There is no denying it– it may be cold back in Atlanta, but it is hot here in Luang Prabang. The evenings are cool and pleasant, but the afternoons, in the mid-nineties, can be brutal on the dusty shadeless paths outside town along the rivers or on the stone walkways in the city. Listless tourists sit in front of iced coffees or stumble from wat to wat and then back to their guesthouses. Tuk tuk drivers sleep in the bit of shade offered by their idle vehicles.
Yesterday, we rose early to see the monks walk through town to collect alms in their begging bowls, the sticky rice and bananas that will sustain them through the day. They march silently in single file from the wats along the streets where the devout — women mostly, and tourists– wait to drop a little something in each bowl as they file by. The poor also wait, and sometimes receive a little bit of something from the monks’ bowls as charity as they pass. Mostly, the older ones give to the poor. The tourists buy packets of sticky rice or individual small bananas from street vendors so they can participate in this experience, and train their large camera lenses on the stream on monks as they approach.
After our monk time, visitors file back through the streets to enjoy breakfast in their guesthouses and a bit of cool before the heat begins. Our guest house is on a small street just off the local fresh market and each trip in or out takes us through piles of peppers, fresh fish splayed on banana leaves, baskets of live ducks, tubs of frogs, bowls of larva, and arrays of vegetables portioned out on plastic sheeting.
We headed off toward a pair of artisan villages over the river where crafts people make hand-made mulberry paper and weave silk.
After crossing the bridge, we walked past a small refreshment stand overlooking the Mekong, through the woods, past a rustic blue spirit house, over a trash dump and down a long, dusty path to the first village.
We visited a workshop run by a Lao silk designer and bought several wonderful indigo and golden silk wall hangings from her before proceeding down the road looking for more.
While we found a few lush loosely woven silk scarves at another place, we were disappointed that there was very little to buy. So much of what we found was machine made and of synthetic fabric and most of the looms were idle. We had heard from a young American woman working at our guest house that in the last couple of years many cheap imports from China have arrived, pushing out traditional goods, and we saw the evidence here. So sad. Even in our last visit here three years ago, we saw many more beautifully made traditional pieces. The prices of the good work here are quite high, making it challenging for us to find good work to bring home.
We regret we did not get good photos of these hangings, but we will carry them back and have them at the store by March 8.
We also bought a number of hand-made mulberry pattern lanterns with pressed flowers and leaves that fold up into triangles. You may remember these from before. They are lovely hanging on their own or around a low wattage bulb. These lanterns also make great gifts. Because of our baggage allowance for our trip back to Thailand, we will have a limited selection.
After retracing our steps to town, we needed to find some shade, cool drinks, and a a bite to eat. We chose an attractive little spot on the main road and ordered a Lao Papaya salad “just a little spicy”. We both pride ourselves on our tolerance and enjoyment of spicy food but know not to ask for local spicy in Thailand or Lao. We had eaten many versions of Thai green papaya salad and were eager to taste the Lao version.
Oy and oy boy!
We quickly ordered sticky rice to go with our meal.
Resting in between bites, we worked at our lunch for an hour before waving out little white tissue napkins in defeat. Here’s what remained of our meal. The salad was a lot of work. Tasty, but a lot of work.