Woke early to take a stroll around some of the other guesthouses, as we weren’t overly happy with our room. Found a lovely place called Saw Dee Guesthouse, which was in a very quiet location up an alley just away from the Mekong. Moved into the room at the top, and headed to a restaurant by the Mekong for breakfast, and to watch life go by on the muddy river. It was a warm and pleasant morning, with a cooling breeze. Perfect for a wander around town to take in the various sights on offer.
We strolled down Th Khem Khong by the river, and eventually came across Wat Xieng Thong. Now, there are literally hundreds of Wats in Luang Prabang, but this one held particular significance as the most magnificent temple, with construction beginning in 1560. The ordination hall displays the classic architecture of Luang Prabang, with 5-tier roofs that sweep low to the ground, with magnificently decorated wooden columns supporting the structure. The walls are covered in a ‘tree of life’ mosaic of swirling reds and blacks, with gold-stencilled figures – each one individually done – displaying a variety of activity. Crystal and I strolled around the grounds. It was a peaceful place, where monks could be seen reading under the shade of trees. We also saw a reclining Buddha that dates back with the construction of the place – again proportioned in a classic Lao style. We also had a look inside the royal funerary carriage house to see an impressive funeral carriage, with a lot of Buddha’s standing around in the various classic gestures -some wearing worse than others. After spending some time basking in the splendour of this temple, we moved on down the main Th Sisavangvong, before branching left and down towards the Nam Khan river. Luang Prabang boasts a lovely setting between this river and the Mekong. Crystal and I were really enjoying the tranquility of the place, and we sat and watched a line of monks crossing a bamboo bridge, their orange cloaks a striking contrast with the dark blue river below. Back on the main street, we booked a trip to the Elephant Village for a trek the next day, through the environmentally aware Elephant XL camp tour shop. Though their tours were slightly more expensive, we knew exactly where that money was going – with a good percentage going towards the upkeep of the camps and the needs of the elephants. We booked a ‘half-day’ program, and it was only $30 US each.
After this, we bumped into our Singaporean friend, and he had made many new international friends from Germany, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, most of whom lived and studied in Singapore. We agreed to meet them later in the evening. Crystal and I then stopped for a cappucino at a place opposite the Royal Palace. We then continued our tour on foot, taking in Wat Wisunarat, built in 1513, Wat Aham, and That Makmo. Templed-out, we returned to Th Sisavangvong and began the climb up to That Phousi for sunset. We had to climb up a lot of steps before we reached the top of the small mountain, and the sunset wasn’t spectacular, but different. It was cloudy, and only one beam of light could be seen shining on a temple below like a spotlight sent from the heavens from afar. We stayed for a while with the hordes, watching Chinese people releasing sparrows from tiny straw cages, making wishes as they did so. The sparrows, of course, fly to freedom, but are tamed so that they go back for the food provided by their captors, and get put back in the cage the next day for a repeat performance. The idea of letting something free to cleanse you of sins and help you wish is obviously important to the Chinese. A woman with a pet monkey was also watching, and the monkey seemed fascinated with what was going on. At the top of the mountain was a small temple, so we had a look before descending a different way. Here, we passed ‘7 days of Buddhas’, where there was a different Buddha statue in a different position, for ever day of the week. Tired from all the walking, we had a foot massge and watched the night market flicker into life outside. A lovely relaxing end to a day of purposeful traipsing.
In the evening we went for a nice meal, then walked through the night market to join our new friends, who were staying in possibly the cheapest place in Laos. The enterprising owner of their guesthouse had decided to make full use of her land, and had erected loads of tents in the garden that were going for 30,000Kip a night. An absolute bargain! We met a few interesting characters, all around Crystal’s age (24) or younger, all with the passion and sense of adventure that younger backpackers possess, fresh and not yet jaded from their travels and experiences. We had a few drinks with them, and left them at around 10pm. Luang Prabang goes to bed early, and most guesthouses – including ours – have an 11pm curfew. We went to bed, very much looking forward to the elephant riding the next day.