laotian Buddhist. Because of the Chinese Haw raiders that ravaged the city in 1887 (the wat was spared), Wat Mai became the repository of the city's palladium, the Phra Prabang (now in the Royal Palace Museum). During Pimai, the mid-April Laotian New Year, the Prabang is ceremoniously brought from the museum to a temporary pavilion in front of the sim; for 3 days it is ceremonially washed and the faithful can pray. The abbot of Wat Mai played a role in opening Luang Prabang to the world outside.
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1887 Auguste Pavie arrived in Luang Prabang as the first French vice- consul in Laos. At the time the city was under Siamese control; they tried to isolate Pavie from the king, Oun Kham. The abbot, however, a confidant of the king, served as a conduit for messages between the king and Pavie and invited him to stay at the monastery. French influence grew and by 1893 the French protectorate extended over Laos. The monastery's sim is noteworthy. Its five-tiered roof is magnificent, and is topped by a 3-part Dok So Fa (symbolising the universe) and protective corner nagas.
Its expanse is readily viewed from the adjoining elevated pavement on Thanon Sisavangvong. Its front veranda extends across the width of the nave and protects the gilded bas relief (1960s) on the front facade. The cement reliefs were first covered with black lacquer and then gilded. The entire relief depicts scenes from the Ramayana and the Vessantara-Jakata, the Buddha's penultimate reincarnation, with villages, flora and fauna of Luang Prabang. The large majestic red interior nave with gold stencilling on the columns, beams and walls together with the various gilded Buddha statues and tables at the altar and the large Buddha statue provide evidence of the religious, aesthetic and architectural importance of Wat Mai. The typical dragon boat is housed on the right next to a number of stupa. In the distance we could see the gold of the wat on the top of Mt. Phousi.
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We decided it was hot enough to grab and drink and headed next door to a small cafe to have a Fanta and an hibiscus juice.
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Then we headed back to the Royal Palace area. The building was really impressive, as was the Wat to the right. Over the trees and bushes some huge Golden Birdwing butterflies flew. They looked almost like birds.
We spotted the statue to the last king (left) and the Haw Pha Bang (right). Walking down the gardens between the hedges we arrived in front of the palace where we had to take off our shoes and stow our bags in a (free) locker. The whole palace was shoe-free, so we were glad we’d worn socks! The palace started with the ceremonial rooms, then the private rooms were around the back.

The Royal Palace (Haw Kham) was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong. The site was chosen so visitors could disembark from the river directly to the palace. Crown Prince Savang Vatthana was the last to occupy it. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family taken to re-education camps. The palace was converted into a national museum. On the palace grounds, there are other buildings:
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The Kitchen/Storage The Royal Barge Shelter Conference Hall
Haw Pha Bang
Staff headquarters
There is a lotus pond and two cannons. A statue of King Sisavang Vong stands on the ground. The architecture is a mix of traditional Lao motifs and French Beaux Arts styles, laid out in a double-cruciform shape with the entrance on one side.
Entrance and Hall- Above the entrance is a 3-headed elephant sheltered by the sacred white parasol, symbol of the Lao monarchy. The steps are of Italian marble. There are a variety of royal religious objects on display in the Entrance Hall. This room has a low gilded "throne" designed for the head monk, the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism- the king was expected to sit lower.
Kings Reception- On the right of the entrance is the King’s reception room, where 3 busts of Lao monarchs are displayed along with two large gilded lacquered Ramayana screens by Thit Tanh. The 1930 murals by Alix de Fautereau depict scenes from traditional Lao lifestyles (Gauguin style). Each wall is intended to be viewed at a different time of day, depending on the windows, to match the time the day depicted, starting with a family’s morning by the riverside, then visiting the Temple or going to market and finishing with the evening activities.
Leaving this room and going into the corridor we saw a row of large ancient Khmu metal drums (similar to the Vietnamese Sa Huyn) and a Lao screen (which matched a Chinese one the opposite end of the building). This corridor led to the impressive deep red and gold throne room. The throne is not as large as western ones, but behind and to the side had huge Japanese coloured, mirrored glass mosaics of Lao people. On the left and right were lovely mosaics of river life and hill life- shiny and beautifully made (especially the river which seems to ripple with silver). There were cases with various regalia in, some made specifically for the last king’s coronation (which never happened). These included swords, fly whisks, etc. In two small annexes were some small Buddha statues under glass domes of silver, gold and precious stones. These had been found in various stupas, hidden inside during the time of the Haw marauders and the later Siamese invasions. Both were happy to destroy religious buildings (except Wat Mai when the Haw used it as their base and the Siamese when the wat used Siamese architecture!). The Throne Room contains the Crown Jewels of Laos.
The next room to the left was once the Queen's reception room. Large Royal portraits of King Savang Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui and Crown Prince Vong Savang, painted by Russian artist Ilya Glazunov in 1967, are hung on the walls.
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In the far rooms are the Royal Family's bedrooms and living quarters. The bedrooms have been preserved as in 1975 when the King abdicated. There is a dining hall and a room that contains Royal seals and medals. There was a children’s room and various display cases showing the royal clothes, beautifully decorated, but simple in design. The family would enter the house from below using ladders. Along all the corridors were a series of paintings depicting episodes from the Vessantara Jataka.
On the left of the Entrance Hall, the secretary's reception room is filled with paintings, silver and china presented to Laos as diplomatic
gifts and grouped by socialist/ capitalist countries.
The Palace Museum, known locally as Haw Kham (Ho Kham) or Golden Hall, was built between 1904 and 1909 as the new official royal residence for the monarchs of Luang Prabang. It replaced the rambling thatch, bamboo, teak and rosewood Lao-style palace on stilts built after the Haw Black Flag marauders destroyed much of the city in 1887. The building was sited adjacent to the left bank of the Mekong, so visitors could be met there and taken directly to the palace. Unlike the former structure that faced the Mekong (and perhaps upriver from the present site), the 20th century structure faces the sacred Mount Phousi.
Built of brick and stucco instead of traditional materials, the building is a blend of Laotian and French Beaux Arts architecture and motifs that sought
to symbolise ties between Luang Prabang and the French colonial government. Primarily designed by the French and built with Vietnamese
workers, the building has two separate cruciform-style sections linked by the large throne room; exhibition galleries surround each of the sections. There have been a number of changes since its original construction; its steeply pitched roof, central Lao-type spire and the breadth of its facade were later additions and modifications. French architects originally planned a European spire over the throne room, but King Sisavangvong insisted that it be Lao-style. There are classical style columns and a number of pediments reflecting European influence, though there is Lao style decoration and brackets between the roof sections and the exterior walls of the building. After the dissolution of the monarchy in 1975, the building was reopened as the National Museum, though the royal palace designations are still generally used.
The front section that formerly contained the official reception rooms is now the main exhibition area. The entry hall, once devoted to religious ceremonies and activities, still reflects the central position Buddhism in the former Lao kingdom and shows the intertwining elements of religion and monarchy. There is the dais of the former supreme patriarch of Lao Buddhism and a variety of Buddha statues. Other front rooms contain gifts from foreign leaders and governments, including some lunar rocks from President Richard Nixon.
The throne room has red walls with intricate glass mosaics dating from the 1950s that celebrate the 2500th anniversary of Buddha entering nirvana. The room also has various royal paraphernalia, including elaborate swords and scabbards, the king’s personal howdah (elephant saddle) and precious Buddha images (including some 15th and 16th century gold and crystal Buddhas from That Makmo, the Watermelon Stupa of Wat Wisunalat).
In the rear section are the five rather simple rooms of the monarch’s private quarters, largely preserved as they were left when the last (uncrowned) monarch, Sisavang Vatthana, occupied the residence. There are the king’s and queen’s bedroom, dining room and library. One now contains an exhibition of Lao music.

Vessantara Jataka (or the Great Birth Sermon) is one of the most popular avadānas (past life tales) of Theravada Buddhism. It tells the story of one of Buddha's past lives, as a compassionate prince, Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children, displaying the virtue of charity. When Gautama Buddha visited his father's kingdom after he achieved enlightenment, he miraculously appeared in the air. Suddenly, rain clouds gathered and a red rain appeared which he explained had appeared during his last life as King Vessantara. King Vessantara was the son of Sañjaya, king of Sivirattha (Sivi-Rashtra), and was born in the capital city of Jatuttara as a Bodhisattva (enlightened being). His mother was a previous princess who wished to become the mother of a future Buddha (the first awakened being in an era). After she died, she ascended to the Celestial Kingdom and became one of Indra's consorts. When she was due to be reborn as a human Indra gave her wish to become the mother of Bodhisattva, who in his next life would achieve enlightenment. She descended to the human world as a princess and married King Sañjaya. During pregnancy, she wished to see the capital city. She gave birth in an emergency delivery at the bazaar. Therefore, the newborn prince and heir was named Vessantara, which means 'Born in the merchant quarter'. As soon as he opened his eyes, the infant asked for money to give to the poor. On the same day, a female elephant brought her pure white newborn calf to the royal palace. Vessantara grew up a kind person. His parents were delighted and supported his charity. Vessantara married princess Maddi. They had 2 children: Prince Jali and Princess Kanhajina. Sañjaya retired and Vessantara was crowned King.
One day Vessantara gave away the magical white elephant, which brought rain, to Kalinga, a neighbouring country facing a drought. The citizens of Vessantara's kingdom were worried that losing the elephant would lead to drought, so they convinced King Sanjaya to retake the throne and banish his son to Vamka Mountain. They left the city on a four-horse chariot. Along the way Vessantara gave away his horses and four deities appeared as stags to pull the chariot. Then he gave away his chariot, so the family walked on foot through a forest. Jali and Kanhajina saw fruit on high branches, but could not reach it, so the trees bent their branches for them. The family arrived at the kingdom of Ceti. The king, touched by their story, offered his throne, but the prince declined and left for the mountain. The king of Ceta ordered a hunter to patrol the entrance to Vamka Mountain, to prevent anyone from disturbing the family.
Meanwhile Jujaka, a greedy old Brahmin beggar, had a young wife, Amittada, who was beautiful and hard working. During the drought Amittada brought water from the well for her husband. The husbands of the women in the village held her up as a good example. One day, in a fit of jealousy, the village women beat up Amittada, so she refused to go to the well any more and told Jujaka to find her servants instead. Jujaka met the hunter and a rishi guarding the entrance to Vamka Mountain and tricked them. He went into the forest to the prince while his wife Maddi was away. He asked him for the two children, who Vessantara gave him. Jali and Kanha hide in a lotus pond but their father found them and asked if they would help their father. Both agreed and became Jujaka's slaves. Vessantara told Jujaka to take his children to their grandfather, saying, "The king will reward you". Jujaka said that Sunjaya would execute him instead, so he tied both children with vines and dragged them like cattle. The children begged their father to help. Vessantara reached for his weapon in his hut. However, he overcame his anger and let his children be taken. On Maddi's return she was blocked by tigers (gods in disguise). When she didn't see her children, she wandered all night looking for them and collapsed. Vessantara thought she was dead, but when he put her head on his lap he realised she was still breathing. He revived Maddi with water. She rose immediately as they had taken a vow not to touch each other. Vessantara told her what had happened. Fearing that Vessantara would give away Maddi as well, Indra came in disguise and asked for Maddi, who Vessantara gave him. Indra gave Maddi back to Vessantara in trust, for all his acts of benevolence and generosity. A god and goddess felt sympathy for the young prince and princess. They disguised themselves as their parents and made Jujaka take a wrong turn and led him to Sivi Kingdom through the palace gate. King Sanjaya saw the children and ordered royal guards to bring them. He paid Jujaka for his grandchildren. Jujaka became extremely rich, but at his first meal as a rich man, he ate so much he fell dead. Kalinga returned now the white elephant. Jali led his grandfather to his parents and the family was reunited. At this happy moment, all six collapsed. Red rain poured down from Heaven to revive them. Vessantara was crowned king again and Indra blessed Sivi Kingdom with a gem rain. Vessantara allowed people to keep some gems for themselves and the leftover went into the treasury, which he used for charity. Buddha explained that each figure had been reborn as people surrounding him.
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The Vessantara Jataka is celebrated in temples during the Buddhist festival Boun Pha Vet in Laos. It is very popular in rural and urban communities, with dance and drama, parades and processions through the towns. During this festival monks read aloud the Vessantara Jataka. Because of its central role, the Vessantara Jataka is an important part of traditional folklore. Scenes of the Vessantara Jataka are engraved on Angkor Wat murals and many walls of Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia. Outside, we collected our shoes and bags and walked around to the right rear to see the two royal carriages, a selection of royal cars (some sad looking white Lincoln continentals with round royal crest) and an amazing huge Banyan tree with aerial roots all over and incense sticks below. We then walked back to the road and down a side alley to Heuanchan Heritage House. This house is a preserved large communal house of the Khmu ethnic group (to which our guide belonged).
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He pointed out the odd numbers of steps in and outside the house. Odd numbers are considered lucky in Laos and even are considered unlucky or even dangerous. This is why many Laotians will have one or three children, but rarely two (though our guide had two girls and planned no more, so it’s probably a dying tradition). He explained that he was a typical product of the Buddhist education system. Children, especially in villages, would be able to attend Buddhist school for free (assuming it was a Buddhist villages) and learn basic literacy, maths and religion. They could then continue further education (again for free) in Thailand’s pagodas if they were willing to be a novice. In Theravada Buddhism there is no reason a man can’t be a novice or even monk for several years and then leave. Several of our guides had done this and now had families.
Amusing monk anecdote: a monk needs breakfast for strength to pray, lunch for strength to work, but no dinner. A layman needs all three because he needs strength in the night for his wife.
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Buddhism and the Monastic life
A male monk, Bhikkhu literally means "beggar" and related to Buddha’s mendicant lifestyle. Full-time students became the community of ordained monks and nuns (the sangha) who wandered from town to city living on alms. This is supposed to encourage the growth of spiritual attributes such as humility and brings awareness of the mutual interdependence of human beings. Theravada monasticism is organised around guidelines found in the Pali Canon (Vinaya Pitaka). A man undergoes ordination as a novice (samanera) and is subject to ten precepts. If the novice continues to full ordination (upasampada) he is subject to a much longer set of rules known as the Patimokkha (Theravada) or Pratimoksha (Mahayana). In Theravada Buddhism ordination (as a nun) for women has not been possible until recently. Monastics take their vows for life but can renounce them and return to non-monastic life and even take the vows again later. A person can take them up to three or seven times in one life, depending on the school of discipline; after that, the sangha should not accept them again. To be ordained as a monk is a way to gain the largest quantity of merit/ karma. Men commonly become monks before they get married. This typically occurs during Pansa, Aug-Oct. In theory, this means every male has the experience of serving as a monk for at least 3 months in his lifetime. This practice is on the decrease however. In contrast to lay people, monks must adhere to 227 rules, called the Pattimoka. They cannot eat after noon, nor touch a female creature. They are not supposed to touch money, although these days it is common to see monks shopping. Items of significance include the sai sin, a sacred string used to channel the power of chanting (and energies from monks), and water made holy by chanting and drips of candle wax. This holy water is used by people to perform the yat nam, the pouring of water on the ground to give merit to the deceased, and the rot nam, when young people sprinkle water on older relations as a sign of respect.
Before the introduction of formal schooling, temples served as main education institutions. Even today, temple boys and young novices often live at the temple (novices are boys who train as monks, but are underage - you must be 20 to be a monk). Besides education, the temple traditionally played the unifying role in the village. Festivals, carnivals and important social events take place there. The temple acts as a social welfare agency, recycling donations by worshippers by giving to the needy in the form of food, clothing, and other goods.
We then took car to drive along Sisavangvong road to Wat Xieng Thong. We entered by the white entrance gate.
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1.Wat Pha Baht Tai 2.Wat That Luang 3.Wat Mahathat 4.Wat Ho Xiang 5.Wat Mai 6.Haw Pha Bang 7.Wat Aham 8.Wat Munna 9.Wat Xieng Thong 10.Wat Wisunalat 11.Wat Manorom 12.Palace 13.Wat Choum Khong 14.Wat PaHuak

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Vat/Wat Xieng Toung/Tong (Sim Ratsavoravihanh/ Volavihan) (Temple of the Golden City or Tree) is the oldest monastery in town and the most beautiful. One entrance is on the road along the Mekong River, the other on the by-lane off the main road on the northern tip of Luang Prabang’s peninsula and is one of the most important Lao monasteries. It is typical of Laotian art and architecture. The buildings have carved gilded wooden doors depicting scenes from Buddha's life. On the ceiling are Dharmachakras - dharma wheels symbolising Buddhist law and the circle of reincarnation. The outer walls of the sim depict Lao legends and the rear gable is decorated with a glass mosaic of the tree of life. The outer walls of the Sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha and Red Chapel are also decorated with beautiful mosaic scenes.
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Wat Xieng Thong is the most historically significant wat in Luang Prabang. The low sweeping double-tiered roof (the front portico forms a third tier) and rich interior/ exterior decoration of its sim are exceptionally fine examples of classic Luang Prabang I style. The other buildings make the monastery complex an architectural gem. Xieng Thong is on an embankment above the Mekong near the juncture with the Nam Khan River. Visitors from Siam would end their journey at Ban Xieng Mene on the right bank and be ferried across to the monastery. This was the entry point and coronation site (until 1975) for the king-designate on the eve of his coronation after he had meditated for three days at Wat Long Khun. An early legend says that two hermits settled here, setting boundary stones near a notable mai thong, or flame-of the-forest tree (depicted on the rear facade) which was also the home of two powerful nagas that lived at the juncture of the two rivers. It was founded 1559/60 by King Setthathilat (Sai Xetthathilat) to commemorate a predecessor Chanthaphanith (8th century AD?), a betel merchant and legendary first king of Luang Prabang. The sim was built at the time, as were the kuti (monks' quarters). A number of gold on black stencils inside the sim recount the story of Chanthaphanith and Jataka stories from Buddhist cosmology. Setthathilat's direct association with the monastery was not long, since he soon moved his capital to Vientiane (Viang Chan). It is impossible to know its original form, since there were numerous changes to the buildings through the centuries. Fortunately it was spared destruction during the Chinese Black Flag marauder invasion in 1887. The leader of the invaders, Deo Van Tri (Kham Oun in Laotian), was in his youth a novice monk at the wat and used it as his HQ during the raiding period. Major projects took place in the 1950s and 1960s, when the funerary carriage house was built. There are over 20 structures on the grounds including shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of
various flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees. Many structures several deserve special attention.
H. City entrance- by way of a small lane from Sakkarine Road. There are newly built and restored traditional-style houses on either side of the lane. The entry is through a formal stupa-crowned entryway of brick and plaster near the golden Carriage House.
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C. Carriage House, Royal Funerary Chariot Hall (Huhng Kiep Mien, Hor Latsalat) is at the east edge of Wat Xieng Thong and right of the city entry from Thanon Sakkarine. It was built in 1962 to house the funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong (1885-1959), King of Luang Prabang 1904-46 and King of Laos 1946-59. It contains relics and historic Ramayana puppets that belonged to the royal family. It is a relatively tall structure with a double roof in the Xieng Khuang (Luang Prabang III) style. There is a single entry door in the front of the building, though the facade windows are of the same size and shape of the entry door. The framework is reinforced concrete. Uniquely, the facade and exterior sides are covered with sculpted and gilded teakwood panels crafted by local artisan Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). The panels recount the Lao version of the Ramayana, the Phra Lak Pha Lam. Follow Rama, Hanuman, Sita's judgment by fire, Ravana, and Indra as a golden deer. The right tympanum depicts the combat between the vulture king and Ravana.
Ravana's numerous arms hold many different weapons. Carved wooden shutters on the northwest side include depictions of Monkey King Hanuman as well as devas and devis. The 12m high gilded wooden royal carriage sits on a six-wheel truck at the entry door. It also was the creation of Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). Highly ornate, it is dominated by seven nagas with gaping jaws and prominent fangs at its prow and elaborate red canopy supported by gilded and ornate columns. Three ornate gilded sandalwood funerary urns contain the king's father (front), mother (rear), Sisavang Vong (centre).
G. Chapel of the Standing Buddha (Pointed Arch Chapel) is located south of the sim. Initially one might pay little attention as it is sited among more lavish structures. Closer examination reveals wonderful mosaic details, especially in the pediments and the dok so fa pagoda at the centre of the ridgepole. Although it has a single roof, additional lines of decoration and the four cho fa at the top suggest the image of a double roof. The current chapel dates to early 20th century, but could be a restoration from a much earlier period. The interior is dominated by an impressive modern gilded
bronze Buddha, in the Ham Nhat (Pali Abhayamudra) attitude of 'calming family quarrels' with both hands raised and palms facing outward. This is unusual as the attitude more frequently has right hand raised and left arm hanging at the side. The interior walls are red with gilded stencilling of dharma wheels and other images on the walls.
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F. Sim. Of all the structures none is more striking than the sim, as both its exterior and interior are decorated with a rich grandeur. The ornate facade of the portico is an intricate combination of maroon, black and gold gilded wood in graceful swirls of flora, dharma wheels, and stencilled designs. Black lacquered pillars with gold stencilling support the roof of the portico. The stencilling recounts scenes from the Jataka and depiction of the punishment of evildoers. The doorway of the main entry and its surround are elaborate, almost to the inner roof of the portico. Side exterior walls of black lacquer and gold stencilling carry on the theme, while on the back of the sim is the large tree of life in mosaic. The elegant low sweeping roofs
are topped by a 17 element dok so fa, symbolic of royal patronage, reaching toward the heavens. The eight massive interior wooden pillars that form the main support of the roof structure are maroon with delicate gold stencilling. Black or red lacquer walls with gold stencilling are seen throughout the structure: walls, pillars, beams, ceiling, and windows. The large Buddha is set in front of an intricately decorated wall.
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A. Drum Tower. The drum tower (Hor Kong) is a prominent feature of many Buddhist temples. Drum towers serve a variety of purposes, most significant is the call to prayers (early morning and late afternoon); it is also sounded for ceremonials and for other special occasions. The squat structure at Xieng Thong is not a tower in the conventional sense; some call it a chapel.
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There are only 3 steps to the platform that holds the large drum. The structure probably dates from 1961. Set near the northeast corner of the compound, its swooping roof, carved gilded tympanum, stencilled embellishments and carved brackets, is complementary to the other buildings of Xieng Thong.
M. Red Chapel (La Chapelle Rouge, Haw Tai Pha Sai-Nyaat), or Chapel of the Reclining Buddha, is one of the most photogenic buildings. The exterior is covered with a red, fading to pink, stucco inlaid with brightly coloured glass mosaics that illustrate religious activities and everyday Lao life. The mosaics were added in 1957, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's death and achievement of nirvana. The original date of the chapel is uncertain; its Buddha sculpture dates from the 16th century. It has a 3-layer roof with 18 ceremonial naga brackets supporting the lowest roof, and four delicate cho fa, ornamental finials, at the ends of the upper two layers. The 2m long bronze reclining Buddha is one of the most valuable of Lao Buddhist images. It fashioned in classic Lao style (not Thai or Lanna) and clad in flowing robes. The Buddha is lying on its right side with the right hand supporting the head. The inscription on its base indicates it was crafted in 1569 for King Sai Setthathirat. The figure was taken to Paris in 1931 for the International Colonial Exposition. Upon its return to Laos it was placed in the house of a French official in Vientiane and in 1949 transferred to Wat Phra Keo. The flame unisha (hair knot) was added at Phra Keo. Framed tapestries depicting stupa and Buddha flank the altar. The interior is decorated with gold stencils on red or black walls, and there are numerous small gold Buddhas attached to the walls. They represent the miracle at Savatti, where Buddha radiated fire and water from his body and emitted multiple projections of his form. The charming, primitive-style exterior mosaics describe a variety of scenes of traditional village life: trees, boats, carts, elephants, houses, hunting, fishing, working, playing, as well as ethereal religious scenes set higher on the walls. The mosaics relate the fictional story of Sio (or Siaw) Sawat, a son of a rich merchant, who used his wit and common sense to become an important minister.
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N. Seated Buddha Pavilion. Pavilions serve a variety of purposes in monasteries, from utilitarian places to eat or shelter from sun and rain, to religious reasons to protect the monastery drum, offer shelter to a Buddha statue. The Buddha pavilions of Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Sene are particularly striking. The Pavilion is of modern construction. It harmonises well with the rest of the monastery. Its double- layer roof is supported by 4 square lotus- capped columns with naga brackets. The life-sized seated statue is in the Bhumisparsha (touching earth, or calling earth to witness) mudra.
K. Boat shelter- located in the grounds toward the west side of the river entry. Although just a plain open shed and not historical, the two handcrafted boats it protects symbolise an important part of Lao culture. The boats of Wat Xieng Thong are highly regarded because of the monastery. They are decorated with gold stencilling on black lacquer. Many Laotian wats have such boats that are used for races along the Mekong in April and October. Wats compete with each other as monks and novices build highly decorated boats of bamboo and tissue paper to use in the festival.
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L. The Tripitaka Library (Haw Kawng, Haw Trai, Hor Tai) is a small chapel immediately behind the sim. Historically it served as a storehouse for the Tripitaka, the three baskets of Theravada Buddhist canon of scriptures. Although the building dates from 1828, there were earlier repositories for the sacred texts. In addition to the scriptures, the building houses several gilded Buddha images. The exterior resembles the Red Chapel with red/pink stucco inset with similar brightly glass mosaics relating scenes of local customs and traditions. There is a double-tiered roof with a lower perimeter roof supported by 16 elaborate gilded eave brackets, and an elevated gable roof with gilded wooden relief sculptures under the gables on the east and west sides.
E. River Entry. There are two important formal entries to Wat Xieng Thong, in addition to a non-descript entrance from Sisaleumsak Road on the southwest boundary. These entries provide wonderful vistas. Historically the Mekong River entrance was the most important entry to both wat and city. The broad staircase extends down the long embankment close to the water- depending on the season of the year. The river staircase extends to Souvannakhamphong Road and at that point there are two uniquely shaped and coloured guardian lions. Yet another, much shorter, stairway leads into the wat.
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Golden Pagoda -the story depicted at the bottom of the wall is that of Lion (Tiger) and Pig. The story is a typical Buddhist fable- this time about helping the family & honouring mothers. A tiger sees a sow & her piglet and wants to eat them but the sow persuades the tiger to wait until she’s taught her piglet all about life and she promises to return to be eaten. However, as she prepares to return piglet realises his mum is sacrificing herself for him and goes ahead to offer himself in her place.
Phra Lak Phra Ram is the national epic of the Lao people, adapted from Valmiki's Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The epic has lost the association with Hinduism and is instead considered a Jataka Story (previous lifetime of Buddha). Phra Lak Phra Ram is named after two principal characters, the brothers Phra Lak (Lakshaman) and Phra Ram (Rama). Although the Hindu nature of the Ramayana epic was lost in Laos, it was not completely erased. Indra, Shiva, and Brahma are present. The main characters of the Ramayana remain- Sita, Ravana, Hanuman, etc. Lao culture has always been oral and visual, and oral tales were often codified into elaborate dance-dramas by the royal courts.

Kuti (monks quarters)
After visiting the complex we left out of river entrance, down the steps to the river where we could enjoy the scenes on the mighty Mekong. It was getting quite sticky and hot, so the car picked us up to drive us to lunch at the Coconut Garden. We went to the upper floor balcony and had their vegetarian lunch. http://elephant-restau.com/coconutgarden/homepage.html

MENU LAO VEGETARIEN - 100 000 kip
MOK HET NAM MAC KREUII - ມົ ກເຫັ ດນໍາຫມາກເືຂອ
Papillote de champignons, d’aubergines et d’herbes fraîches cuits à la vapeur; Steamed Mushrooms, Eggplants and Herbs in Banana Leaf
LAAP TAHOU NAM HET - ລາບເຕາຮູ ນໍາເຫດ ົ໊ັ
Salade de Pleurottes, de Tofu et de Soja aux Fines Herbes; Laap Salad Made from Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms, Bean Sprouts and Fresh Herbs
KROUA SEN LONN NAM NOR MAILLE - ຂົ ວເສັ ນລ້ ອນນໍາຫໍນໄມ້
Sauté de vermicelle de riz aux pousses de bambou, aux champignons noirs, aux juliennes de légumes et aux œufs Fried Glass Noodles with Bamboo Shoots, Mushrooms, Mixed Vegetables and Eggs
KENG MAC EEI NAM KADRIC - ແກງຫມາກຶອ ນໍາກະທິ
Soupe au potiron cuite dans un lait de noix de coco Pumpkin soup cooked in coconut milk
JAEW MAC LENN - ແຈ່ ວຫມາກເລັ ນ
Concassée de tomates et de piments grillés; Concassee of Tomato and Grilled Chili KHAO CHAO LU KHAO NIAO - ເຂາຈາວ ຫຼ ເຂາຫນຽວ
Riz gluant ou Riz blanc; Sticky Rice or Steam Rice
TORD MAC KHOUA NAM KHEUI MAC NAT-ທອດຫມາກກ້ ວຍນໍາຂ້ ຽວຫມາກນັ ດ
Beignets de banane croustillants arrosés de sirop d’ananas; Crispy Banana Fritters with Pineapple Syrup
A note on Laap (aka larb, larp, lahb): this Lao mixed minced meat salad is the Laos national dish. Although the word was originally a Lanna (Thai) word meaning mincemeat, now the word is taken to mean good luck. A note on greetings: we learnt very quickly that the Laos say Sa-bai-dee to say hello (with a polite head nod or even a nop (both hands together like a prayer) and loved it when we said it. Not many people outside the cities spoke English anyway (or even Laotian if they were from an ethnic minority). Totally different to Vietnam who were keener on a handshake to say hello and generally spoke some amount of English.
After lunch we were driven back to the hotel for a rest. We had a nice dip in the pool and rest before heading out in the late afternoon. Turning left from the hotel and walking along Manomai road we came to Wat Manorom.
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Wat Manorom (Manolom, Vat Mano) Sattharam is just outside the remnants of the old city walls south of the city and on the site of one of the earliest Khmer Buddhist missions, with a founding date in the reign of Sam Saen Thai (1373-1416), the son of King Fa Ngum, or 1491/2, during the reign of La Saen Thai. It was certainly an important shrine because it housed the Pra Bang (1502-13) before it was moved to Wat Wisunalat. The sim was reconstructed in 1818, but destroyed by Haw marauders in 1887. The present sim, 1972, is the tallest in Luang Prabang. The grounds of an earlier wat, Xieng Kang, are behind the sim. The sim has an important Buddha image as a focal point in the nave. The statue was cast in bronze (1370) in the reign of Sam Saen Thai in Sukhothai-Thai style rather than Khmer. Its form became an inspiration for Lao sculptural art. The 2-ton sitting statue is in the Bhumisparsha Mudra of touching the earth and victory over Mara. The oldest large Buddhist statue in the city, for much of its history it sat outside the sim. It was damaged in 19th century Franco-Thai fighting, when its arms were destroyed.
Walking straight through the wat, we continued on the road towards the double wats of Aham and Vixoun.

Wat Wisunalat (Vixoun, Visounnarath, Wisunarat) was built during the reign of King Wisunarat (Vixoun 1501-20) in 1513 and represents the earliest style, Luang Prabang Style I temple architecture (as were the sims of Wats That Luang and Mai). Wat Wisunalat is Luang Prabang’s oldest operating temple. There are multiple roof structures. The 1st and 2nd roofs extend around the entire perimeter of the structure. Located and adjoining Wat Aham to southeast, it was built on the rice fields of the guardian spirits of the city (devata luang) Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). The sacred Prabang image was housed in the sim 1513-1707 (when it was taken to Vientiane). The original highly ornate wooden sim is a spectacular example of Lao craftsmanship and one of the more imposing religious structures of old Luang Prabang. It had a double roof with the upper roof raised high above the lower. Twelve pillars support a 30m roof. There were 21 windows with turned wooden balustrades. Much of the sim was destroyed by the Chinese Haw Black Flags marauders 1887. The sim was rebuilt 1896-98 during the reign of King Sakkarin Kamsuk (1894-1903) in a style similar to the old sim with numerous massive wooden beams, window placement and style of the roof, albeit the major part of the structure was brick and plaster in place of wood. The window balustrades attempt to capture the flavour of the older turned wooden balustrades of the original sim. The sim is today a museum of religious art. An important and prominent feature is its unique That Pathoum (Stupa of the Great Lotus) in front northeast side, known popularly as That Makmo/ Watermelon Stupa because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos. It was originally erected 1514, destroyed by the Haw Black Flag 1887, and reconstructed 1932.
Wat Vixoun, Watermelon stupa, gateway between Vixoun and Aham
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Wat Aham (Monastery of the Opened Heart) lies adjacent to Wat Wisunalat. The date of its founding is not known, though there was a wat there before King Manthatourath (1817-1836) constructed the present Luang Prabang style sim in 1818. The sim is a simple form with porches on the southeast and northwest facades and no external lateral galleries. Stucco tigers guard the front entry steps, and statues of temple guardians Ravana and Hanuman stand at the south and east corners of the front porch. Unlike other Luang Prabang sims, there is no external decoration on the porch walls.
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The sim has a triple layered roof with two segments above the primary roof structure. There are a number of mildewed stupas on the grounds as well as two large Bhodi trees where there is a shrine of the royal spirit protector, Haw Phi Khon. The interior of the sim is bright. Pillars and beams are painted red and gold, while the walls are covered with murals of Buddhist theology and historic events of the city. The site on which Wat Aham stands saw religious conflicts and tensions in the 16th century. Fa Ngum (1353-73), a Lao prince raised at the Khmer court, established a tutelary shrine to worship the guardian spirits of Luang Prabang (devata luang), Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). Fa Ngum made Theravada Buddhism the state religion. In 1527 King Photthisarat (1520- 48) banned worship of the guardian spirits, destroyed their shrines and erected a
Buddhist monastery on the site. Shortly after the city was beset by disease, drought and crop failure; in the popular mind the destruction of the shrines had brought disaster. King Sai Setthathirat (1548-71) moved the capital to Vientiane in 1563 and the spirit shrine was rebuilt. It was destroyed in the mid-20th century. The spirits of Pu No and Na No had by this time achieved embodiment in two large banyan (bodhi) trees in the monastery grounds. Such trees are identified with the Enlightenment of Buddha. For much of the 19th century, before Wat Mai, Wat Aham served as the residence of the Sangkhalat, or the Supreme Patriarch of Laotian Buddhism. The small structure on the grounds continues to hold ancestral wooden ritualistic masks associated with the guardian spirits. During Bun Pi (Mai Pimay), the Laotian New Year, the masks play an important role in the Dance of the Masks.
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After visiting the wats, we headed towards Nam Khan river and walked along between the riverbank and the back of Mt Phousi. We couldn’t see the river well for all the bars! Along Kingkitsarath road until we got to the back of Mt Phousi when we turned left towards the junction of Sisavangvong and Sakkaline Rds, then left along the main road. We stopped at a nice bakery for a banana chocolate cake and beer- yum at http://luangprabang-bakery-guesthouse.com/menu.html before heading back to the hotel past Dara indoor market (Luang Prabang’s oldest market).
This Lao/Chinese/Vietnamese market is 30 years old. Returning to the hotel, we relaxed by the pool until 5:30pm and our trip to the night market. We had to negotiate the "guess when and where you'd like a pick up” before setting off. We were dropped off by Joma bakery / post office as the main road is closed to traffic at night. First we set off down the pedestrian streets of morning market. It was still foodstuff in general but so different to the morning. The food was mainly cooked and lots of people were eating at makeshift street cafés. It was only 6:40pm and much too early for us so we looped around to the main market. An amazing array of things! We had a look at everything first- aluminium from bombs turned to ornaments & utensils like cutlery, earrings, scarves (silk), purses, bags, cotton skirts & dresses (inc some men wearing them!), blankets, embroidered duvet covers and numerous other things. At the end, by the Palace side our guide suggested we eat in the outdoor balcony of The Blue Lagoon (and said he'd arrange the pick up from there). An inspired choice as both the food and ambiance were great. http://www.blue-lagoon- restaurant.com Blue Lagoon Restaurant, Ban Choumkhong. When we'd finished (buffalo steak and rosti for me, Laap for Steve) we decided to go back to the night market. First Steve bought a library book as a donation, then I got two beautiful embroidered skirts (Hmong), a duvet cover (Hmong as Khmu only do blankets cos live lowlands), and a bag embroidered with their history of crossing the Mekong- embroidering their history is common to the (H)mong.
We headed back to the restaurant for our pick up. On the way back a hotel was pointed out to us. The Villa Santi Hotel was established in 1992 by a Lao businessman, Santi Inthavong, who had married a former Lao princess and they had renovated her former royal mansion.
Local specialities include:
French baguettes and bakery items.
Local watercress, very peppery.
Fried dried seaweed with sesame seeds dipped in a chilli sauce. Buffalo steaks and sausages.
Luang Prabang Khao Soi: spicy clear mince and noodle soup
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Posted by PetersF 19:28 Archived in Laos Tagged temples buddhism laos wat prabang luang lao Comments (0)

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).
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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.
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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!
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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...
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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.
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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/
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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● 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.
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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.
DROVE PAST:-
● 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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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Khmou/Khmu
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.
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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.
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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.
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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!)
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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!
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Hmong
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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Akha
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.
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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.
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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)

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